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Seeds in Flight

Tina Hartell

There are a lot of seeds around right now. I’m shelling dry beans from the garden, the kids come running in with “stick tights” stuck tight over their shirts and shoes, turkeys are running around eating up the acorns, and milkweed seeds are blowing from alongside the pond. Seeds do get around. They’re supposed to, that’s their job - to get as far away from the parent plant as they can and set up shop to grow and reproduce. Seed dispersal is a plant’s one big shot at horizontal movement.


These maple samaras (a.k.a. helicopter seeds) are in abundance now. They are the twins of the seed world, clustered together on the ends of branches, waiting for the right time to take flight. Once airborne they twirl either clockwise or counterclockwise with precision, as the angled “wing” weighted on the top side and papery on the bottom side give a lesson in perfect physics.


These ash seeds are also samaras, but in a different style. They have a single straight wing and the seed is much smaller and less heavy. The seeds all hope to land in a spot just right for germination. Most don’t. And then even those seeds that do germinate never make it to maturity. But trees play the long game - sending thousands of seeds out year after year at great energy expenditure with pretty incredible success.