The upside-down water collection system of Syntrichia caninervis
Desert plants possess highly evolved water conservation and transport systems, from the root structures that maximize absorption of scarce ground water1, 2, 3, 4, 5, to the minimization of leaf surface area6 to enhance water retention. Recent attention has focused on leaf structures that are adapted to collect water and promote nucleation from humid air7, 8, 9. Syntrichia caninervis Mitt. (Pottiaceae) is one of the most abundant desert mosses in the world and thrives in an extreme environment with multiple but limited water resources (such as dew, fog, snow and rain), yet the mechanisms for water collection and transport have never been completely revealed. S. caninervis has a unique adaptation: it uses a tiny hair (awn) on the end of each leaf to collect water, in addition to that collected by the leaves themselves. Here we show that the unique multiscale structures of the hair are equipped to collect and transport water in four modes: nucleation of water droplets and films on the leaf hair from humid atmospheres; collection of fog droplets on leaf hairs; collection of splash water from raindrops; and transportation of the acquired water to the leaf itself. Fluid nucleation is accomplished in nanostructures, whereas fog droplets are gathered in areas where a high density of small barbs are present and then quickly transported to the leaf at the base of the hair. Our observations reveal nature's optimization of water collection by coupling relevant multiscale physical plant structures with multiscale sources of water.