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Why Do Cucumber Coils Change Direction?

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YouTube / SciFri

Do you grow cucumbers in your garden? If you've ever seen one growing, you've seen the curious coils made by cucumber tendrils as they grasp a support (or grasp your other plants, yanking them to their doom). What's odd about these curls is that they change direction mid-way through the tendril -- the helix reverses. Now why would that happen? This has been a scientific question for quite a while; Charles Darwin called this helical reverse the cucumber's "perversion."

In this short video from NPR's Science Friday, the science of this odd tendril curl is explained. Plus, there's cool time lapse video of various plants growing, courtesy of Roger Hangarter (he runs Plants in Motion). Enjoy, then go out and observe this in your own garden! (And watch out for cucumber spines. Those suckers are nasty.)

For more on this phenomenon, read Harvard Magazine's article A Cucumber Coil Conundrum. If you're just into time lapse of a cucumber tendril coiling, here it is:

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125 Million Years Ago, One of the World's Very First Flowers Bloomed
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Ferocious dinosaurs roamed the Earth during the early Cretaceous Period (145 to 100 million years ago), but beneath their giant feet, a tiny—yet important—evolutionary movement was beginning to take root. During the previous Jurassic Era, the world had been filled with ferns, conifers, and cycads, and nary a flower bloomed. This changed around 125 million years ago, our fossil records show, when one of the word’s very first flowers, Archaefructus liaoningensis, sprouted in what is now northeastern China. This preserved plant marks the beginning of angiosperms, which are fruiting plants that rely on animals to spread their capsule-enclosed seeds.

In the video below, PBS Eons explains why angiosperms were so important to early life on Earth, and how they took over the world to eventually account for more than 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial plants.

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From Bloom to Bottle: How Iran's Purple Flower Fields Produce Saffron, the World's Most Expensive Spice
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Before it’s bottled and sold in Western grocery stores, saffron—the world’s most expensive spice—begins its life cycle in the Middle East as a delicate purple flower. The sweetly floral substance is derived from the crocus flower’s dried stamen, but harvesting these pollen-producing parts is neither easy, nor cheap, for farmers: It takes them 40 hours to hand-pick enough stamens to produce a single pound of saffron, and a football field’s worth of flowers to boot. For this reason, pound for pound, saffron is more expensive than gold.

National Geographic’s video below takes us to the crocus fields of Iran, where nearly 90 percent of the world’s saffron supply is produced.

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