The Plant With Scary Seeds

An impatien just waiting to pop…

This is the time of year for watching scary movies. Some of these movies will slowly build tension and horror mounting to a terrifying climax. Others rely on cheap jump scares and shock horror. While there are plenty of nasty, scary plants out there slowly creeping through the world with all manner of insidious poisons and slimy tendrils, the genus Impatiens is not one of them. Impatiens rely on jump scares.

At first glance, Impatiens are beautiful flowering plants, but be careful not to admire them too closely. Impatiens seeds are spread through explosive, ballistic dispersal. Impatiens fruits are usually conical and formed from five valves, thick sepal-like structures. The valves are swollen with hydraulic pressure. Too much agitation caused by the wind or a human nose sniffing a nearby fragrant bloom causes the valves to fracture. Within milliseconds, the valves separate from each other and curl inward like a scroll. In the process, the seeds at the center of the fruit are blasted out like some face-hugging aliens from a gooey pod. Is it a well-crafted, intellectual scare? No. Is it effective? Does it make you think twice before you smell your next flower? “Yes” on both accounts.

Brian Rutter, PhD, is the cofounder of Thing in a Pot Productions and a postdoctoral researcher in plant biology at Indiana University. Subscribe to our newsletter to receive our “Things About Things – Odd Facts About Plants” and video production tips in your inbox every month!

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