Nature’s Own Water Flower Prank

The African tulip tree is nature’s version of the classic flower water squirting prank.

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By The Arts & Entertainment Department

For April Fools’ Day, many people carefully plan their pranks and plots while others anticipate the surprises they'll get from their friends. With cream pies, an electric hand buzzer, the whoopee cushion, the list of classic harmless pranks goes on and on. One famous prank is the water-squirting flower, a popular accessory found on clown suits and portrayed in many TV shows. It’s composed of an innocent-looking plastic flower that is actually attached to a water-filled pump. When squeezing this pump, water goes through the pipe and out of a hole on the fake flower, and the high pressure from the squeeze sends the water flying at quite a distance.

There are many ways in which we imitate characteristics from nature, such as when designing innovative architecture and technology. In other cases, however, we find that nature coincidentally takes after elements from our lives. As a matter of fact, nature has its own water-squirting flower which grows on the Spathodea, also known as the African tulip tree. It is known for its bright crimson and flaring petals, even earning the nickname, “flame of the forest.” Though the flowering plant is native to the tropical dry forests of Africa, it is also considered an invasive species in many countries, mostly tropical islands in the Pacific, Indian and Caribbean, and also in Singapore, Papua New Guinea, and Australia. As an invasive species, it has overpopulated the new environments it was introduced in, harming the native plants in the process.

Its invasive nature is greatly due to its versatile and durable qualities. The African tulip tree grows extremely fast and does not require light in order to shoot up from the ground. This consequently allows it to cover up a lot of space on the ground and block the sunlight for other plants which are not shade-tolerant like the flowers of the African tulip tree. Additionally, the claw-like buds clustered in the middle of these flowers hold seeds that can spread for miles with the help of the wind when the flower blossoms. The species has been shown to be able to grow rapidly, especially in the low-elevation forests of East Maui, Hawaii.

To shoot water like the flower-toy, the African tulip tree’s buds expand as they become pressurized by the watery nectar that they store. When squeezing the buds of the flower, water shoots out, similar to the pump squeezed in the plastic flowers. For the African tulip tree’s flowers specifically, you would have to squeeze at the pointy end of the bud toward the receptacle of the flower, which is where the organs of the flower are located. This trick is often used by children raised in the tropical regions where African tulip trees are most commonly found.

Nature’s rendition of the practical April Fools’ prank further emphasizes the link between nature’s mechanisms and human-made inventions. The African tulip tree’s surprise illustrates the irony behind how much nature and humans can tend to share the same mind. The squirting feature of the African tulip tree sprouts many opportunities for new pranks and adds a greener, or rather bright crimson, touch to this entertaining day.