DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2023.0486 ISSN: 1742-5662

Backspin in Ruellia ciliatiflora does not maximize seed dispersal range, but provides moderate dispersal range that is robust to launch conditions

Joseph L. Hesse-Withbroe, Dwight L. Whitaker
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biochemistry
  • Biomaterials
  • Bioengineering
  • Biophysics
  • Biotechnology

Ruellia ciliatiflora is a perennial herb whose fruits explosively dehisce, launching their thin disc-like seeds over 6 m with a backspin up to 1660 Hz. While it has been previously shown that the backspin launch orientation minimizes the aerodynamic drag experienced by the seeds, it is not immediately obvious whether backspin is also the range-maximizing launch orientation. Here the three-dimensional equation of motion of a thin, spinning disc flying through a fluid medium was derived and solved numerically to simulate the flight of seeds of R. ciliatiflora under different launch conditions. Simulations of seed flights reveal that the range-maximizing launch orientation lies between sidespin and topspin, far from the backspin that is observed in nature. While this range-maximizing orientation results in dispersal ranges of nearly 10 m, the precise orientation is highly sensitive to other launch parameters, chiefly spin rate and launch angle. By contrast, backspin, which yields moderate dispersal ranges about 60% of the range-maximizing orientation, is robust to perturbations in launch parameters that the plant cannot precisely control.

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