Many plants are dependent on outside help to ensure that their offspring flourish. Violets enlist the aid of ants and slugs to carry away their seeds and release them where they can grow.
Kerstin Reifenrath, a biologist in Darmstadt, has deciphered the interaction between plant and helper. She found that elaiosomes – appendages on the violet seeds containing a cocktail of fatty acids, amino acids and sugars – are eaten by ants and slugs. However, the animals do not digest the seeds, which are able to germinate many meters away from the parent plant.