Plants are magnificently designed to ensure their legacy survives through new plants. Though plants are designed to reproduce more plants, they also have to ensure any new plants don’t grow too close and become competition for light and nutrients. Plants have developed ways to take advantage of nature to disperse their seeds, ensuring they produce more plants, increasing the species geographic range and population size.

Below are five ways plants have adapted to disperse their seeds.

1. Wind

Wind is one of the most common ways plants disperse their seeds. It all starts with a seed. Below we explore some of the ways that seed is dispersed, finding it a new home to start growing. How the wind transports the seed depends on the type of plant.

There are three ways seeds are dispersed through the wind:

  • Flying: Some plants create seeds with stiff coverings that make them aerodynamic. These “wings” allow the seed to spin through the air, like a helicopter. Some seeds have tails that help them glide like a kite. Flying seeds are typically found on tall trees, where the additional height helps them to catch more air.
  • Drifting: If you’ve ever made a wish on a dandelion and blown off the seeds, you’ve seen this dispersal in action. Some seeds have feather-light additions that allow them to be picked up by a slight breeze and carried long distances. The fluffy additions increase the surface area, increasing the chances of being picked up by the wind.
  • Released from a pod: Some seeds are sitting in pods attached to the parent plant, waiting for a breeze to release them. Although they are closer to the parent plant than other wind-dispersed seeds, they are still far enough away to not compete thanks to angled stalks.

2. Water

Plants located near bodies of water use the water to disperse their seeds. When seeds fall in the water, it can burrow in the soil at low tide. Hardier seeds can float longer and farther, allowing them to take root further down the bank.

3. Animals

Animals who eat seeds are an excellent source of dispersal. The animal can ingest the seed, break down the protective covering with their stomach acid, and then excrete the seed far from the parent plant. Trees with delicious fruit rely on animals to eat that fruit in order to ultimately disperse the seeds and create more trees.

Some seeds have hooks or barbs, or are sticky enough to stick to an animal’s fur and hitch a ride further from the parent. If you’ve ever been hiking and found a seed stuck to your jacket, congratulations! You are an animal helping with seed dispersal.

4. Explosion

Some plants are able to expel their own seeds without much help. Plants like peas, gorse and flax have pods that dry out once the seeds are ready, causing the pods to split open and seeds to scatter. Sometimes the sound is audible, and you can see the seed explosion in action.

5. Fire

Fire is not an ideal seed dispersal method, but plants have developed a way to ensure their seeds survive if the plant cannot. Some pine trees require the heat from a fire to open their pinecones and disperse seeds. If wildfires are too frequent, the new plants are unable to grow large enough to create new seeds.

To learn more about seed dispersal, contact one of the Soil Advocates Team at admin@soiladvocates.ca or 289-221-0164.

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