Brief Communication

Botany: A record-breaking pollen catapult




The release of stored elastic energy often drives rapid movements in animal systems1,2, and plant components employing this mechanism should be able to move with similar speed. Here we describe how the flower stamens of the bunchberry dogwood (Cornus canadensis) rely on this principle to catapult pollen into the air as the flower opens explosively3,4,5. Our high-speed video observations show that the flower opens in less than 0.5 ms — to our knowledge, the fastest movement so far recorded in a plant.

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Author information


  1. *Department of Biology, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts 01267, USA

    • Joan Edwards
    •  & Sarah Klionsky
  2. †Department of Physics, Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts 01267, USA

    • Dwight Whitaker
  3. ‡Biology Department, Oberlin College, Oberlin, Ohio 44074, USA

    • Marta J. Laskowski


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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Joan Edwards.

Supplementary information

Word documents

  1. 1.

    Supplementary methods

    Provides information on the study site and plants, technical information on video recordings and their analyses, and details of the sodium azide and turgor pressure experiments. We also describe how we measured the time it takes for an Impatiens pallida fruit to explode, the force required to open a flower, and the distance pollen can travel.


  1. 1.

    Supplementary video 1

    Close up high-speed (10,000 fps) video of an exploding mature flower of Cornus canadensis. This video covers 13.2 ms and is played at 15 fps.

  2. 2.

    Supplementary video 2

    Distant high-speed (1,000 fps) video of a Cornus canadensis floral explosion showing vertical pollen release. The video was over-exposed to make pollen stand out. The wire used to trigger the explosion and a mm scale are visible. This video covers 210 ms and is played at 15 fps.

  3. 3.

    Supplementary video 3

    Close-up high-speed (10,000 fps) video of an exploding mature flower of Cornus canadensis with all four filaments cut showing that stamen movement does not contribute to rapid petal opening. This video covers 21.1 ms and is played at 15 fps. The wire used to trigger the explosion is visible.


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