Plant movements as concept generators for biomimetic materials and structures

Published on November 21, 2014

Plant movements are very suitable as concept generators for biomimetic developments in the fields of deployable and movable structure as used e.g. in architecture or engineering.


Plant movements show a multitude of actuation principles causing countless types of form changes in a time range from milliseconds (e.g. suction trap of Utricularia) to hours and days (e.g. different growth processes). Therefore plant movements are very suitable as concept generators for biomimetic developments in the fields of deployable and movable structure as used e.g. in architecture or engineering. Two main topics of research in the Plant Biomechanics Group Freiburg are the analysis of movements driven by changes in turgor pressure, such as the closing of the trap of Dionaea muscipula and the analysis of hygroscopic movements in conifer cones. The principles of the movements, the underlying anatomical features and their biological significance are illustrated. It is also shown how the movements can be analysed quantitatively by recording high speed or time lapse movies under controlled conditions in the lab and under field conditions in combination with macro- und micromechanical testing.

Speck Group | University of Freiburg, Germany

Dr. Friederike Gallenmüller is senior lecturer in the Plant Biomechanics Group Freiburg and custodian of the Botanical Garden of the University of Freiburg. Her main research interests are in ecobiomechanics and hygroscopic movements in plants.

Dr. Simon Poppinga is a group leader in the Plant Biomechanics Group Freiburg. His main research interests cover plant movements and the transfer into innovative biomimetic applications in architecture and other fields of technology.


Different aspects of this research project are currently funded within the “Joint Research Network on Advanced Materials and Systems (BASF-JONAS) in the project: Bio-inspired fiber-reinforced flap and scale structures for self-adaptive heat and humidity regulation” and by the German Research Foundation DFG within the Priority Program “SPP 1420: Biomimetic Material Research: Functionality by Hierarchical Structuring of Materials” and within the “Collaborative Research Center – Transregio 141: Biological Design and Integrative Structures – Analysis, Simulation and Implementation in Architecture”.

Cooperation Partners:

Network of Competence Biomimetics Baden-Württemberg
Freiburg Materials Research Center (FMF) and University of Freiburg with the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry
Institute for Computational Design (ICD) University of Stuttgart
BASF network JONAS (Joint Research Network on Advanced Materials and Systems)


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Poppinga, S., Masselter, T., Speck, T.; Faster than their prey: New insights into the rapid movements of active carnivorous plants traps. Bioessays. (2013), 35, 649 – 657, DOI: 10.1002/bies.201200175.

Poppinga, S., Hartmeyer, S.R.H., Seidel, R., Masselter, T., Hartmeyer, I., Speck, T. ; Catapulting tentacles in a sticky carnivorous plant. PLoS ONE. (2012), 7(9), e45735, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0045735.

Lienhard, J., Schleicher, S., Poppinga, S., Masselter, T., Milwich, M., Speck, T., Knippers, J.; Flectofin: a nature based hinge-less flapping mechanism. Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. (2011), 6, 045001, DOI: 10.1088/1748-3182/6/4/045001.

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T. Masselter, W. Barthlott, G. Bauer, J. Bertling, F. Cichy, P. Ditsche-Kuru, F. Gallenmüller, M. Gude, T. Haushahn, M. Hermann, H. Immink, J. Knippers, J. Lienhard, R. Luchsinger, K. Lunz, C. Mattheck, M. Milwich, N. Mölders, C. Neinhuis, A. Nellesen, S. Poppinga, M. Rechberger, S. Schleicher, C. Schmitt, H. Schwager, R. Seidel, O. Speck, T. Stegmaier, I. Tesari, M. Thielen, T. Speck: Biomimetic products. In: Y. Bar-Cohen (ed.), Biomimetics: nature-based innovation, (2012) 377-429, CRC Press / Taylor & Francis Group, Boca Raton, London, New York.

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