Spectacular seeds

Seeds fascinate me.

Within a matter of months, this tiny little speck can become a big and complex plant. This truly fascinates and bewilders kids; they often ask me how many seeds you need to grow one plant (and inevitably plant a bunch of seeds in one spot just in case I’m not really telling the truth about one seed becoming one plant). It’s sort of a LEGO-block mentality; they assume that putting a bunch of small things together makes one big thing. I won’t deny it, the process of a seed growing into a plant fascinates and bewilders me as well. Though I’ve learned the science behind it, it’s still a pretty magical process. Of course, I also love that seeds turn into food. Whether we’re eating the seeds themselves, or the fruits, leaves, stems or roots they’ve produced, they sure are important to us on a daily basis.

Seed dispersal, the way that seeds travel, is super intriguing. A friend and former co-worker from my High Park summers has gotten me hooked on this topic over the years. There are the many different structures which allow seeds to travel by the wind, like maple keys and milkweed’s fluffy seeds. Some seeds stick to our clothes and animals’ fur, like burdock burrs. (A seemingly fun fall toy, until someone with long curly hair is involved…) Some, like touch-me-not/impatiens seeds pop from their pods (something I loved to play with in my parents’ garden as a kid). Acorns and other nuts get buried by squirrels and other critters. (A brief aside: Have you ever observed a squirrel burying an acorn and then covering the spot where he’d just buried it? Next time you see that, I challenge you to go find that spot where the acorn is buried.) Berry and fruit seeds take an exciting trip through an animal’s gut and get planted right in their own little pile of fertile compost. (The kids love learning about these ones, of course.) Some seeds just drop and roll, like cilantro and mustard seeds (these plants are pretty happy to grow close to their neighbours, so traveling isn’t as essential). And some, like coconuts, float on the water to find another place to grow. All of these seeds are searching for a place to put down roots on their own; they need space to grow, and don’t want to compete with their siblings for water, soil, sun and air.

Seeds are also beautiful. Have you ever taken the time to look at them closely? The patterns, the colours, the textures, the shapes… I’ve been taking tons of pictures of them this fall. Wow. If you’re not convinced, see below.

I’ve done a few seed collecting and saving lessons over the years, as well as some germination experiments, some seed dissection, seed-to-plant matches, and some sorting/observing lessons. This fall, I developed a new seed lesson, which I’ve so far done with grade 3-5 classes. In this “Seed Scavenger Hunt“, students make observations about seeds using different attributes (size, shape, pattern, colour, texture…), and also guess how the seed travels, and justifying their answer. I like the lessons that really have them open their eyes in the garden and schoolyard. When we first went out, they took a quick look around and said they couldn’t find any seeds. I encouraged them to look for flowers, as they often turn into seeds. I got them to smoosh tomatoes and see what was inside. And I showed them that the dry brown parts at the tops of plants often contain seeds. Once they started seeing them, they found seeds everywhere and we ended up heading back to class with cups full of different seeds! I can’t walk anywhere now either, without seeing all of the seeds in parks, front yards, weed patches…

Here are some of the seeds I’ve taken pictures of over the past year or two. Try to guess what they are. I’ve given the answers in the captions, but don’t roll over the picture to reveal the caption until you’ve made your guess. 🙂 Some are simple, some are way more complicated… Which ones did you get? Which ones surprised you? Let me know in the comments!

Another quick and easy seed dispersal activity I’ve done is one we sometimes do at High Park camp – Seed Dispersal Drama. This was super successful this past week with some Kindergarten kiddos. After an introduction about seeds traveling (often reading a book), we move around the field or room pretending to be different types of seeds: we fly like dandelion seeds, bob like coconuts in the waves, twirl like maple keys, pop from our pods, stick to people and animals… They love the different movements, and the Kindergarten teacher I worked with this week said it turned into a vocabulary lesson as well, to learn words like bobbing, floating, twirling, etc.

I’ve used a couple of different seed-themed books this fall. I’ve probably mentioned both of them before, but they’re worth mentioning again. I’ve used A Seed is Sleepy for all kinds of seed lessons over the years. Beautiful illustrations and lots of great information, in an engaging story form. Another one that’s great for younger kids is What Kinds of Seeds Are These? The rhymes are engaging, and kids have to guess what plants the different seeds are from. It also refers to how the plants travel. Would love a food garden specific version of this, but this one is great too! Any seed books you’ve used in lessons or read with your own kids?

The coming weeks will bring a bit more harvesting, some cooking (Stone Soup, among other things…), and cleaning up the gardens before fall. Stay tuned…

Happy growing (and harvesting and seed saving)!

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