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HOW DO PLANTS GIVE SEEDS?

Each plant that makes seeds has a different kind of container (called "capsule," pronounced "CAP-syool") for the seeds, and a different way of scattering them. After all, nature did not give plants plastic bags with labels on them, and instructions as to where they should be planted!

Get some collection bags, with stickers, and collect some flowers that have made seeds but have not yet scattered them. It is very interesting to see how flowers hold their seeds until they are ripe, and how they are scattered for nature to plant them somewhere else.

Columbines keep their seeds in a kind of pitcher-like structure at the top of the flower. When the seeds are ripe, they pour from the mouth of their "pitcher." Poppies develop a seed capsule at the center of the flower while it is in bloom. As the capsule grows larger, the petals of the flower fall off. The capsule is shaped like a ball, with a little hat on it. As the seeds ripen, tiny holes with "trap doors" develop right under the "hat," and as the stem shakes in the breeze (or an animal shakes it when it walks past), the seeds come out through the holes. Four o'clocks develop four large, black, hard seeds in the center of each blossom. While the blossoms are intact, the seeds just lie there. As the blossoms dry, the petals fall off and the seeds fall to the ground.

Of course, we all know about the capsules in which peaches, cherries, plums, and all sorts of other fruits and vegetables are stored. If the fruit (or vegetables) aren't picked, they dry, fall to the ground, rot, and the seed (or seeds) in the center (or through the fruit, like in water- melon) may be washed away by rainwater, pushed into the ground by animals or people, or buried by the wind blowing topsoil over them, and some of them germinate and grow.

Witch hazel, violet, touch-me-not, jewelweed, lady-in-the- bathtub, and many others have capsules that swell as the seeds ripen, then burst (almost like a small explosion), and scatter the seeds in many directions.

One of the most marvelous seed capsules is the artichoke! When you cook an artichoke (the flower of the plant), there is fuzzy stuff inside, that you have to scrape off the heart before eating it. That "fuzzy stuff" is a huge mass of seeds. If the artichoke is not picked when it is ready to eat, the petals (which we usually think of as "leaves") open. The "fuzzy stuff" grows, becomes purple, and makes a beautiful display. The petals fall off, and there is that glorious purple soft-looking mass of seeds! After a week or so, the seeds dry, and blow away in the wind. The artichoke plant is actually a thistle!

Do you know where a Scotch Broom is? Do you know what it is? It is a shrub, which can grow quite large, and in the spring, it has zillions of small, yellow blossoms on it. The blossoms, as they dry, form small seed pods. For our project, we'll collect some branches of Scotch Broom with seed pods still intact, and bring them to school. We want to look closely at them when we first bring them in, and make notes about the appearance of the leaves and the pods. Tying a strong twine around the cut ends, we can hang them so that they dry evenly. If we were just to lay them on the counter, we would have to turn them, or those on the bottom of our stack may not dry properly. Scotch Broom pods let you know when they open to pour out their seeds. They make a small popping sound when the pods burst open. It is like an announcement!

If we can obtain some wild geraniums or witch hazel fruits, we will place some into a jar, put in a moist cotton ball, and then close the lid. We will put the rest of them into an open jar, with no moisture. We'll keep a good watch on them for several days to see what happens. I don't know what will happen, so you and I will learn together.

If we can obtain blossoms of poinsettia, thistle, and dandelion, and watch them dry and go to seed, we will have first-hand knowledge of some seeds that blow in the wind. (Poinsettia blossoms aren't really blossoms. They are the top leaves of the shrub, that turn red in winter time. The actual blossoms are the seed capsules.) We want to be careful of the thistle, because most thistle plants have very sharp thorns. Dandelions are quite pretty when there are lots of them in bloom on a lawn. Their dried seeds are pretty, as well. The reason people don't like dandelions much is that their leaves spread out close to the soil, and kill the grass around them. We've all had fun blowing dandelion seeds.

Pine trees, fir trees, whatever kind of conifers (cone-bearing evergreens) grow locally, usually produce many cones, which dry and fall to the ground. Many people collect the cones because they are pretty. Let's collect some that have fallen off the trees very recently. They should still have their seeds. We can heat them in an oven set at 250o, or put them on a tray in a warm place for several days. Then we can watch the seeds pop out. We could even measure the distances they travel when they pop. Interestingly, if we wanted to grow conifers from seed, we would have to put the seeds into the freezer for awhile. They will not germinate unless they have been thoroughly dried, and then frozen.

Seeds are fun.

 
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