Environmental morphing enables informed dispersal of the dandelion diaspore

Madeleine Seale, Oleksandr Zhdanov, Merel Barbara Soons, Cathal Cummins, Erika Kroll, Michael R. Blatt, Hossein Zare-Behtash, Angela Busse, Enrico Mastropaolo, James M. Bullock, Ignazio Maria Viola, Naomi Nakayama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
42 Downloads (Pure)


Animal migration is highly sensitised to environmental cues, but plant dispersal is considered largely passive. The common dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, bears an intricate haired pappus facilitating flight. The pappus enables the formation of a separated vortex ring during flight; however, the pappus structure is not static but reversibly changes shape by closing in response to moisture. We hypothesised that this leads to changed dispersal properties in response to environmental conditions. Using wind tunnel experiments for flow visualisation, particle image velocimetry, and flight tests we characterised the fluid mechanics effects of the pappus morphing. We also modelled dispersal to understand the impact of pappus morphing on diaspore distribution. Pappus morphing dramatically alters the fluid mechanics of diaspore flight. We found that when the pappus closes in moist conditions, the drag coefficient decreases and thus the falling velocity is greatly increased. Detachment of diaspores from the parent plant also substantially decreases. The change in detachment when the pappus closes increases dispersal distances by reducing diaspore release when wind speeds are low. We propose that moisture-dependent pappus-morphing is a form of informed dispersal allowing rapid responses to changing conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere81962
Early online date29 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 28 Dec 2022


  • Taraxacum officinale
  • biomechanics
  • dandelion
  • mechanical ecology
  • physics of living systems
  • plant aerodynamics
  • plant biology
  • seed dispersal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Immunology and Microbiology


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