Seed Dispersal

Who planted all the wild seeds?

We are very lucky to live near a nature spot filled with blackberries, alpine strawberries, sloes, grasses, wild flowers and much more. This week as part of the ‘Exploring Nature with Children curriculum that we follow we will be looking at seed dispersal with our kids. September is the perfect time in the UK for teaching children about how seeds are dispersed as there are lots of opportunities to witness it happening whilst out on a walk or whilst your doing a spot of gardening with the children.

Take a nature walk in wild meadow with wild alpine strawberries and blackberries

What is seed dispersal?

Plants need sun, water, earth and wind to thrive. If every seed was to fall and land directly underneath the parent plant very few would survive as the competition for space, light and water would be too great. Before seeds can grow and develop into plants they first need to leave the parent plant and find their own patch.

Seed dispersal is the transport of seeds away from the parent plant and their are four main methods of seed dispersal.

Wind – Animals – Water – Force

Seed Dispersal by wind

There are many types of plants that disperse their seeds by wind like clematis, poppies, dandelions and sycamore to name just a few. These plants have all adapted special features to help the seed spread by use of wind. Some have feathery hairs that help them stay longer in the air while others like the poppy have a hollow container with an opening, when the wind blows the poppy sways shaking and flinging the seeds all around.

Two really good examples for teaching younger children about seed dispersal by wind is the Dandelion and the Maple tree seed.

Dandelion
Each dandelion seed comes with its own individual parachute. This helps the wind carry the seed high into the sky.

I know that to many the dandelion is just a weed but for me it is the flower of early childhood. Whether it is blowing the seeds to tell the time or trying to catch the floating “fairy” seed to make a wish these games that little children play are actually the perfect way of demonstrating seed dispersal.

If you ask your child to pick a dandelion that has gone to seed and get them to gently blow the seeds will float away and that is exactly what happens in nature. When the wind blows the dandelion seeds take off and will travel along with the breeze. It can travel for some great distance before finding a new patch of land to grow on.

Maple

How many of us as children remember making helicopters out of the Maple tree seed? What seems like a simple fun game for children to play, twisting the stem and watching the “helicopter seed” glide gently to the ground, is actually another simple and hands on way of teaching young children about seed dispersal.

Samara is the official name for the maple seed. Each Samara contains one seed attached to the wing.

When a gust of wind blows the seed from the tree it begins to spin, just like a helicopter propeller and can glide for some distance before reaching the floor. The seed will then hopefully take root and germinate into a maple tree.

Seed dispersal by animals

Plants cannot move very far so they have to rely on other methods to transport their seeds. Some plants like to attract insects, birds and mammals by growing tasty berries with seeds inside for them to eat and other plants grow hooks around their seeds in hope that a mammal will brush up against it and take it away.

Birds
Birds are not the only ones who enjoy eating berries, mice, deer and even foxes enjoy eating the fruits found on our hedgerows.

We have  been enjoying  picking wild berries this year with our two kids, first it was the alpine strawberries, then the raspberries and we finished off last week blackberry picking. Every time we go foraging we always tell the kids to remember to leave some for the birds. Birds love to eat these berries and once they finish their feast the seeds that were inside the fruit are dropped to the ground via the birds poo. These seeds will go on to germinate and grow new plants.

Insects

The primrose is one plant that uses ants to help scatter seed. The primrose has special food-bodies called elaiosomes attached to the seed. Ants carry away the seeds and eat these food bodies they then discard the seed which is then able to germinate and grow.

Seed dispersal by water

Seeds can travel for a long time on water and it is not only aquatic plants that use water as a way of dispersing seeds some land dwelling plants also rely on water to carry their seeds.

If you are able to take a family trip out to somewhere where there is a lake or pond get your child to take a look at what is growing in the water and around the banks. Some of the plant life you may see could be foxgloves, weeping willows, lilies and water mint. All these plants of different shape, size and colour will each use the water to help carry their seeds.

Water Lily
Water Lilies release seeds that have air pockets. This allows them to float downstream before eventually becoming waterlogged and sinking to the bottom.

The water lily is a great example of an aquatic plant that relies on water for dispersing its seeds. The flower of the lily produces a fruit that will float on the water for some time before eventually sinking to the bottom of the pond, lake or stream and taking root.

Foxglove
Foxgloves are able to colonise isolated areas as their seeds are so lightweight they are able to be carried by both water and wind.

Fox gloves are a good example of a land based plant that uses water to carry its seeds. Foxgloves can often be found growing by the banks of rivers and streams and they produce millions off tiny dark seeds. Once the flower has died and the seedpod has cracked the tiny seeds of the foxglove will float downstream where it will find a new piece of earth to germinate on.

Seed dispersal by force

Some plants eject their seeds from the pods by using force. This usually occurs on hot sunny days, when the heat from the sun evaporates all the water in the seedpod causing an explosion which results in the seeds being catapulted into the air.

If your lucky enough to enjoy a quiet nature walk amongst Lupins or Euphorbias during the late summer months you may hear the sound of the seedpods exploding.

Sweetpea
When a pod reaches maturity it bursts open scattering the peas as far away as possible

Sweetpea pods can be a good plant to use whilst demonstrating to younger children the process of seed dispersal by force. When the seedpod is really dry and on a hot sunny day you can gently rub your finger down the back of the pod and it will pop open.

Seed Dispersal mix and match activity for children

Here is a Mix and Match game I put together for my daughter.

Seed dispersal Mix and Match download

We hope you have enjoyed this article and if you are learning about seed dispersal with your children please feel free to download our Mix and Match Seed Dispersal activity game and please join us on social media and let us know what you and your children have been discovering.