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Burdock is frequently found in neglected patches of ground, where its purple flowers can easily be mistaken for thistles. These flowers develop into ‘burrs’: seedheads with hooked bracts (modified leaves) which hook onto the fur of a passing animal (or a rambler’s socks) to be carried away to colonise another site.
These hooks were the inspiration for Velcro, one of the first materials based on plant surfaces. In this two-part fastening system, a furry surface mimics the animal’s fur, and a hooked surface is comparable to the hooks on the burrs. While the burrs on the plant will fall apart when scratched by the animal, Velcro is strong enough to be pulled apart and refastened thousands of times. The word ‘Velcro’ is a combination of the French words ‘velour’ (meaning ‘velvet’) and ‘crochet’ (meaning ‘hook’).
Flower picture: MurielBendal / CC BY-SA 4v.0. Microscope picture: SecretDisc / CC BY-SA 3.0.