Scientists have managed to find out the exact mechanism through which sunflowers follow the sun.
It is a strange phenomenon. Sunflowers not only move their floral displays towards the sun throughout the day, they also bend backwards 180 degrees in order to greet the morning sun the other day.
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Researchers have managed to calculate the exact mechanism through which they do this. The internal clock genes of sunflowers are in synch with stem growth.
The eastern side of the stem elongates more than the western side during the day. This turns the stem and flower westwards to follow the sun in its journey.
During the night time, the western side grows faster leading the flower to turn back eastwards to allow the rays of the morning sun to enter its center. The moment the sunflower reaches maturity, its genes switch off this mechanism.
The flower now faces east to let in the rays of the morning sun. It also provides a suitable area for pollinating bees. These schemata govern plant growth and a large number of bees which they attract for pollination purposes. This is thus an evolutionary response.
A plant’s clock is the deciding factor here. It has actual repercussions in the life cycle of the plant. Like animals have circadian clocks which regulate sleep cycles, temperature and hormonal responses, so plants have there internal clocks as well.
Scientists have discovered the link between the plant’s clock genes and the hormone auxin. This hormone is responsible for growth functions.
Plants were moved by the scientists so that they ended up facing the wrong way and thus couldn’t get any direct sunlight. This disrupted the capabilities of the plants. It was found that only via access to sunlight was a plant able to grow properly.
Thus sunflowers that were prevented from facing the sun had less biomass and leaf area. While many plants turned towards the sun and back, only the sunflower turned its entire stem.
Although this behavior of sunflowers had been noted down in 1898, no one had thought that it was connected in any way with internal circadian rhythms.
This behavior was an internal habit of sunflowers. The genes of the sunflower acted in a synchronized fashion in order to see to it that it grew in a slow and steady manner to maturity.
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This study got published in the journal Science.