Monday, January 10, 2011

Windblown Seed

Ever wonder how some new weed managed to get where it is? Wild plants have a way of springing up in the most unexpected places. The answer, of course, depends upon whether the plant spreads by wind-blown seed, seed that drops on the ground in fall and germinates in spring, or by means of runners and rhizomes.

In the case of wind-blown seed, certain plants develop seeds that have little fuzzy hairs, called “parachutes” that carry the tiny seed along on the breeze. And winter is prime time for such seeds to spread far and wide.

Some of my favorite plants expand their range by virtue of wind-blown seeds. Among these are New England aster, boneset, common milkweed and common cattail. Of these, cattails have the longest season for seed travel. By now, seeds of these other plants have long ago dispersed. But cattail seedheads persist from one season to the next.

Winter, though, is the time when cattails use their floating seeds to best advantage. In warm weather, leaves on deciduous trees and shrubs catch the airborne seeds and prevent them from spreading. But in winter, bare limbs have no effect on windblown seeds and one tiny cattail seed can finally settle to the ground many miles from where it was released.

Which explains why someone can dig a pond miles from any other source of water and in only a few years, cattails “magically” appear.

In the same way, airborne seed lands on recently cultivated ground and the following spring and summer, all manner of new plants suddenly begin growing.

While chances of finding a seed on the snow are slim at best, its for sure that for every square foot of snow, at least a few new seeds will land during the winter, waiting for spring to germinate and thus establish a new colony.

So remember that while winter seems like a dead, lifeless time of the year, that certainly is not the case. Wild plants continue their ceaseless quest to perpetuate their kind, even as the blizzards howl and temperatures plummet. Ain’t it grand?

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