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Plants in Motion: An Attempt to Capture their Development and Construction

Contributed by Antonio José López-Quintana, University of the Basque Country (Universidad País Vasco), Bilbao, Spain

In youth, the tulip-tree, or Liriodendron tulipiferum, the most magnificient of American trees has a particularly smooth trunk, and often rises to a great height without lateral branches: but in its riper age, the bark becomes gnarled and uneven, while many short limbs make their appearance on the stem. ....Embracing the huge cylinder, ...

Edgar Allan Poe from ‘The Gold Bug’ (Tales of Mistery and Imagination)

‘Plants in Motion’ is inspired by Edward Muybridge's ideas and photographic work to capture the movements of living creatures.

The dynamic nature of plant morphology, as emphasised by Bell (1991), allows a new approach to the relationship of structure to function, thus easing the task of interpreting the elusive biological properties of form, to use the words of Tomlinson (1983).

A teaching herbarium is proposed where herbarium specimens are taken at different stages of a plant’s development, such as flowering, branching, fruiting and dormancy. By photocopying the specimens, a sequence of events may be captured as snapshots of plant growth-movements, and at the same time of its construction.

A particular tree’s architecture can also be ananlysed and placed in the range of architectural models proposed by Hallé, Oldeman and Tomlinson (1978). The features are described using the following terms: monopodial or sympodial trunk, continuously or rhythmical growth; orthotropic or plagiotropic branches; lateral or terminal flowering, and secondary changes in the direction of growth (see diagram).


Bell, A.D. (1991). Plant form. an illustrated guide to flowering plant morphology. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.

Hallé, F., Oldeman, R.A.A., & Tomlinson, P.B. (1978). Tropical trees and forests. an architectural analysis. Springer, Berlin & New York.

Tomlinson, P.B. (1983). Tree architecture. American Scientist (71), pp. 141-149.