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Plants Have Many Ways To Spread Their Seeds

Plants may be rooted into the ground, but to be successful their seeds need to spread far and wide. New plants will grow away from the parent plants and eventually spread seeds of their own.

Maple tree seeds are called samaras, but they are often referred to as helicopters. (Photo via Shutterstock)

The cycle continues on and on and on. Plants have developed clever and interesting ways for their seed to travel. Let’s take a look.


Seeds such as these are spread by wind. (Photo by Angela Rafac)

Some seeds are so light and feathery, they just need a strong gust of wind to blow away and find new ground to settle into. Many tall prairie grasses and weeds, like dandelions, have seeds that travel this way. Other seeds are shaped in special ways so they do not fall straight down, but gracefully flutter, whirl or parachute to the ground. A common example is the “helicoptering” action of the seeds from maple trees.


Plants that like to grow in and near water just need that water nearby to spread their seeds. Seeds from these plants may fall directly into the water or fall to the ground and wait for heavy rains or winds to sweep them into a river or lake. Then they can float their way to a new home.

Hoarding mammals

We have all seen squirrels getting busy in the fall stashing acorns and other nuts to keep themselves fed in the cold winter months. However, they don’t find all the secret spots where they buried them. The nuts that are left behind can sprout and grow into new trees. Mice may also leave little stashes of seeds uneaten from their winter hoard in underground tunnels. These seeds have the soil and moisture they need to start growing in the springtime.


A cedar waxwing eating a mulberry. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Some plants hide their seeds in delicious fruits and berries. Animals like birds or mammals eat the fruit and travel on to new locations. Eventually, when these animals eliminate their waste, the seeds are left behind in their feces, hidden in their own natural fertilizer.


Some plants that produce little pods containing seeds may wait for the right environmental conditions, and then the seeds are released with quick, catapult-like motions. Pressure is built up inside the pod, and at the right moment the pod bursts and the seeds blast out.

Check out this short video to see some exploding seed pods in action.


(Photo by Angela Rafac)

If you have ever taken a hike off trail, the photo above may be a familiar sight. Some seeds are shaped in such a way that they cling to anything that passes by. This could be a bird’s feathers, a mammal’s fur or, in our case, a mammal’s clothes. These hitchhiking seeds travel until the animals they clung to remove them.

As you enjoy the outdoors this fall season, notice the seeds and appreciate each plant’s dedication to making sure their seeds have a chance to grow! One final way a seed can travel is if it is planted by a human. You can learn more about getting started on your own native garden this fall with our “Planting Fall Natives” Zoom webinar at 6 p.m. Wednesday, October 21.


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