The load-bearing mechanism of plant wings: A multiscale structural and mechanical analysis of the T. tipu samara

Zeneve Ezra, Liat Levavi, Benny Bar-On

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Spinning winged fruits (“helicopter” samaras) generate significant lift forces at relatively low velocities, which enable the wind to disperse them across long distances. The biological material of the samara sustains the aerodynamic loadings and maintains the physical shape of the samara in the air via a yet unknown load-bearing mechanism. Here, positing that this mechanism fundamentally originates from the macro-to-microscale structural and mechanical characteristics of the samara, we use sub-micron computer tomography, electron microscopy, and multi-scale mechanical experiments to map the structural and mechanical characteristics of the tipu tree (Tipuana tipu) samara down to the micrometer length scale. Then, using theoretical models, we characterize the multiscale structural–mechanical principles of the samara and use these principles to disclose the underlying load-bearing mechanism. We found that the structural motifs of the tipu tree samara are closely analogous to various other types and forms of winged fruits, suggesting that this load-bearing mechanism is widespread in plant wings. The structural–mechanical principles governing the samara bear unconventional design concepts, which pave the way toward the development and engineering of small-scale wing elements for miniature aviation platforms with specialized mechanical capabilities. Statement of significance: The biomaterial of plant wings grants them mechanical resistance to flight forces during wind dispersal. “Helicopter seeds” demonstrate an intricate load-bearing mechanism that spans three structure–functional scales of their biomaterial. This mechanism appears widespread in plant wings and may promote novel micro-engineering design guidelines for futuristic flight materials and small-scale aviation platforms.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)423-434
Number of pages12
JournalActa Biomaterialia
Volume158
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2023

Keywords

  • Biocomposites
  • Biomechanics
  • Load bearing
  • Multiscale analysis
  • Spinning samara
  • Winged fruits

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Biomaterials

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