13 March 2012

Pitcher Plant Nepenthes

The Pitcher Plants are herbaceous non-woody plants which generally grow as long twining vines with pitchers. The pitchers are actually highly specialized leaves that act as passive pitfall traps. The pitcher is actually a swelling of the mid-vein in the leaf and instead of using air-filled nanostructures to repel water, the pitcher plant locks in a layer of water and uses it as a slick coating. Insects are attracted to this because of nectar secretions and coloration. The slippery rim (peristome) and inner walls of the pitcher encourage insects to fall into the digestive fluid at the bottom of the trap. Nutrients are absorbed from this "soup."
The plant is also called "Monkey Cups" from the fact that monkeys occasionally drinking the fluid in the pitchers. Since it is carnivorous by nature, the ability to have a virtually frictionless surface inside its cupped leaf is crucial for its ability to capture insects or small frogs.

Ecological relationships
The most obvious interaction between Nepenthes species and its environment, including other organisms, is that of predator and prey. Nepenthes species certainly attract and kill their prey, albeit passively, through active production of attractive colours, sugary nectar, and even sweet scents. From this relationship, the plants primarily gain nitrogen and phosphorus to supplement their nutrient requirements for growth, given that soil nutrients are typically lacking. 

Inspired by the Pitcher Plant Nepenthes, Harvard scientists designed a method to create slippery surfaces by infusing a nano/microstructured porous material with a lubricating fluid. The method is used to create Slippery Liquid-Infused Porous Surfaces (SLIPS) which are capable to repel a wide variety of liquids and solids, including blood and oil, and does so even while it is exposed to high pressure or freezing temperatures.


“Inspired by the pitcher plant, we developed a new coating that outperforms its natural and synthetic counterparts and provides a simple and versatile solution for liquid and solid repellency”, said lead researcher Joanna Aizenberg, Amy Smith Berylson Professor of Materials Science at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

posted by Cecilia Rudström

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