The Biomechanics of Cornus Canadensis Stamens are Ideal for Catapulting Pollen Vertically

Document Type



Physics (Pomona)

Publication Date



bunchberry, dogwood, plant motion, pollination


1. Rapid movements in fungi and plants have evolved in different species to facilitate the dispersal of spores and seeds. The mechanisms of action can differ among species, but the effectiveness of these movements has rarely, if ever, been tested. Here we show through a quantitative biomechanical analysis that the stamens of Cornus canadensis L. (bunchberry) are ideal for catapulting pollen vertically at high speeds.

2. We develop a biomechanical model to describe the explosive launch of pollen from the flowers of bunchberry. The model determines the equation of motion for the stamens based only on the morphology and measurements of the parts of the stamens. To measure the motion of the stamens to compare with our model, we analysed individual frames of a video taken at 10 000 fps.

3. The thecae of adjacent stamens dehisce in bud so that the stomia face each other, retaining pollen between neighbouring anthers. As the flowers open, pollen is accelerated vertically as long as the thecae remain in contact. Pollen is released only when the anthers move horizontally and separate.

4. The observed motion of the stamens matches the results from our model through release of the pollen. The model reveals that pollen release (horizontal movement of the anthers) occurs only after the vertical speed is at its maximum. Thus, for this particular catapult mechanism, the morphology of the stamens is optimal for launching light, dry pollen straight upwards at high speed. Pollen launched vertically at high speed both enhances insect pollination by helping to making pollen stick on visiting insects, and also allows for successful wind pollination by propelling pollen into the air column. Seed set by inflorescences in pollinator-exclosure cages further supports the ability of this flower to use wind as a pollination mechanism.

Rights Information

© 2007 John Wiley & Sons