Earth Skunk Cabbage And Martian Desert Cabbage

According to research published this month in Physical Review, skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)is able to maintain an internal temperature of about twenty degrees centigrade even when the ambient air temperature drops below freezing.

However, it is not clear whether a unique algorithm controls the homeothermic behavior of S. foetidus, or whether such an algorithm might exhibit linear or nonlinear thermoregulatory dynamics. Here we report the underlying dynamics of temperature control in S. foetidus using nonlinear forecasting, attractor and correlation dimension analyses. It was shown that thermoregulation in S. foetidus was governed by low-dimensional chaotic dynamics, the geometry of which showed a strange attractor named the "Zazen attractor." Our data suggest that the chaotic thermoregulation in S. foetidus is inherent and that it is an adaptive response to the natural environment.


(Skunk cabbage)

In his novel Red Planet, Robert Heinlein writes about an enormous desert cabbage that also has internal temperature regulation properties. And how might travelers about Mars take advantage of a huge plant that stays warm inside even in the cold of the Martian night?

"Jim boy come here. Frank come here. Cold there. Warm here."

"...we can't go inside a cabbage It would crush us."

"Do as you like, Jim. I can't skate any farther." He set one foot on a broad leaf - which flinched under the contact - and strode steadily..."

Willis greeted them ecstatically. "Good boy, Frank! Good boy, Jim! Stay nice and warm all night."

The Sun was slipping behind a distant dune; the sunset wind whipped coldly at them. The far edges of the plant lifted and began to curl toward them... The inner leaves were beginning to curl faster than the outer leaves. Such a leaf, four feet wide at its widest and at least ten feet long, raised up in back of Jim and curved in until it touched his shoulder...

With elbows and knees and hands the two managed to occupy a roughly spherical space about five feet across and a little less than that high. The leaves closed down on them, seemed to feel them out, then settled firmly against them... Soon the last open space was covered and they were in total darkness.

Read the abstract; thanks to Fred Kiesche at The Eternal Golden Braid for suggesting this item.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 11/9/2005)

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