How Seeds Travel
In the autumn, when the plants have left off flowering, there is plenty for us to do in looking for fruits, and finding out how they scatter their seeds.
Some drop them near at home. The poppy, as we saw, has a hard fruit with little openings under the cover. When the stalk bends the seeds fall out through these holes and grow in the ground all around.
If you look at the dry seed-boxes of the wild geranium which grows in the lanes, you will see that each one has curled up from the bottom. There will be five little curls round the sticky knob in the middle, and the seeds will be gone.
There is a tall yellow Balsam which is found wild in some parts of England, and another with reddish flowers, which is often grown in cottage gardens, which have a most amusing seed-box. When it is ripe it bursts open and flings out its seeds. If you can get a friend to touch a ripe pod, it will make you laugh to see how he jumps as it pops with a bang in his hand. This is why the plant is often called "touch-me-not."
But plants want their seeds to be carried farther away than even popping will send them. Think how many flowers there are crowded together in a hedgerow. If all the seeds fell close round they would stifle each other. So plants try all sorts of plans to get their seeds scattered.
I am sure you have blown the feathery dandelion "clocks" on your way home from school. Next time you do it look at one of the little floating messengers. Do you remember that when we looked at the dandelion we found that it was a flower-head with hundreds of tiny flowers, and that each flower had an oval seed-bag at the bottom with a number of fine hairs on the top of it and a yellow crown with a long strap?
Now the yellow crown has withered away, and the top of the seed-box his grown up into a long neck with the hairy sepals on the top (see Fig., p. 25). And when the wind catches these hairs it carries the tiny fruit along perhaps for miles, and then it drops down to grow.
Thistles and sow-thistles, groundsel and teasels, and a number of other flowers of that kind have these feathery seeds. So you see when you let them grow on your own ground you spoil the ground of other people as well.
This is the way that wind carries seeds.
Other seeds are washed down by streams and left on their banks. Others, again, are often carried in the mud that sticks to the feet of birds.
Another plan is to grow tiny hooks on the seed-boxes so that animals carry them. The goose-grass does this. We saw on p. 64 that it has tiny hooks all over its stem and leaves, which it uses for climbing. It has the same kind of hooks on its tiny seeds. If you take a bunch of goose-grass in your hand you will get a number of the very small seed-boxes sticking to your fingers.
But there is a much bigger "burr," which grows on the common Burdock in the lanes. The burdock (see p. 77) is a tall plant, with very large heart-shaped leaves and pink flower-heads, something like a thistle. You often bring its burrs home on your clothes, dogs carry them in their hair, and sheep in their fleece. Each of these burrs is a cup of leaves covered with hooks. The leaves grow together into a ball with the flowers peeping out at the top, and if you open a ripe burr you will find the tiny fruit inside.
So you, and the dogs, and the sheep carry the seeds for the plants.
But the prettiest plan of all is when the seed-box grows into a sloe, or a cherry, or into some bright berry like the berries of the hawthorn and the honeysuckle. For then the birds come to eat the nice fruit, and when they carry it off to some tree near they drop the stone down in a new place. Or they eat the berry, and the hard seeds pass through their body, and fall with their droppings somewhere far off.
Now you see why the blackberry and the raspberry grow juicy pulp round their seeds, and why the little hard seed-boxes of the strawberry stick in the juicy mound. All this is to tempt the birds to eat them and carry their seeds.
So too in the hip of the wild rose, the green cup grows large and soft, and turns a bright red just when winter is coming, and there is not much food. Then the birds come and peck at the cup, and the seed-boxes inside stick to their beaks or are swallowed, and so are carried away.
You know that in a hard winter the holly berries and mistletoe, the hips and haws, and even the berries of the yew and the honeysuckle, are often all gone before Christmas. But I daresay you did not know before that the birds were carrying about seeds to grow up next year.
But if you keep your eyes open, you can learn a great many things like these, which children shut up in towns cannot see. You are happy to live in the beautiful country, among the birds and the flowers. You breathe the fresh air, which the plants make sweet, you gather your own flowers, and grow your own vegetables and fruit, and you can watch the plants in your garden growing prettier every year.
Try to find the fruits of the wild geranium, yellow balsam, dandelion, groundsel, thistle, teasel, goose-grass, burdock, rose, hawthorn, honeysuckle, yew, and other plants.