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The Fastest Plant

What reigns among the fastest moving things on Earth? Light, of course. Bullets and rocketships. High-speed trains.

What about plants? What is the fastest moving plant? If you say a Venus flytrap, you're wrong. The current record holder for fastest plant is the bunchberry dogwood, found in Canada and northern parts of the United States.

The bunchberry dogwood gets its name from its flowers' resemblance to those of the dogwood tree, but the bunchberry is a plant about knee high. Big things come in small packages though. The bunchberry shoots out pollen so fast that it takes a camera that shoots 10,000 frames per second to see the plant in action.

The plant is able to shoot pollen so quickly because its stamens work like medieval catapults, known as trebuchets. A trebuchet consists of a lever or throwing arm, and attached to that is a hinge or a strap, which holds the object to be thrown.

In the case of the bunchberry dogwood flower, the throwing arms are the stamens, which are held in place by the flower's petals. When the elastic petals flip backward suddenly, the stamens snap forward, driven by high water pressure that has been generated in the cells. Attached to the stamens on hinges are containers of pollen, so that when the stamens snap forward, so do the containers, and the pollen shoots out.

The flowers do not have to be triggered by insects in order to spray out pollen. In these cases, the wind may disperse the pollen. In fact, this mechanism for pollen dispersal may very well have developed in order to ensure successful pollination when insect pollinators are scarce.

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