Are you ready for the coming winter? Plants are getting ready! Deciduous trees are dropping their leaves and herbaceous plants are sending forth seeds to wait for next spring. It’s the perfect time for a seed safari.
Plants have evolved a variety of strategies to help their seeds travel away from the parent. If the seeds were to fall directly below the parent plant, many seeds would have to compete for the space, water, nutrients, and sunlight needed to grow. Dispersal strategies include flying, attaching, boating, being delicious and hibernating.
Wind travelers include the maple tree seeds that have wings or blades that propel them like a helicopter. Maybe you’ve blown a ripe dandelion to watch the many seeds be carried off on their parachutes. At this time of year, find goldenrod and discover their tiny parachutes.
Some seeds have hooks or barbs to hitch a ride on those who pass by. Chances are you’re familiar with those hitchhiking burdock and beggar-tick seeds. If you have not yet met the exploding cannonball seed pods of the jewelweed or touch-me-not plant, seek them out for some fun and amusement!
Other seeds are within a fruit that is good enough to eat. Apple, blueberry and raspberry seeds are transported by animal express. Bears, foxes and deer enjoy their fruit too. Wild cherry, grape and berry seeds get to be air passengers within birds.
In the autumn, flowering plants focus on seed dispersal and then they’re ready for a long winter rest. Seeds wait for spring and their individual desired combination of warmth, wet, and sunlight to germinate and begin to grow.
Some seeds need to have gone through a winter freeze, others need to have passed through the digestive system of an animal, or to be heated by a forest fire, and some can wait for many years for the perfect conditions to germinate.
This autumn, head out for a walk and savor the changes of the season. In the woods your feet will be buried in fallen leaves and hidden seeds. In a field will be many seeds and you will likely find some hitching a ride on your socks. Time to go on a seed safari!
With your safari hat, magnifying lens and collecting container, head out into the garden, field and woods to see what you can find.
- How many different seeds can you find?
- Wear an old sock over one shoe. How many different hitchhiking seeds can you pick up?
- Can you find seeds that travel by wind, animal, or water?
- What is your biggest seed, smallest seed, favorite seed?
- How far can you make a seed travel without using your hands or letting it drop to the ground?
- Do any of the seeds float in water?
- Look closely at the seeds through your hand lens. Are they rough, smooth, or hairy?
- Save a few seeds. Will they germinate and grow for you?
Second Nature is submitted by the naturalists at Bonnyvale Environmental Education Center in West Brattleboro. Come enjoy the trails open sunrise to sunset. Visit www.BEEC.org for more information and current events for all ages. BEEC is a member supported non-profit organization.