Image of a phytolith (bulliform)
“To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever.”
Have you ever wondered how you could get cut by a blade of grass or the edge of a palm leaf? Plants have a nasty secret. They absorb silica, the same stuff of which glass is made, and store it in their cells.
Some plants, like corn, store large mounts of silica on their leaves, making the edges of the leaves sharp andstrong enough to give you a nasty slash. And yes, they do this largely to protect themselves. Insects that like to eat plant leaves find that when they chew on plants with lots of silica, their mouth parts wear out faster. Plants also store silica between their cells, giving them a strong, stony skeleton.
These silica particles made by plants are called phytoliths, which literally means “plant stones.” Chemically they are colorless and transparent opals. They can range in size from a thousandth of a millimeter to a millimeter. Each plant forms phytoliths that are unique in shape, and some plants make up to a dozen different types. After the plant has died and decayed, the phytoliths and their unique shapes remain in the soil. This means that with a microscope and a good knowledge of which plants make which phytoliths, you could examine the soil and tell which plants have grown there in the past. This is how scientists learned that the Indians were growing corn in South America 2,500 years before the birth of Christ!
God’s creation is filled with wonderful surprises. And every one of them glorifies Him!
Notes: Ivars Peterson. 1983. “Plant Stones.” Science News, Vol. 124. Aug. 6, pp. 88-94.
Photo: Courtesy of Henri Georges. Licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.
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