Fruit and Seed Dispersal Mechanisms of Plants.

Yellow daisy like flowers

photograph by D.A.L.
photograph by D.A.L.
Photograph by D.A.L.
Photograph by D.A.L.

Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.

Very few of us, either as gardeners,or nature lovers fail to be impressed by the explosion of summer blooms that lift the spirits and bring contentment. Gardens and the countryside in general would be much poorer places without their presence. They attract the bees and butterflies and a plethora of other insects that share the plants with us. It would be nice to think that plants produce these beautiful flowers just for our enjoyment.

The plant has one and only one reason for producing flowers and that is to produce seeds so that the continuation of the species is assured. Nature has thought up many ways for the plants to produce them. Some are in the form of fruits,others nuts, some in capsules while others are contained in pods, just to mention a few. The purpose of these outer layers is to protect the seeds while they are ripening.  In this hub I will try to give the various types of seed production and how they are dispersed. With the aid of photographs we will see how varied these dispersal mechanisms are.

A number of plants have adopted the parachute method. The seeds are attached to plumes which are carried by the wind to their new dwelling places. Members of the daisy family for example the dandelion,goat'sbeard, colt's foot, sow thistle, groundsel and hawk weeds all employ this method. Willow herbs are another noted species that have adopted this method.

Seed capsules of the Broad-leaved Willowherb

This broad leaved willow herb, in common with others of its ilk rely on the plumes to parachute them away from the parent plant. This specimen is just breaking from the pod. Photograph by D.A.L.
This broad leaved willow herb, in common with others of its ilk rely on the plumes to parachute them away from the parent plant. This specimen is just breaking from the pod. Photograph by D.A.L.

Many of the Apiaceae family which includes garden favourites such as parsley and fennel, produce seeds that are flattened but have "wings" on the seed capsule so that the wind carries them away from their floral mothers.

Top. Hogweed below Cow parsley

The common hogweed produces numerous flattened seeds with "wings" that help the wind to carry them. It is one of many of the parsley family do so. Photograph by D.A.L.
The common hogweed produces numerous flattened seeds with "wings" that help the wind to carry them. It is one of many of the parsley family do so. Photograph by D.A.L.
Cow parsley is another example of the parsley family producing a plethora of seeds. Photograph by D.A.L.
Cow parsley is another example of the parsley family producing a plethora of seeds. Photograph by D.A.L.

Plants that produce seed in pods are members of the pea and bean family Fabaceae. This family includes the clovers, vetches, Lupin,Dyer's greenwood, bird's foot trefoil, gorse, broom and the laburnum tree. Examples are photographed below.

Top Bush vetch. Below Laburnum seed pods

These pods of the bush vetch will turn black before they split to release the seed. Photograph by D.A.L.
These pods of the bush vetch will turn black before they split to release the seed. Photograph by D.A.L.
The seeds inside these laburnum pods are poisonous and dangerous to pets and children. Photograph by D.A.L.
The seeds inside these laburnum pods are poisonous and dangerous to pets and children. Photograph by D.A.L.

Crane's-bills have beaked fruits which resemble the head and beak of a Crane a stork like bird. It is from the shape of these distinctive  fruits that the family gets its common name. The fruits are referred to as mericarps by botanists.

Seed pods of the Cranesbill

The distinctive fruits of the Crane's-bill. Photograph by D.A.L.
The distinctive fruits of the Crane's-bill. Photograph by D.A.L.

Other plants have adopted bristles or burs that adorn the seed capsule that catch hold of clothing and animal fur. In this way they are carried considerable distances before they fall or are brushed off. Examples of these plants are Cleavers {goosegrass}, Burdock and Wood Aven {Herb Bennet},. In the case of burdock the fruit is an acne with a pappus {hairs.} which cling to almost any thing that passes. Locally the children call these sticky bobs. The fruit of this plant are paired globular, with bristly, hooked hairs that cling. Hence the plants common name cleave being an old English name for cling.

Top Wood aven Middle Burdock Bottom Cleavers or Goosegrass

The hooked hairs on the Wood Aven are evident in this picture. Photograph by D.A.L.
The hooked hairs on the Wood Aven are evident in this picture. Photograph by D.A.L.
"Sticky bobs" the fruit of the burdock. Photograph by D.A.L.
"Sticky bobs" the fruit of the burdock. Photograph by D.A.L.
The paired capsules of cleavers are designed to cling to clothing and fur. photograph by D.A.L.
The paired capsules of cleavers are designed to cling to clothing and fur. photograph by D.A.L.

