Flower Of Life

The Flower of Life (also known as Invid Flower of Life) was a symbiotic plant native to the planet Optera where it became a critical component of the ecosystem as well as the life cycle and biology of the Invid race. Its study led to the development of a renewable source of energy that became known as Protoculture. The Flower of Life is a plant indigenous to Optera; a swampy, wet world with a thick atmosphere that orbits the G2V star Tzuptum. It is one of a large order of flowering plants formerly indigenous to the planet, designated fusiera, so named because their ability to cause trace atoms in their environment to undergo nuclear fusion, under limited conditions. Because of the defoliation of the planet ordered by the Robotech Masters, the only information we have of the other plant life on the world comes from Zor Derelda's own limited samples, taken during the initial survey of this world by the Tirolians. Because of this, the reasons that such a strange trait would have originally evolved, the biological purpose it served, and the selection pressures that led to it will forever remain mere speculation. What is known is that application of this ability to crack the thick husk of seeds (see below) was probably not the original evolutionary purpose of this unique talent, but rather an opportunistic evolutionary pathway to use an existing trait for a new purpose - as a simple chemical reaction to shatter the husk would have sufficed. At this time, there is no scientific consensus on the subject, so I will not delve into it further here.
Optera Surface

While little is known about the ancestral and related plants of the Flower of Life, this plant is reasonably well-understood. The Flower of Life a multi-staged organism, beginning its existence as a spore, carried by wind or water by a parasol-like sail. The spore is in fact a miniature clump of already-specialized cells, waiting to find fertile ground in which to take root. Most spores will not survive to grow, but those that do can thrive in a wide range of soils and humidities - though the plants thrive best in swampy terrain, but also do well in temperate climes with favorable rain and wet soil.

When the spore takes root in the ground, like a dandelion, or in water, where it grows more in the fashion of the lotus, the plant begins to grow. Thin green leaves sprout from a central stem which branches out into numerous fibrous limbs. The plant's energy and food supply comes from photosynthesis, and its photosynthetic organelles are almost identical to Earth's chloroplasts. The plant fares best in Tzuptum-like light, which explains the ability of the plant to survive so well on Earth when it does rather poorly on worlds lit by cooler red stars, or worlds with bluer suns with spectra rich in ultra-violet radiation.

As mentioned above, the plant's morphology depends upon the medium in which it grows. In water, the plant becomes a 'floater', with specialized roots and large flat leaves to keep the plant afloat. As it matures, the plant eventually becomes a tall spire of flower-studded vines, rising three to five meters above the water, with a root system that extends deep under the surface of the water to keep the plant upright. On ground, the plant develops fibrous stalks that center around a thick but soft trunk. The direction a plant takes once it sprouts from a spore is not completely fixed. If a plant that begins in water experiences drought conditions that cause its medium to dry up, or if it is taken from water and transplanted to land, it will soon begin to grow in a fashion identical to that it would have taken had it first taken root on land. A plant that grew on land, however, is limited in its ability to adapt to water should it get flooded - the only change in its growth is to develop specialized water-roots on those parts of the trunk and branches that lie underwater.
Flowers of Life

After a year of growth in either medium, the plant is ready to flower. Pink-and-white blooms begin to open up on numerous branches (the most common variety on Optera, and specifically bred by Zor himself, has flowers that grow in groups of three). Each flower has numerous stamens (usually five to ten) growing from the base of the flower and outside the petals, and a single pistil inside them. The plant is not self-pollinating; that is, the pollen from a flower's stamen can not fertilize a pistil on the same plant. Pollen is carried from plant to plant by a symbiotic species; in nature, the Invid serve in this capacity. The stamens themselves are prehensile, and are attracted to the approach of any warm-bodied organism, toward which they reach and upon which they rub their pollen. In addition to the need for another organism to carry the stamens' pollen, the pistil is non-responsive to pollination until it is activated by pheromones released by its symbiotic pollinator.

Once pollinated, the pistil begins to swell, and the petals and stamens die and drop away from the bud. A fleshy fruit begins to form around the pistil, which grows larger into a thick-husked seed. Eventually this fruit drops free or is picked off the plant, and is consumed by one of many Opteran organisms. The seed's husk is very hard, because many of the organisms that consumed it on Optera - including the Invid - have very abrasive gizzards, and the husk has evolved so as not to be destroyed by the digestive action of even the most robust of gullets.

Eventually the seed is defecated by the animal that consumed by the fruit. It is at this stage that the most unique property of the Flower of Life becomes apparent. The seed's husk is very thick, in fact, and the digestive abrasion of the animal that consumed it helps weaken it somewhat. Still, it can not sprout without special measures. The seed is porous, can leech in minerals from its environment, and is invested during its growth on the flower by a reservoir of lithium, boron, and the rare isotope of hydrogen - deuterium - as well. To crack the thick but weakened hull of the seed, specialized organelles in the cells inside the seed cause nuclear fusion (in a process described below) of these stored and leeched minerals to occur. The energy released from this process provides the necessary heat to make the husk sufficiently brittle for it to break. The "organic fusion" action is the main mechanism the seed uses to shatter itself, but even, the process is uncertain. Fully a quarter of seeds will fail to germinate unless abraded by an animal's gizzard; with such abrasion, only a tenth fail to open.

Once the fertile seed germinates, it forms a sub-organism whose sole reason for existence is to produce spores, hence its name sporofer. After about three months of growth, the sporofer has developed into a tall shoot with vestigial flower-like growths at its apex, releases numerous new spores into the air, and then dies. The spores travel through the air, eventually taking root and beginning the process over again.

In water, the main flowering organism lives several decades before it finally dies after several seasons of bearing fertile fruit. On land, however, the plant continues to grow into a thick tree with a spherical clump of leaves atop it. Eventually, after about fifty seasons, the land-plant becomes sterile and, though it can continue to live for decades afterwards, will never again produce flower nor fruit.

Though the stages of harvested plants are usually deliberately isolated by the harvesters, in nature all stages can exist in a single location - plant, flower, fruit, pollen, spore, and sporofer. This was indeed the case in the ruins of the SDF-1's main reflex furnace when it was visited by the clone of Zor and the 15th ATAC of the Southern Cross in the final hours of the Second Robotech War.

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