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Nelumbo nucifera: Self-cleaning plants (the Lotus effect)

Unlike most animals, plants can’t actively clean themselves. Instead, they have developed passive ways to keep the surfaces of their leaves free of dirt and microorganisms that could cause diseases.

The leaves of many plants, as this Indian lotus flower, do not have a shiny appearance. Their surface is actually a coating of microscopically small dots of wax arranged in a regular pattern. These dots make it impossible for water to adhere to the leaves; it simply pearls and runs off in drops. Particles of dirt and fungus spores also have a hard time staying put on such a surface. Whenever a drop of moisture rolls off, it carries away such contaminations with it. So, as long as it rains regularly, lotus leaves stay clean and pure.

Modern technology is taking Mother Nature as a model. Until recently, scientists thought that a surface should be as smooth as possible to remain clean. But nature shows us that self-cleaning surfaces are rough on a microscopic scale, and matte. It is now possible to imitate this microscopic structure in glazes and plastic coatings. Products like roofing tiles and house paints are already making use of this “lotus effect”.

Audio file download
Nelumbo nucifera: Self-cleaning plants (MP3, 511 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Andreas Gröger, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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