Carried by the wind, dandelion seeds can travel enormous distances of more than a kilometer (0.6 miles). Now, researchers at The University of Edinburgh have discovered that this is thanks to a remarkable form of flight never before seen in nature.
The distances are achieved because of what the researchers call “the separated vortex ring” which sees the seed bristles, collectively called the pappus, create ring-shaped air bubbles. These form vertically above the pappus, increasing air-resistance and slowing descent much like a parachute.
Remarkably, the air bubble is actually made more stable as air flows through it. And that flow is regulated by the particular spacing of the seed’s bristles. Perhaps counter-intuitively it’s the relatively high porosity of the pappus that helps keep its flight stable.