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Nature & Environment

Can the 'walking palm' really use its stilt roots to move around ?

By T.K. Randall
January 1, 2024 · Comment icon 12 comments
Two walking palms.
Can these trees really walk around ? Image Credit: CC BY-SA 2.0 Yakovlev Alexey
For decades, there have been stories of a particular type of South American palm tree that can 'walk' several meters a year.
Native to the tropical rainforests of Central and South America, Socratea exorrhiza (also referred to as the 'walking palm') is an otherwise unremarkable type of tree with one standout feature - it can sometimes be found with unusual stilt-like roots growing from partway up its trunk.

Back in 1980, anthropologists John H. Bodley and Foley C. Benson put forward the idea that these trees can actually use these stilts to right themselves and 'walk' several meters across the forest floor when pinned underneath another fallen tree or large branch.

According to local guides, the trees could move up to 20 meters in a single year.

But is it really plausible for a tree to 'walk' several meters across the forest floor ?
More recently, scientists have generally played down this idea, instead noting that - although the trees can put down new roots - they don't tend to actually move very far from the site of germination.

It has been theorized that the stilt roots could play an important role in enabling the trees to survive during extended periods of flooding or when the forest floor is covered in a large amount of debris.

Some scientists also suggest that the roots could help stabilize the trees, enabling them to grow taller without expending energy growing biomass beneath the ground.

Whatever the case, though, it doesn't seem as though they are actually able to 'walk' anywhere.

Source: Science Alert | Comments (12)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #3 Posted by godnodog 3 months ago
probably they have chemical emitters and receptors cells
Comment icon #4 Posted by Piney 3 months ago
The mycorrhizal network too. It carries the signals.  @pellinore
Comment icon #5 Posted by Abramelin 3 months ago
I had several papers on plant perception, but this will do:
Comment icon #6 Posted by Piney 3 months ago
When stewardship logging don't touch the grandmother trees and do as little damage to the ground as possible. 
Comment icon #7 Posted by Portre 3 months ago
Great! Another problem on our southern border.
Comment icon #8 Posted by quiXilver 3 months ago
Comment icon #9 Posted by Abramelin 3 months ago
I think I should tell you all something. Some know I work for a landscaping company. That means I cut trees, shrubs, prune, trim, the lot. Also planting trees and shrubs and so on. In cities, mainly. And, believe me or not, but when I cut a tree or some of its branches, or when I shovel away socalled weeds, I'm doing it with a knot in my stomach. Like in mentally saying, "Sorry, its my job".    
Comment icon #10 Posted by Mattacaster 3 months ago
It's like "The Day of the Triffids"! :0
Comment icon #11 Posted by Piney 3 months ago
I feel the same way. My wife would only trim things in our yard that needed it. Not for esthetics. 
Comment icon #12 Posted by Michelle 3 months ago
I talk to them telling them how pretty they are going to look. We don't have grass we have wildflowers. We let them grow and mow a path until they've bloomed.

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