A thorny design problem

And now, a tip of the hat to a nifty solution to the oldest design problem of them all: how do you spread your genes?

I was taking a shortcut through an overgrown field and ended up with a load of seeds stuck to my socks and shoelaces. When I sat down to pluck them out, I found there were two models: the smaller (some 5 mm long) “fuzzy” seeds (right in the photo) actually had many tiny thorns that did the job; but the larger seeds (up to 9 mm in length) were really impressive, each sporting long, needle-sharp spines all over. I wish I had a good stereo microscope to give you better detail, but you can get the idea from the photos below.

Thorny Seeds

So what? So nothing, I guess, except that being an engineer I had to stop and admire the effectiveness of these designs.

And here is another look:

Thorny Seeds

Makes you feel kinda special, to think that these plants would go to all this trouble to evolve seeds that stick like leeches to your socks! 🙂

2 Responses to “A thorny design problem”


  1. 1 TechieBird

    My better half would take issue with the “go to all this trouble” comment, even though it’s obviously just a figure of speech and I’m sure you don’t think things actually evolve by effort of will.

    I’m more relaxed about it – I get his point, that too many people *don’t* get what evolution means, so those of us who do should be very precise to avoid confirming their misapprehensions or confusing them further – but I think maybe the reason we resort to anthropomorphism is because it’s just very difficult to relate to a process that happens at random over many, many lifetimes.

    So there’s an interesting puzzle for those of us with engineer/designer brains. Is there a way to accurately represent evolution that’s also easy to relate to?

  2. 2 Nathan Zeldes

    Not to worry, Techiebird, I strongly doubt that a plant can evolve by an effort of will. Last I checked, plants were notoriously weak-willed. And even a scientist may joke from time to time!

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