Structural Principles in the Design of Hygroscopically Moving Plant Cells

  • Rivka ElbaumEmail author


Plants do not have mineralized skeletons. Instead, each of the plant’s cells has an envelope of a cellulose-based wall, which provides a mechanical support to the organism. This stiff wall enables plants to assume flexible body shapes. However, the wall interferes with proteinous muscle-like movements of cells and organs because it is too stiff to yield to forces generated by motor proteins. Nevertheless, plants move constantly. The movements rely on water translocations, which result in the swelling (or growth) of cells located strategically. Water may swell protoplasts in movements that require live cells, like tip growth, tropism, and gas exchange. Other movements are initiated by the swelling of cell walls. These occur in dead tissues that can afford drying. The hygroscopically based movement is very common in seed dispersal mechanisms. The seed that detaches from the mother plant is carried by a cellulosic device. This device was synthesized by the plant and programmed to do some mechanical work, like jumping, crawling, and sowing, in order to deliver the seed to a germination location. This nonliving device provides the seed with means to move away from its mother and siblings. The movement may utilize several types of cells, which differ in the arrangement of cell wall cellulose microfibrils. I present here three types of contracting cells that, together with stiff fiber cells resisting any contraction, create a variety of hygroscopic movements.


Secondary cell wall Hygroscopic movement Cellulose microfibril angles Seed dispersal Coiling cells Contraction Fiber cells 



I wish to thank Yael Abraham for 6 years of productive work. Thanks to Michael Elbaum and Jaime Kigel for critically reading the manuscript, and to Stanislav Gorb for the Cryo-SEM image.


  1. Abraham Y, Elbaum R (2013a) Hygroscopic movements in Geraniaceae: the structural variations that are responsible for coiling or bending. New Phytol 199:584–594. Scholar
  2. Abraham Y, Elbaum R (2013b) Quantification of microfibril angle in secondary cell walls at subcellular resolution by means of polarized light microscopy. New Phytol 197:1012–1019. Scholar
  3. Abraham Y, Tamburu C, Klein E, Dunlop JWC, Fratzl P, Raviv U, Elbaum R (2012) Tilted cellulose arrangement as a novel mechanism for hygroscopic coiling in the stork’s bill awn. J R Soc Interface 9:640–647. Scholar
  4. Aharoni H, Abraham Y, Elbaum R, Sharon E, Kupferman R (2012) Emergence of spontaneous twist and curvature in non-euclidean rods: application to Erodium plant cells. Phys Rev Lett 108:238106.
  5. Armon S, Efrati E, Kupferman R, Sharon E (2011) Geometry and mechanics in the opening of chiral seed pods. Science 333:1726–1730. Scholar
  6. Baley C (2002) Analysis of the flax fibres tensile behaviour and analysis of the tensile stiffness increase. Compos Part Appl Sci Manuf 33:939–948. Scholar
  7. Bowling AJ, Vaughn KC (2009) Gelatinous fibers are widespread in coiling tendrils and twining vines. Am J Bot 96:719–727. Scholar
  8. Braam J (2005) In touch: plant responses to mechanical stimuli. New Phytol 165:373–389. Scholar
  9. Burgert I, Eder M, Gierlinger N, Fratzl P (2007) Tensile and compressive stresses in tracheids are induced by swelling based on geometrical constraints of the wood cell. Planta 226:981–987. Scholar
  10. Burgert I, Frühmann K, Keckes J, Fratzl P, Stanzl-Tschegg S (2005) Properties of chemically and mechanically isolated fibres of spruce (Picea abies [L] Karst). Part 2: Twisting phenomena. Holzforschung 59:247–251Google Scholar
  11. Clair B, Almeras T, Pilate G, Jullien D, Sugiyama J, Riekel C (2010) Maturation stress generation in poplar tension wood studied by synchrotron radiation microdiffraction. Plant Physiol 152:1650–1658. Scholar
  12. Dawson C, Vincent JFV, Rocca A-M (1997) How pine cones open. Nature 390:668CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Elbaum R, Abraham Y (2014) Insights into the microstructures of hygroscopic movement in plant seed dispersal. Plant Sci 223:124–133. Scholar
  14. Elbaum R, Zaltzman L, Burgert I, Fratzl P (2007) The role of wheat awns in the seed dispersal unit. Science 316:884–886. Scholar
  15. Fahn A, Werker E (1972) Anatomical mechanisms of seed dispersal. Seed biology, Kozlowsky TT. Academic Press, New York, pp 151–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fahn A, Zohary M (1955) On the pericarpial structure of the legumen, its evolution and relation to dehiscence. Phytomorphology 5:99–111Google Scholar
  17. Geitmann A (2016) Actuators acting without actin. Cell 166:15–17. Scholar
  18. Goswami L, Dunlop JWC, Jungnikl K, Eder M, Gierlinger N, Coutand C, Jeronimidis G, Fratzl P, Burgert I (2008) Stress generation in the tension wood of poplar is based on the lateral swelling power of the G-layer. Plant J 56:531–538. Scholar
  19. Hofhuis H, Moulton D, Lessinnes T, Routier-Kierzkowska A-L, Bomphrey RJ, Mosca G, Reinhardt H, Sarchet P, Gan X, Tsiantis M, Ventikos Y, Walker S, Goriely A, Smith R, Hay A (2016) Morphomechanical innovation drives explosive seed dispersal. Cell 166:222–233. Scholar
  20. Koller D, Van Volkenburgh E (2011) The Restless Plant. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MassGoogle Scholar
  21. Lacey EP, Kaufman PB, Dayanandan P (1983) The anatomical basis for hygroscopic movement in primary rays of Daucus carota ssp. carota (Apiaceae). Bot Gaz 144:371–375CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nathan R, Safriel UN, Noy-Meir I, Schiller G (1999) Seed release without fire in Pinus halepensis, a Mediterranean serotinous wind-dispersed tree. J Ecol 87:659–669. Scholar
  23. Reichert S, Menges A, Correa D (2015) Meteorosensitive architecture: Biomimetic building skins based on materially embedded and hygroscopically enabled responsiveness. Comput-Aided Des 60:50–69. Scholar
  24. Salmén L (2015) Wood morphology and properties from molecular perspectives. Ann For Sci 72:679–684. Scholar
  25. Sfiligoj Smole M, Hribernik S, Stana Kleinschek K, Kreže T (2013) Plant fibres for textile and technical applications. In: Advances in agrophysical researchGoogle Scholar
  26. Shtein I, Elbaum R, Bar-On B (2016) The hygroscopic opening of sesame fruits is induced by a functionally graded pericarp architecture. Plant Biophys Model 1501.
  27. Vaughn KC, Bowling AJ, Ruel KJ (2011) The mechanism for explosive seed dispersal in Cardamine hirsuta (Brassicaceae). Am J Bot 98:1276–1285. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RH Smith Institute for Plant Sciences and Genetics in AgricultureHebrew University of JerusalemRehovotIsrael

Personalised recommendations