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What are Virtual Plants?

Sherry Holetzky
Sherry Holetzky

Computer simulation has led to some unique and interesting concepts, one of which is the ability to create virtual plants. Virtual plants are three-dimensional models of plant structures, in which rules can be applied to study growth and change in plants. Changes in sizes and shapes of specific plant parts can be studied but rules can also be applied to account for damage due to temperature changes, injury, disease, lack of food or water, and more.

Virtual plants are in essence, hypothetical systems that reproduce the processes plants go through when certain conditions or rules are applied. There are various formats for creating virtual plants for study. A good deal of the construction of virtual plants depends upon the computer system, components, and software being used. A system with excellent graphics can create incredibly realistic plant structures.

Man holding computer
Man holding computer

Other systems may employ a more architectural basis for creating virtual plants, more like a schematic than a realistic reproduction. Animation can also be used. In some cases, the growth or deterioration of virtual plants can be shown in a way that mimics time-lapse photography.

Color also has an influence in the study of virtual plants as well. Color can be used to simulate movement of water, nutrients, chemicals, and pathogens through a plant. A virtual plant may also be only a part of a particular plant, and color may be used to show how various items work their way through the root system or other parts specifically.

In some programs that utilize virtual plants, other models can be constructed to represent virtual plant cells. These cells can then be maneuvered in various ways for study. They can be split or otherwise cut and they can be maneuvered into varying positions so that they can be observed from different angles.

Computers have long been helpful in numerous and varied types of scientific research, and technology continues to increase the way science can be studied. Virtual plants are just another example of taking the complex and breaking it down into more manageable parts based on simple rules or formulas. Virtual plants can also be used to study entire crops, the creation of hybrid plants, or simply to observe the growth of individual plants or species. Even plants that are difficult to obtain, or those that are fragile or endangered, can now be studied more easily using computer models.

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