The Zebra Plant is a popular houseplant, with long stems supporting large, striped leaves with an unusual velvety texture. The Zebra Plant is native to Brazil, where it grows in the understory of tropical rainforests. Its leaves have an even spread of cone-shaped cells on the surface, giving the curious property of lessening splashing of water which lands on the plant. Instead, the water spreads out over the leaf over a few seconds. This spreading may be a strategy to boost evaporation rates, allowing the leaf to dry quickly in the damp forest – wet leaves are ideal breeding grounds for moulds.
There are many possible human uses of surfaces which promote evaporation, and replicates of the leaf structure could be used on windows, mirrors or shower screens. Additionally, the water-conducting properties of the leaf surface may be useful in designing new microfluidic cooling systems.
Picture: Nemracc / CC BY-SA 3.0.