How Do Plants and Seeds Travel?07/12/2022 ● By Lexie Briggs
Have you ever wondered how plants travel? The answer is more complex than you might think!
Oregon’s wildflowers are beautiful, especially during Oregon’s spring and summer months. But the flowers aren’t just attractive to humans. Flowers use the power of color and smell to attract pollinators, which are animals like bees, moths, and birds who move pollen between flowers so plants can make fruits and seeds. In this way, a plant’s pollen can travel an incredibly long distance, which helps plants maintain genetic diversity.
Fruit is delicious, and Oregon’s crops of blueberries, blackberries, and huckleberries are ripening now! Fruit is also a way that a plant can travel. By creating delicious fruit to surround the plant’s seeds, plants can attract animals to eat the fruit, but most animals can’t digest seeds. An animal can eat a piece of fruit, seeds and all, and then wander somewhere else, transporting the seeds in their belly. After a little while, the seeds will have worked their way through the animal’s digestive tract and be left on the ground to grow where they land. In some ways, plants are using animals like public transportation!
How about an avocado? Avocados have one giant seed, surrounded by delicious fruit. Scientists believe that the avocado tree adapted specifically to attract giant ground sloths that roamed California, Mexico, and South America more than 10,000 years ago. Unfortunately, ground sloths went extinct thousands of years ago (although you can see a fossil of a giant ground sloth in the Museum of Natural and Cultural History!). By that time, humans had decided that avocados were delicious enough to cultivate! Avocado trees survived even without the animal that ate them up because we think they’re delectable.
Some seeds are good at traveling on their own, without animals to pollinate them or take their seeds on gastric train rides to different hillsides. Think about a dandelion, whose yellow flowers grace many lawns this time of year. Once the flowers mature, their seeds form a puff ball, with each individual seed connected to a white downy structure called a pappus. It looks a little like a parachute and a little like an umbrella turned inside out. If the dandelion encounters a little breeze, either from the wind or from someone blowing on one, the seeds can travel up to 60 miles!
You can learn even more about plants and seeds with a visit to your local library, a gardening club near you, or using the museum’s Explore from Home webpages in both English and Spanish. Visit https://mnch.uoregon.edu/explorefromhome to learn more!