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Wild Flower Fellowship

The Diversity of Seeds

Published by lucy grove on Fri 30 September 2016
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How many of us take the time to look at the seeds of wild flowers here in the UK? I do think most of us will have seen, picked up and played with the seeds of some of our native trees (conkers or sycamore helicopters anyone?). But how many of us have got on our hands and knees, to study up close, the shaving brush like seed of a Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)? Or the wonderful geometric, cornflake coloured seed of a Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)? And once you start looking, the diversity of shape, colour, size and structure is fascinating. 

Cornflower brush like seeds
Cornflower brush like seeds

 

The seeds of Fritillary remind me of Cornflakes!
The seeds of Fritillary remind me of Cornflakes!

 

Once you’ve started to appreciate the diversity of seeds with the naked eye the next stage is having a much closer look under a microscope. Then you can’t help being amazed! I spent a full day glued to Emorsgate’s microscope and loved every minute. The tiny stripy seeds of Oxeye Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) turn into massive, ridged humbugs and the complex surface structures of seeds such as Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) and Scarlet pimpernell (Anagallis arvensis) are revealed in such immense detail. 

 

I love using a microscope to look at things in detail
I love using a microscope to look at things in detail

 

 

The view looking at the seeds through the microscope
The view looking at the seeds through the microscope

 

Learning to identify the different species’ seeds under microscope, is an important skill to acquire, allowing seed mixtures to be analysed. Through the knowledge of the experts at Emorsgate and a couple of handy seed identification books I was ready to undertake some analysis. My job was to take a sample of the seed that Donald and myself had Brush harvested from meadow in Wales, then to infer what species of seeds were harvested and their relative abundances. This information will then provide customers with knowledge on the mixture they are sowing and what the likely species composition will be, but also allows us to compare differences across brush harvesting years. This can provide an insight into how meadows may be changing or how the date of harvest effects seed mix composition. 

 

A seed mix to be analysed
A seed mix to be analysed

 

 

Quick seed crib sheet
Quick seed crib sheet

 

From noticing the variability in seed structure, my mind automatically jumps to wanting to know why? Why are some seeds bullet shaped and shiny (Ribwort plantain) and others small and attached to a pappus (Rough Hawkbit)? Some answers can be found by looking into the diversity of seed dispersal mechanisms – another fascinating area to study (and the subject of my next blog post!)  

In conclusion, in addition to playing ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ with dandelion seed heads, or tormenting your siblings with sticky weed (aka Cleavers), I would thoroughly recommend spending time getting to know a few more of our wonderful native seeds.