Go on a seed hunt during the summer months
Summer is the season of seeds. Inside every fruit and vegetable, atop wind blown grasses and following each flower, seeds form. They may be sequestered inside cones, embedded in flesh and carried in pods of every size and shape. What all these share is the miraculous spark of life and the potential of a whole new plant.Now is the time to collect seeds while they are fresh and viable. Gathering before parasites infest the seed or birds gobble it up ensures you can pick out the biggest most vigorous ones. This selection process is an age-old act of all aboriginal peoples. Their gathering of acorns or pinion nuts was not merely a harvest, but a careful assessment followed by acceptance or rejection. Even one pest ridden nut in their granary could threaten the food supply. Seed gathering, whether it is from your own garden plants or from wayside places, can be a most satisfying way to spend time with kids. It can be a lot like an Easter egg hunt once the kids know what to look for. In the process you can help them identify the plants each seed comes from. They will learn to find the structures that bear seed, separating them from the rest of the plant. In the process they will come to recognize the huge diversity of seed size and shape from the giant acorn to tiny chia.When you go for a walk to the park, seeds may be collecting beneath a maple tree or blowing in great cottony tufts from the poplars. Each introduces a new lesson to the kids. Cottonwood seed fluff helps it seed travel on the wind. It will continue moving so long as the land is dry. But if it lands on wet ground where a poplar or cottonwood seed would stand a chance of germination, the fluff collapses immediately. There it sits in the damp mud as the seed quickly sprouts before the surface dampness evaporates.In the woods or countryside, wild seeds are everywhere. Shake a newly opened fir or pine cone to see the seeds drop out. If you’re lucky enough to find a squirrel gnawed cone you get a look at the inside of these primitive seed bearing structures with their layers of scales. Grasses are everywhere yet few look closely at their seed heads. These tall flower wands rise into the wind for pollination, then after seed is formed it’s released into those very same winds. Where crops such as milo or broom corn have naturalized, these grasses produce big seeds that can be saved in quantity to feed to birds in winter.Once a seed source is found you can collect a small number of the seeds to take home. Identify the plant on the Internet or in a local field guide. See what kind of cool factoids you can come up with to help them remember it. Making up short bedtime stories around the seed or plant can lodge it in a child’s mind forever.Store your seed collections in clear plastic containers that allow you to see the seed, not just a label. This further connects what a seed looks like with the name of the plant it came from. Flat plastic jewelry bags make perfect see-through containers that keep seeds fresh and viable. Old Tic Tac boxes work nicely too. Mark the name of the seed on the container with a Sharpie marker. It’s easy to forget the origin of a seed weeks or even years down the road. The best part of seed collecting is the living memories it plants into young minds. But what may live even longer is that maple or cottonwood tree that grew from the collected seed. That tree will retain special meaning, emphasizing the appreciation of small living things capable of one day creating staggering strength and beauty.Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of “Weekend Gardening” on DIY Network. Contact her at her Web site http://www.moplants.com or visit http://www.diynetwork.com.
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