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Leading edge of seed creates vortex lift: maple


Japanese maple seeds / Liz West / LicenseCC-by-nc - Attribution Non-commercial

The leading edge of spinning hornbeam and maple seeds provides lift by generating a tornado-like vortex.

"The twirling seeds of maple trees spin like miniature helicopters as they fall to the ground. Because the seeds descend slowly as they swirl, they can be carried aloft by the wind and dispersed over great distances. Just how the seeds manage to fall so slowly, however, has mystified scientists...The research, led by David Lentink, an assistant professor at Wageningen, and Michael H. Dickinson, the Zarem Professor of Bioengineering at Caltech, revealed that, by swirling, maple seeds generate a tornado-like vortex that sits atop the front leading edge of the seeds as they spin slowly to the ground. This leading-edge vortex lowers the air pressure over the upper surface of the maple seed, effectively sucking the wing upward to oppose gravity, giving it a boost. The vortex doubles the lift generated by the seeds compared to nonswirling seeds." (Caltech Media Relations 2009)

[Video showing vortices can be downloaded from]
About the inspiring organism
Med_173187954_7c9fa4c7e5_b Acer palmatum
Acer palmatum Thunb.
Common name: Japanese maple

Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

IUCN Red List Status: Unknown

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Technology can be used to build micro aerial vehicles, such as helicopters, more efficient fan blades, and for wind energy blades.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Aerospace, wind energy

Experimental Zoology Group
David Lentink Johan van Leeuwen
Department of Animal Sciences of Wageningen University
Lentink, D; Dickson, WB; van Leeuwen, JL; Dickinson, MH. 2009. Leading-edge vortices elevate lift of autorotating plant seeds. Science. 324(5933): 1438-1440.
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Svitil, K. 2009. Maple seeds and animals exploit the same trick to fly. California Institute of Technology Press Release [Internet], Accessed June 11.
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about 1 month ago
How awesome!
over 7 years ago
Thanks to Sabri Sansoy for contributing this strategy.
1 to 2 of 2 Comments