How plants travel? – The ways they use to spread their seeds

Dandelion Seeds dispersed by wind

Do plants travel for real? Yes! All plants need to travel in order to survive. They have to travel a lot and to great distances in order to spread themselves and make sure that their future generations thrive. They do this in several ways by implementing the best techniques known to them. These techniques are shaped by the climate, landscape, agents that are available to disperse their seeds, a few to mention. Some just use natural elements like wind and water. Some make pacts with animals, birds, and insects and some do it on their own. Here are some unique ways handled by some plants to disperse their seeds. Plants always make the best out of what is available to them!

Bird Cage plantOenothera deltoides

The birdcage plant or Devil’s Lantern is a plant that grows on sandy soils from deserts to beaches. The plant looks like a small bush that is close to the ground. This plant is native to South Western United States and Northern Mexico. It produces attractive white blossoms and when the dry season comes up, the plant has finished it’s reproduction and has produced seeds that are ready for dispersal. During the dry season, the plant dries up and in that process, curls it up to form the so-called “Bird Cage”

Squirting cucumber – Ecballium elaterium

The squirting cucumbers fill their fruits with liquids that get up to huge pressure and wait with huge potential. The slightest touch or an accidental bump by a passing animal is enough to launch the missiles and the seeds get squirted along with a liquid at speeds up to 95 kmph. Each fruit will contain about 20 to 40 seeds on an average. The seeds may be thrown at a maximum distance of 6 meters in all directions! Great pressure indeed!!

Dandelion – Taraxacum officinale

The Dandelion starts as a normal flower. After the fertilization is complete, the petals of the flowers drop leaving just a seed head which seems much like a bud. After the seeds are mature, the magic happens. The seedhead opens up into a wonderful structure that we usually use to blow off in a playful manner! The seedhead opens up as it dries and each seed is equipped with a tiny parachute that enables it to float and fly away even in the slightest breeze. So, now everything is ready, the plant just waits for a wind to spread its seeds. A gentle breeze from a little child’s mouth could send these seeds into the and with a lot of happiness for the child and the plant!

Javan Cucumber – Alsomitra macrocarpa

A. macrocarpa is a woody climber produces big “flat” seeds with two big gliders attached to them. They are found in the tropical rainforests of Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula. They climb up high in the rainforest trees and produce huge hanging fruits that hang up in the canopy which aids the dispersal of the seeds. The fruits open up at the bottom as the fruits dry, seeds get loose one by one and they are dispersed in wind. They just float effortlessly in the wind and the gliders help them travel great distances and establish its population!

Helicopter Seeds – Anisoptera scaphula

Helicopter seeds are produced by tall trees that reach up to 45 meters. The seeds of this tree have a good advantage of getting dispersed. These seeds are equipped with two wings that rotate like a helicopter blade and come rotating down from the trees. When the wind blows, they can be taken far away from the mother trees!

Coconut – Cocos nucifera

As it is very popularly known, coconuts can be found along sandy beaches and sea shores of all tropical regions. The reason for this is the coconut uses the seawater to disperse its seeds! The coconuts travel in the sea currents. They are perfectly adapted to it. Although the seed is huge and heavy, it is covered by a thick mesh of fibers that contain a lot of air which aids the seed to float in the water.

Sea beans – Entada rheedii

Sea Bean is a woody climber of the Fabaceae family which is found throughout the tropical rainforests along the rivers and near the seas. It is found all over Africa, parts of Asia and Australia but not in the American tropics! Their seed coats are thicker and durable so they survive prolonged immersion in the seawater and germinate when they land in suitable spots! They are found along rivers in Tropical forests where the giant pod hangs above water and the pods once mature, drop off as single packets into the water, and are eventually carried to the sea. From there, these seeds travel great distances and reach different islands and establish themselves there. An example of such can be seen in South India, the Archipelago of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

African Grapple plant – Harpagophytum procumbens

The African Grapple plant uses a more brutal way to disperse its seeds. It grows in sandy and dry places in Northern South Africa, Southern Botswana in the Kalahari region. The fruits of this plant are evolved as a huge claw-like structure which is rightly called “Devil’s Claw”. The plant aims animals that have big soles like Elephants and ostriches. They accidentally step on the plant and the seed gets painfully embedded to the legs and as they take each step and the seed pod breaks releasing seeds as the animals march the desert.

Durian – Durio zibethinus

The Durian is a tropical fruit that looks a lot like the jack fruit. But they both belong to different families Durian – Malvaceae and Jackfruit – Moraceae. Durian is a very smelly fruit that is found in the tropical rain forests and these fruits are a favorite for Orangutan Monkeys. In a Bornean forest, the Orangutans eat the fleshy fruits of a Durian and the tree is littered with rinds and seeds of the tree. The seeds that fall around the tree are the most unfortunate ones as they are shadowed by the parent tree and they will not get a chance to grow into successful trees. The ones that are accidentally swallowed by the Orangutans are the lucky ones and they get the chance to travel distances and if they are lucky enough, they will get to an open space and germinate there to grow into a tree!

Wild avocado – Persea americana

Avocados in the wild are relatively small while compared to what we see today in supermarkets! The bird called “Quetzal” is a specialist in dispersing wild avocado seeds. This small bird can swallow an Avocado with its stone and the seeds are later dispersed when the bird excretes. This gives the plant extra nutrition to get started! The Quetzal is found only in the tropics of Guatemala, Mexico, and the Central American continent. For the female Quetzals, the fruits are extremely necessary for good reproduction. It seems to help them produce eggs. So, these birds usually nest near avocado trees.

Guanacaste trees – Enterolobium cyclocarpum

The Guanacaste trees grow from Central Mexico to Northern Brazil and Venezuela. The agents of dispersal of these trees were once giant sloths that lived in the region. But when humans started to settle there, they were hunted to extinction. Fortunately, humans brought with them, big animals like cows and horses. They took the place of the Giant Sloths. The seedpods need big mouths to grind and they pass through the intestines and when they are excreted in the faces, they germinate happily and grow into trees. The trees get their name from the “Guanacaste” province of Costa Rica where they are found in abundance. Humans have also have become fond of these trees and they have been growing this since then.

Brazil nuts – Bertholletia excelsa

The Brazil nuts are found in the tropical rainforests of Brazil as the name goes. They are one of the sources of income for the country! These trees have their contract with an incredibly small animal called “Agouti” disperse their seeds. These small rodents have strong teeth that can gnaw through the tough capsule of the Brazil nuts. Each capsule contains about twenty nuts which is too much for such a small animal. So, they hide the seeds that they cannot eat for future use. But the Agouti is poor in memory and often forgets where it hides the seeds. The seeds that it hides in the ground germinate and grow into trees.

This is just a sample of how plants communicate with their surroundings and they spread themselves to unbelievable distances. It is a fascinating world and it would be fascinating when we dig deeper and get an understating of every plant that is out there! We will explore more about plants in future posts!

Tags : co-evolutionseed dispersal

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