Fall marks the beginning of maturing seeds

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By Sylvia Brockner

As summer comes to an end, fall arrives with its rich fullness of color. The end of the growing season is marked by the gold of aspen and the abundance of maturing seeds.
Seeds come in many sizes, shapes and colors, from small dark poppy seeds that look like ground black pepper to plump fat seeds like striped sunflower seeds and red rose hips. The goal of every plant is to flower and produce seed to perpetuate the species. Soon most of the vascular plants will die with only their seeds left to winter over to produce next year’s plants. Perennial plants will die back to ground level with perennial roots staying alive underground to start next spring’s growth, as well as seeds to start new plants.
Seeds are everywhere this time of year. In their great variety, it becomes a challenge to figure out what they are and how they are dispersed. Some, like the ponderosa seeds and many other seeds, simply fall to the ground beneath or around the parent plant. This makes for slow dispersal with the colony around the first plant slowly growing larger into mature stands of a single species, such as our pine forests.
There are four main ways that seeds are distributed to new locations. Many seeds are distributed by wind such as dandelions and thistles, which are blown miles from the mother plant by the fluffy feather-like pappus, which is attached to each seed and floats them in the mildest breeze. These are very common seeds, quite noticeable because of their large cluster of fluffy pappus.
Still other seeds are distributed by water. These plants usually grow along the edge of streams or lakes where their seeds either fall into or are washed by rain into the water where they can float downstream to new areas. Curly dock, other species of dock and some other seeds have three sides that keep them floating by one seed-wing acting as a keel and the other two supporting the seed on the surface of the water like a miniature boat.
Many seeds are in the stick-tight category. They disperse their seeds by hooking onto people’s clothing, animal fur, swishing cow or horse tails, etc., to be pulled off miles from their origin.
Some seeds that are eaten by birds or small mammals have very hard inner shells around the reproductive part of the seed, allowing them to pass through the animal’s digestive tract unharmed and later germinate where they are deposited. Birds, for instance, can be nourished by the outer fleshy pulp of juniper berries and drop the seed along fence rows and other perching places miles from its origin. Thus, junipers often reclaim burned hillsides after a forest fire.
A few plants have explosive seed pods that when ripe pop open with such force that they scatter the seeds several feet from the plant. Violets do this sometimes as does the witch hazel bush and a few other plants such as locust and wild jewel weed or impatience.
A few plants hav such stiff winter stalks that when they snag onto some animal, they are pulled back until they spring free and actually catapul the seeds from the pods. Evening primrose often does this. Such action often scatters seed on top of the snow, making it available to bids, mice, etc.
These various methods make it possible for the plants to move about, to move into new areas and to prevent overcrowding of seedlings. Now it the time to go out looking for seeds. They are an interesting bonus for a walk on a fine fall day. See if you can figure out how all the seeds you find are dispersed. They also make interesting autumn wreaths and winter bouquets. Just be cautious about scattering seeds that are noxious pests. They spread quickly and nobody will appreciate your bringing them into your neighborhood.