Basket Asterplent

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The Basket Asterplent split from its ancestor and, lacking competition, increased in size. As it grew larger, it needed some amount of support for its mostly-hollow adult body to prevent it from collapsing under its own weight. However, it could not easily evolve a trunk due to its presence in drier climates, which encouraged succulent leaves and full-body photosynthesis. So, like a terran cactus, it has a woody endoskeleton; its name comes from the shape of this endoskeleton, which somewhat resembles a woven basket. It is called a “basket bone”, and it is a single unbroken piece. That is not to say, however, that it has no “joints”.

To help protect gametes and developing embryos from desiccation, the Basket Asterplent’s reproductive opening has four lobes formed from extensions of the basket bone. Hollows at the base of each of these extensions each contain a fluid sac which is inflated with water during the day, pushing with hydraulic pressure to seal the reproductive opening; unless the specific individual is pregnant, it opens again at night when it is cooler. This feature is also present in juveniles, where the fluid sacs are inflated at all times and serve as water storage; unable to reproduce until adulthood, it is better for them to keep the reproductive opening closed for protection anyway.

The basket bone also has an influence on juvenile anatomy. To get full use out of the basket bone, newborns are significantly larger. Internally speaking, their leg muscles attach to the basket, allowing more effective movement. Externally, and more obviously, is the development of a muscular “root hood”—as the roots are thin and have a lot of surface area, they are fragile and a prime location for water loss to occur. The root hood both protects them and reduces water loss, and it is pulled back to feed or when it is time to take root. Juveniles also possess four pigment cup eyes to help them navigate to an appropriate spot to take root; these disappear in adulthood.

With its larger newborn size, it is more difficult for the Basket Asterplent to spread across uninhabitable areas, which is part of why its population is far more restricted. However, it compensated somewhat for the reduced aerial mobility in its early life by advancing its fronds into complex, puffy pappus- or coma-like structures. Juveniles no longer take to the high skies, but they still remain distributed by wind; still, they spend more time on the ground throughout their lives than their ancestor did.