by Brian Thomas, M.S.

Whether considering squishable apple tissue or resilient tree trunks, researchers say that plants “build” their parts using only four ingredients. Precise measurements of plant tissue strengths show that they vary across three orders of magnitude. How do plants so effectively use the same four building blocks to manufacture materials with such widely varying strengths?

MIT engineering professor Lorna Gibson found five features that plants “control and coordinate” when building tissues of various strengths. According to MIT news, “It turns out the large range in stiffness and strength stems from an intricate combination of plant microstructures.”1

She published her review in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, where she wrote, “Apples and potatoes are examples of a simple tissue: parenchyma with thin-walled, polyhedral cells resembling an engineering closed-cell foam.” Researchers deem that hardwoods contain complex tissue because in addition to parenchyma cells they have vessels and fibers. “The fibre cells provide structural support and have a honeycomb-like structure” similar to that used in hexagonal building supports.2….

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