Dandelion seeds’ extraordinary ability to fly is made possible by a form of flight that has not been seen before in nature, research has revealed.
The discovery, which confirms the common plant among the best fliers in the natural world, shows that the movement of air around and within its bundle of parachute-shaped bristles allows the seeds to travel great distances, often a kilometer or more, held afloat entirely by wind power.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh carried out experiments to better understand why dandelion seeds fly so well, even though their parachute structure is largely made up of empty space.
Their study revealed that a ring-shaped air bubble forms as air moves through the bristles, improving resistance that slows the descent of each seed to the ground.
This new form of air bubble, which scientists have called a separate vortex ring, is physically separated from the bristles and stabilized by air flowing through it.
The amount of air that flows, which is essential to keep the bubble stable and directly on the seed in flight, is precisely controlled by the spacing of the bristles.
This bristling parachute flight mechanism underpins the constant flight of the seeds. It is four times more efficient than what is possible with conventional parachute design, according to research.
The researchers suggest that the dandelion’s porous parachute could inspire the development of small-scale drones that require little or no power consumption. Such drones could be useful for remote sensing or air pollution monitoring.
The study, published in Nature, was led by Dr. Cathal Cummins, who said: “Taking a closer look at ingenious structures in nature, like the dandelion parachute, can reveal novel ideas.
“We found a natural solution for flight that minimizes material and energy costs, which can be applied to sustainable technology engineering.” In fact, it is exciting news.