Trees produce a wide variety of seed protection, some develop inside spiny cases such as the horse and sweet chestnuts. The fruit of the oak sits upon the twigs in cups until they are ripe enough to fall or are distributed by birds and mammals. Many trees produce berries such as elder, and rowan. while others rely on nuts Hazel and trees such as beech as a means of protecting their seeds.

Top. Fruits of the Rowan. Middle Beech mast. Bottom Elder berries

Rowan protects its seeds in its familiar berries until they are ripe.Photograph by D.A.L.
Rowan protects its seeds in its familiar berries until they are ripe.Photograph by D.A.L.
Beech produces spiny cases that contain the nuts.They are referred to as beech mast. Photograph by D.A.L.
Beech produces spiny cases that contain the nuts.They are referred to as beech mast. Photograph by D.A.L.
These green berries of the elder tree will turn a deep purple-black before dispersing the seeds.Photograph by D.A.L.
These green berries of the elder tree will turn a deep purple-black before dispersing the seeds.Photograph by D.A.L.

Many trees such as the elder and ivy rely on their fruit being consumed by birds thus the seed, which comes to no harm during the transit through the birds gut, is dispersed in the droppings. trees that produce nuts Hazel and Oak for example also rely on birds such as the jay and squirrels hording the fruits. Many of the nuts are buried for winter consumption by both species of animals. Many of these will be uneaten and therefore germinate.

Plants such as poppies rely on the capsules splitting and the wind shaking them out. native plants that rely on this method are the campions.

Top. Red Campion. Bottom, Honesty

The red campion capsule at the top of the picture is ready for releasing its seeds this will be aided by the wind. Photograph by D.A.L.
The red campion capsule at the top of the picture is ready for releasing its seeds this will be aided by the wind. Photograph by D.A.L.
The papery seed pods of honesty are popular with in dried flower displays. Photograph by D.A.L.
The papery seed pods of honesty are popular with in dried flower displays. Photograph by D.A.L.

Species such as the dead nettles,hedge woundwort and water mint form nutlets . These are small usually black seeds that form in a spiky capsule. they are shaped in the manner of a miniature nut. So has demonstrated the flowers that provide us with such enjoyment when their petals unfold have found a diverse number of ways of protecting their seeds and for distributing them. Although the flowers are not for our benefit we can enjoy them fully, while they are in the process of forming their fruits.

Top. hedge woundwort. Bottom. White dead nettle

Hedge woundwort, produces black nutlets in their spiny cases after the flowers have faded. Photograph by D.A.L.
Hedge woundwort, produces black nutlets in their spiny cases after the flowers have faded. Photograph by D.A.L.
When the white flowers of this dead nettle have faded they will produce nutlets in the manner of the above species. photograph by D.AL.
When the white flowers of this dead nettle have faded they will produce nutlets in the manner of the above species. photograph by D.AL.

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Comments 10 comments

D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

More Than Words, nice to meet you, thank you so much for your visit and for leaving your appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.


More Than Words profile image

More Than Words 5 years ago from Oak Ridge, NJ

Thank you for the information. I will surely return from time to time to absorb it all.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 5 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

Dr irum, you are so kind. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Best wishes to you.


Dr irum profile image

Dr irum 5 years ago

Great informative hub .i really appreciate your knowledge in this manner.


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

B, thank you for your compliment. I have worked in the dispensary of a company that made herbal medicine. I lead walks teaching about wild flowers for the West Lancashire Ranger Service. I have been a wild plant enthusiast for years. Spending much of my time in the countryside has taught me many things. L. Best wishes.

Varenya, thank you so much for your kind and appreciated comments. Glad you enjoyed it. We seem to have lost touch with native flora. Best wishes.


Varenya profile image

Varenya 6 years ago

Great hub, D.A.L. many compliments! I find wonderful the way in which you are able to transform herbs, that no one appreciates, into awesome examples of the prolificacy and variety of nature! Thanks for sharing!


Joy56 profile image

Joy56 6 years ago

YOU are a wonderful teacher. I am not studious, but your work is easy to follow, and fascinating, i am learning so much. Is this your job, day to day..... or just a hobby


jandee 6 years ago

Thanks D.A.L for info. re.laburnum pods and any other info you have about dangerous plants would be welcome.

My dog has been rolling in the long seedy grass and is now covered in small lumps,jandee


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England Author

drbj thank you for being the first to visit and for taking the time to comment. Best wishes.


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

How fascinating it is to revisit this extraordinary information. Thanks, DAL.

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