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A day in the life of a seed

Seed dispersal is found in many forms with wind being a common factor, especially when seed is “feathery” in nature

I do not like February.

It is a month when little if anything good happens in the garden — cool temperatures, shorter days and windy conditions tend to create problems.

It is a good time to consider “growth” and how, why and when it occurs. In other words, what makes a plant grow? We buy one in a pot, plant it and invariably hope it looks after itself. But how did it arrive in the pot in the first place? What encouraged it to grow and what does its future hold?

Most nursery stock is started by either cuttings or seed, on occasion by grafting or budding and, rarely, air layering, all in the name of propagation. Cuttings are by far the most common method with hardwood cuttings for oleander, spruce, etc, to semi-hardwood and tip cuttings for most other material propagated by this method.

It takes a lot of effort to grow and nurture a plant to the time it is planted in its “resting place”, and thereon allowed to grow under its “own steam” with, on occasion, outside help.

Plants are in many ways self-sufficient as they survive in a diverse mix of climates, yet they are susceptible to pest and disease problems, as well as climatic influences, such as drought, waterlogging, heat, freezing, tornadoes, hurricanes and typhoons. They’re also impacted by man-induced problems — waste water, chemical spillage, soil compaction with heavy machinery, physical damage by man or machine, chemical damage with spray drift and pollution of soils by dumping of toxic chemicals.

Plants found in the “wild” have not necessarily started their life in a nursery. Mother Nature has her own ways of being creative, especially with plants grown from seed. If you examine a seed from most garden specimens, it is usually roundish in shape, smooth or rough. However, out in the wild it is a totally different story.

Seed distribution/dispersal (anemochory) is found in many forms, with wind being a common factor especially when seed is “feathery” in nature. Hooked or sticky seed is transported on animal skin or fur, or mechanically transported on vehicle tyres or equipment and even in the cleats of shoes.

Terrain often dictates seed distribution and in areas of heavy terrain and fast-flowing watercourses, seed can be taken downstream by the rainfall or current in a process known as hydrochory. The surface of the seeds is then “scraped” by the riverbed stones which, in time and when the conditions are right, is the initiation for germination.

Other common methods are autochory, when fruits/seed simply drop from the upper branches of the tree and ballochory, when seed pods split open. There is also allochory, the method of birds eating the fruit and passing seed through the gut on to soiled areas.

All this would not happen without the intervention of the flower and its reproductive parts. Allowing plants to flower increases the supply of seed, which is why the importance of insects in the pollination process. With this in mind, it is advisable to restrain from the exercise of pruning — to allow flower formation and opening — and refrain from using chemical sprays which can have adverse effects on insect activity.

It is from a simple beginning that life forms into forests, pampas, woodlands, etc, to begin the process of growing, flowering, seeding and fruiting; to continue the process of growth to feed living creatures, supply timber for industry and furniture, bark for wine corks, wood for paper products, chemicals for the pharmaceutical industry and beautification of landscapes for relaxation and peace of mind.

Malcolm Griffiths is a trained horticulturalist and fellow of the Chartered Institute of Horticulture in the United Kingdom. He is also past president of the Bermuda Horticultural Society, Bermuda Orchid Society and the Bermuda Botanical Society

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Published February 13, 2023 at 7:58 am (Updated February 13, 2023 at 7:46 am)

A day in the life of a seed

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