Pappus (botany)

In Asteraceae, the pappus is the modified calyx, the part of an individual floret, that surrounds the base of the corolla tube in flower. It functions as a wind-dispersal mechanism for the seeds. The term is sometimes used for similar structures in other plant families e.g. in certain genera of the Apocynaceae, although the pappus in Apocynaceae is not derived from the calyx of the flower.

The pappus-clad fruits that make up the familiar "dandelion clock" being dispersed by the wind (family Asteraceae)
Tragopogon pratensis (Asteraceae) "puffball" of pappus-clad fruits, similar in structure to "dandelion clock"
Sonchus oleraceus (Asteraceae)
Paired, follicular fruits of Asclepias curassavica (Apocynaceae) dehiscing to release seeds, each clad in a silky pappus
Seeds of Adenium obesum (Apocynaceae) equipped with double pappus (i.e. having a tuft of hairs at both ends) being shed from a dehiscent, follicular fruit
Pappus-clad seeds of Nerium oleander (Apocynaceae) being released from dehiscent, paired, follicular fruits

In Asteraceae, the pappus may be composed of bristles (sometimes feathery), awns, scales, or may be absent, and in some species, is too small to see without magnification. In genera such as Taraxacum or Eupatorium, feathery bristles of the pappus function as a "parachute" which enables the seed to be carried by the wind.[1] The name derives from the Ancient Greek word pappos, Latin pappus, meaning "old man", so used for a plant (assumed to be an Erigeron species) having bristles and also for the woolly, hairy seed of certain plants.

The pappus of the dandelion plays a vital role in the wind-aided dispersal of its seeds. By creating a separated vortex ring in its wake, the flight of the pappus is stabilized and more lift and drag are produced.[2][3] The pappus also has the property of being able to change its morphology in the presence of moisture in various ways that aid germination. The change of shape can adjust the rate of abscission, allowing increased or decreased germination depending on the favorability of conditions.[4][5]


The pappus of the dandelion has been studied and reproduced for a variety of applications. It has the ability to retain about 100 times its weight in water and pappus-inspired mechanisms have been proposed and fabricated which would allow highly efficient and specialized liquid transport.[6] Another application of the pappus is in the use of minute airflow detection around walls which is important for measuring small fluctuations in airflow in neonatal incubators or to measure low velocity airflow in heating and ventilation systems.[7]


  1. "Composite flowers".
  2. Cummins, Cathal; Seale, Madeleine; Macente, Alice; Certini, Daniele; Mastropaolo, Enrico; Viola, Ignazio Maria; Nakayama, Naomi (2018). "A separated vortex ring underlies the flight of the dandelion" (PDF). Nature. 562 (7727): 414–418. Bibcode:2018Natur.562..414C. doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0604-2. ISSN 0028-0836. PMID 30333579. S2CID 52988814.
  3. Ledda, P. G.; Siconolfi, L.; Viola, F.; Camarri, S.; Gallaire, F. (2019-07-02). "Flow dynamics of a dandelion pappus: A linear stability approach". Physical Review Fluids. 4 (7): 071901. Bibcode:2019PhRvF...4g1901L. doi:10.1103/physrevfluids.4.071901. hdl:11568/998044. ISSN 2469-990X. S2CID 198429309.
  4. Greene, David F. (2005). "The Role of Abscission in Long-Distance Seed Dispersal by the Wind". Ecology. 86 (11): 3105–3110. doi:10.1890/04-1430. ISSN 0012-9658.
  5. Seale, Madeleine; Zhdanov, Oleksandr; Cummins, Cathal; Kroll, Erika; Blatt, Michael R; Zare-Behtash, Hossein; Busse, Angela; Mastropaolo, Enrico; Viola, Ignazio Maria (2019-02-07). "Moisture-dependent morphing tunes the dispersal of dandelion diaspores". doi:10.1101/542696. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  6. Meng, Qingan; Wang, Qianbin; Liu, Huan; Jiang, Lei (2014). "A bio-inspired flexible fiber array with an open radial geometry for highly efficient liquid transfer". NPG Asia Materials. 6 (9): e125. doi:10.1038/am.2014.70. ISSN 1884-4049.
  7. Bruecker, Christoph H.; Mikulich, Vladimir (2017-06-28). "Sensing of minute airflow motions near walls using pappus-type nature-inspired sensors". PLOS ONE. 12 (6): e0179253. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1279253B. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0179253. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 5489159. PMID 28658272.
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