Horsetail spores can jump and crawl

This is a pretty awesome phenomenon I accidentally discovered last week…horsetail spores can jump!

Equisetum sporing body

Horsetail (Equisetum…I think arvense) sporing body

I was out in the field, looking for flowering things, and I noticed that the horsetails were sporulating.  Horsetails are primitive vascular plants, often called “living fossils”.  They dominated Paleozoic forests for over a million years. But they are not angiosperms, so they don’t produce pollen, but they do produce spores…and by the millions.  In a fit of curiosity, I collected one of the sporing bodies and took it back to the lab.

I’ve been making pollen slides for all the different plant species I’ve collected in the field, so I thought I’d follow the same procedure with the horsetails.  But no sooner had I put the sporing body on the microscope slide than it began dumping spores by the millions.  They started piling up on the slide, so I looked through the scope.  Much to my surprise, the spores were crawling and jumping all over each other in huge piles.  They swarmed over the slide, looking like something out of a horror sci fi flick (or, nerd moment, like the replicators in Stargate).

IMG_1337

Crazy green horsetail spores on a slide (the purple is clay behind the slide, if you are curious)

A little discomfited, I retreated to the computer to figure out whether this was normal.  I learned that horsetail spores have four long “arms” which are tightly wound around the spore when it is at rest.  When the spore is released, the arms react to the rapid change in humidity by flinging themselves out at all angles.  The result looks something like this…

Is that wild or what???  Imagine seeing millions them doing it at once.  I think they look like crazy little stick men dancing.

Um…science!

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4 thoughts on “Horsetail spores can jump and crawl

  1. Fan-bloody-tastic. What a great find. And video, with perfect music. Some actually do cartwheels like little living stickmen. (You can also make a gun with a ‘ripe’ horsetail by bending over the stem just behind the head, aiming the head and pulling sharply. Just saying)

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