Plant Self-defense

- Oct 09, 2017 -

Plants may appear to be helpless in the face of hungry,toothy animals but many plants haveevolved interesting systems of self-defense.

Coarse meadow grasses are a good example.

If you run your finger along a blade of coarse grass,you just might cut yourself.

What makes it so sharp?

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A row of microscopic silica blades lines thegrass like tiny teeth, and most grasses have silica inside as well.

Although the silica doesn’tprevent animals from feasting on the grass, it is hard enough to wear down the animals'teethover time.

Imagine trying to chomp that tough meadow grass with dull, worn teeth, you wouldn’tget too far!

The grasses must have evolved this bristling defense fairly early in their relationship with grazinganimals, because the anatomy of the animals'mouths has changed in response.

The teeth ofmost mammals stop growing in adulthood.

But, the teeth of grazing animals like horses and cowshave evolved in a different way.

They continue to grow from the roots over the course of theanimals'lives.

As the grasses'silica blades wear away the teeth, continuous growth from the rootsat least partially compensates for the loss.

If an animal’s diet consists mostly of coarse meadowgrasses with silica blades, the animal still could develop extensive wearing and damage to its teeth.


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