Desperate times call for desperate measures. From cactus to camels, species that live out in arid environments have all developed special adaptations to help them dodge dehydration.
The desert moss Syntrichia caninervis has evolved a particularly novel solution to this problem of minimal resources. While many desert plants use their widespread root networks to "suck up" more water, this desert moss looks to the skies and uses their leaves.
Using high-speed imaging and an environmental scanning electron microscope, scientists detailed the mechanism of how this desert plant is able to absorb water directly from the air. Their findings were recently published online in Nature Plants.
After a spell of fog, mist, dew, or rain, the water that condenses on the plants is collected into “micro-grooves” on the awn (or hairs) of the leaves, a mere 3 micrometers wide at the rim and 1.5 micrometers deep. Outward pointing microscopic barbs also keep the water droplets in place. Once enough is collected, the water is quickly transported along the hair towards the body of the leaf, where it is absorbed into the plant. You can see this mechanism in the video above and below.
The study used S. caninervis found in the Great Basin in the United States and in the Gurbantünggüt desert in China, but this species can be found in many deserts across the Northern Hemisphere. The researchers also say it's likely that other desert plants utilize the same structures and mechanisms.
The study concludes by noting how they hope this little sucker could inspire the design for artificial structures capable of harvesting water from the air in areas with scarce water resources.