According to science, the exceptional flying ability of dandelion seeds is due to a form of flight that has never been seen before in nature.

The discovery, which confirms the common plant’s status as one of nature’s best fliers, demonstrates how air movement around and inside its parachute-shaped bundle of bristles allows seeds to fly great distances—often a kilometre or more—while remaining completely afloat thanks to wind power.

The University of Edinburgh conducted experiments to better understand why dandelion seeds fly so well, despite the fact that their parachute structure is mostly empty space.
When air flows through the bristles, a ring-shaped air bubble forms, increasing the drag and slowing each seed’s descent to the bottom.

This newly discovered form of air bubble, dubbed the separated vortex ring by scientists, is physically separated from the bristles and is stabilised by air flowing through it.

The spacing of the bristles precisely controls the amount of air passing through, which is important for keeping the bubble intact and directly above the seed in flight.

The bristly parachute’s flight mechanism is responsible for the seeds’ steady flight. According to the study, it is four times more effective than what is possible with traditional parachute design.

The porous parachute of the dandelion, according to researchers, may inspire the creation of small-scale drones that consume little or no fuel. Drones of this kind could be useful for remote sensing or tracking air pollution.

The study, published in Nature, was led by Dr Cathal Cummins, who said: “Taking a closer look at the ingenious structures in nature—like the dandelion’s parachute—can reveal novel insights.

“We found a natural solution for flight that minimizes the material and energy costs, which can be applied to engineering of sustainable technology.” That’s exciting news indeed.

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