“Walking Trees” Can Move Several Centimeters Everyday In Search Of Sunlight

It can kill off roots that are getting in the way of reaching sunlight.

Credit: Matthew Williams-Ellis

Nature has proven to be quite amazing and resilient, and many plant, animal, and insect species have been around much longer than humans, though they have evolved over time. Just as the bodies of humans and animals change over time to accommodate a changing world and to give creatures a better advantage over the challenges they face, plants do the same in their own way.

One such plant is the?Cashapona palm, a tree native to Central and South America in the rainforests. The palm is often referred to as the “Walking Palm” because of its unique leg-like roots that appear to be walking when observed over time.

Unlike most trees, the roots of the Walking Palm protrude from the trunk above ground and are thick and visible. They are called stilted roots because of the way they “stand” and they have a special ability to move towards the sunlight.

No matter where the palm is planted, it’s able to detect where there is more sunlight in the surrounding the area and gradually move towards it. It does this by growing new roots in the direction of the light and letting it’s old roots die in the process. As a result, the roots can “walk” several centimeters in a single day, though the process often takes years.

Credit: Palmpedia

The roots can also adapt in different ways; for example, if a nearby tree falls on the roots of the palm, those roots will move around the fallen tree and let the roots underneath the debris die. Peter Vransky, a paleobotanist from the Slovak Academy of Sciences Bratislava, explained,

?As the soil erodes, the tree grows new, long roots that find new and more solid ground, sometimes up to 20m. Then, slowly, as the roots settle in the new soil and the tree bends patiently toward the new roots, the old roots slowly lift into the air. The whole process for the tree to relocate to a new place with better sunlight and more solid ground can take a couple of years.?

Though this isn’t exactly “walking,” it’s the closest that any plant has come before to replicating the movement. These irregular roots and behaviors?have captivated many scientists that find the adaptation fascinating, as the way the world evolves is intriguing and there is endless matter to study.

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