Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

A Plant's Arsenal Of Crystalline Darts And Sand

Date:
August 17, 2009
Source:
American Journal of Botany
Summary:
Crystals are found in hundreds of plant families. Despite this, their purpose is not well-understood. Hypotheses include acting as a deterrent to herbivory, serving as a long-term storage depot for calcium, or providing extra support to various plant tissues. To help elucidate the role of crystals in plants and determine whether this role may actually be to prevent animals from munching on the plant, botanists studied the variety and locations of crystals found in the houseplant Dieffenbachia seguine.

Caption: A string of biforine-like cells associated with the anther of Dieffenbachia seguine (Jacq.) Schott. (Araceae). These cells contain bundles of thin pointed crystals of calcium oxalate, which they may be able to expel forcibly. It is plausible that these crystals protect the pollen from herbivory. Dieffenbachia seguine produces a diverse variety of crystal-containing cells in every organ, suggesting that crystals play a variety of roles in the plant, but the roles remain unknown. Anthers were hand-sectioned, cleared, and photographed under polarization microscopy. The image is approximately 1300x magnified.
Credit: Courtesy of Gary G. Cote, Radford University, Radford, Va.

Pet owners have heard the warnings to keep certain poisonous houseplants away from their pets, such as Dieffenbachia (dumbcane), Philodendron, peace lily, and pothos. For houseplants like these and others, the problem may not just be a poison, but the presence of tiny crystals throughout the plant.

Related Articles


A discussion of plants may not bring to mind crystals; however, crystals are found in hundreds of plant families. Despite this, their purpose is not well-understood. Hypotheses include acting as a deterrent to herbivory, serving as a long-term storage depot for calcium, or providing extra support to various plant tissues.

To help elucidate the role of crystals in plants and determine whether this role may actually be to prevent animals from munching on the plant, Dr. Gary Coté studied the variety and locations of crystals found in the houseplant Dieffenbachia seguine. His findings have just been published in the July 2009 issue of the American Journal of Botany.

Three common types of crystals are found in plants: druses (spherical crystal aggregates), raphides (long pointed needles found in bundles), and prisms. Coté found all three of these in Dieffenbachia. He discovered that each type of tissue within the plant, as well as different portions of the same organ in some instances, had their own specific crystals. And, despite the variety of crystal structures found throughout the plant, all crystals were found to contain calcium oxalate, the same substance comprising kidney stones.

Dr. Cote's findings suggest that the most common role for crystals may be to act as a deterrent to herbivory, with different types of crystals performing different roles in protecting the plant. The druses, found throughout the plant, would abrade the mouth of any animal unfortunate enough to take a bite of the plant, creating a sensation of chewing sand. The needle-like raphides are most commonly found in leaves, the part of the plant most likely to be eaten. The act of chewing the leaves can result in the forcible expulsion of these raphides from the plant tissue, turning the crystals into microscopic darts. Box-like bundles of raphides are found in the stem and other areas that would benefit from the extra support they provide. Prismatic crystals are only found mixed with pollen, and this suggests they may play a role in pollen dispersal or germination.

So when pet owners are looking for a location for a new houseplant, they should make sure their pet can't snack on it if it's a plant with calcium oxalate raphides. Dogs may not be so happy if they end up with a mouthful of grit or microscopic darts, although those crystals may very well be doing their job.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by American Journal of Botany. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Freeman, John L., Quinn, Colin F., Lindblom, Stormy Dawn, Klamper, Erin M., Pilon-Smits, Elizabeth A. H. Selenium protects the hyperaccumulator Stanleya pinnata against black-tailed prairie dog herbivory in native seleniferous habitats. Am. J. Bot., 2009 96: 1075-1085 DOI: 10.3732/ajb.0800287

Cite This Page:

American Journal of Botany. "A Plant's Arsenal Of Crystalline Darts And Sand." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 August 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090806170727.htm>.
American Journal of Botany. (2009, August 17). A Plant's Arsenal Of Crystalline Darts And Sand. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 23, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090806170727.htm
American Journal of Botany. "A Plant's Arsenal Of Crystalline Darts And Sand." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090806170727.htm (accessed November 23, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Anglerfish Rarely Seen In Its Habitat Will Haunt You

Newsy (Nov. 22, 2014) — For the first time Monterey Bay Aquarium recorded a video of the elusive, creepy and rarely seen anglerfish. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Birds Around the World Take Flight

Birds Around the World Take Flight

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Nov. 22, 2014) — An imperial eagle equipped with a camera spreads its wings over London. It's just one of the many birds making headlines in this week's "animal roundup". Jillian Kitchener reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Could Your Genes Be The Reason You're Single?

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) — Researchers in Beijing discovered a gene called 5-HTA1, and carriers are reportedly 20 percent more likely to be single. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Baby Okapi Born at Houston Zoo

Raw: Baby Okapi Born at Houston Zoo

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) — The Houston Zoo released video of a male baby okapi. Okapis, also known as the "forest giraffe", are native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. Video is mute from source. (Nov. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins