How a desert shrub grabs water from thin air

Tamarix aphylla, or athel tamarisk, is a halophytic desert shrub, meaning it can survive in hypersaline conditions. Credit: Post-Doctoral Associate Marieh Al-Handawi, NYU Abu Dhabi.

Imagine being super thirsty and finding a way to grab a drink just from the air around you. Sounds like magic, right?

Well, a desert plant in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has figured out this trick, and researchers are pretty excited about it.

A team from NYU Abu Dhabi, including a scientist named Marieh Al-Handawi and a chemistry professor named Panče Naumov, studied a desert plant called Tamarix aphylla.

This plant has a special trick up its sleeve to survive in the harsh desert.

It can take moisture right out of the air!

Now, many plants and animals in dry places have clever ways to find water. Some collect dew in the morning, and others have special roots to store water. But this UAE plant has a unique method. It basically “sweats” salt from its leaves. And here’s the cool part: that salt then pulls water from the air, which turns into tiny water droplets on the plant’s leaves. The plant can then drink up this water. Neat, huh?

These findings got the researchers thinking. If a plant can pull water from the air with salt, can humans do something similar to get water in dry places? Or maybe improve the way we make clouds produce rain, a process called “cloud seeding”?

The team discovered that the plant drinks up salty water from the soil, takes the salt out, and then pushes the salty liquid onto its leaves.

When this liquid dries up, it leaves behind a mix of different salt crystals. Some of these crystals are so good at pulling moisture from the air that they can do it even when the air isn’t that humid. Once the water droplets form on the leaves, the plant can absorb them.

Marieh Al-Handawi, the lead researcher, said that understanding how this plant grabs water from the air could help us create better and more eco-friendly ways to collect water from the atmosphere or make clouds rain. This is super important because many places in the world don’t have enough fresh water. So, finding new ways to collect water can help lots of people.

In the bigger picture, our planet’s water is limited. As the number of people grows and the climate changes, we need to find new and smart ways to use every drop wisely. This desert plant’s cool trick could be a game-changer. Just think: a simple plant from the UAE could inspire big changes in how we get and use water all around the world.

To sum it up, Mother Nature is full of surprises. This desert plant has taught us a clever way to pull water from the air.

And now, thanks to these researchers, we might be able to use this knowledge to help people and the environment. So, the next time you see a plant, remember: there might be more to it than meets the eye!

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