Tamara Bonnemaison is again the author for her series. She writes:
The third species to make into the exceptional seeds series is Alsomitra macrocarpa. Scott Zona@Flickr photographed this amazing winged seed at the Bogor Botanical Garden in Indonesia. Scott posted this lovely text along with his photo (follow link to read his whole quote): “I was transfixed as I watched dozens of winged seeds of Alsomitra macrocarpa glide to the ground in broad, lazy spirals. The seeds spilled out from a fruit hanging on the liana climbing on one of the enormous old trees in the garden. All the principles of aerodynamics as they relate to seed dispersal were manifest in that one lovely moment.”
In an article published by the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, today’s photographer Scott Zona describes wind dispersal in seeds. Although different plants use different strategies, explains Zona, all wind-dispersed species are aiming to maximize their time aloft, which directly increases their dispersal distance. Some species use parachutes or plumes to float along air currents. Others are so small and light that they become a part of the fluid movements of air. The third strategy is to develop wings, and no seed has wings that can rival those of Alsomitra macrocarpa, or mitra.
A member of the squash family, mitra is a long liana that grows up into the canopy of the forests of Java, Indonesia. It is quite famous for its 13cm wide, gliding seeds that have inspired a number of aircraft builders. The seeds of the mitra have the ability to remain stable during flight, despite having no moving parts to adjust to changes in air current or other disturbances. This characteristic was noticed by the aircraft developer Igo Etrich, who developed the Etrich Taube, one of the world’s first gliders and the first military aircraft to be mass produced in Germany. The wings of the Taube provided excellent stability for the aircraft, making it well-suited to observational flights. The Alsomitra macrocarpa seeds in flight look like little aircraft–you can watch them soar over the Javan tree canopy in this short BBC video: Vine seeds become “giant gliders”.