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Astonishing facts about the hidden world of seeds

The “May 24 Weekend,” also known as Victoria Day, is officially the start of gardening season in Canada. Seeds are the start of new life. In this spirit, here is a fun read about seeds. Happy gardening!

Acorns – Most oak trees don't produce acorns until they are at least 50 years old.

Animal dispersal – Mammals, birds and insects are responsible for dispersing more than one-third of seeds. Animals gather seeds for winter food and frequently forget where they stashed them. Harvester ants, for example, are responsible for about one-third of all herbaceous [grassy] growth. Some seeds cannot germinate until they pass through the gut of an animal, whereby the seeds’ outer shell is stripped away by animals’ digestive enzymes; this is called scarification.

Seeds are food – Much of our food chain is seeds including: wheat, rice, oats, barley, corn, peas, beans, lentils, and nuts are all seeds. Nuts are concentrated, nutritious food—about 50% fat and 10 to 20% protein. Peanuts contain more food energy than sugar and more protein, minerals and vitamins than liver.

Dandelion seeds – Each fluffy dandelion flower head produces about 200 seeds and the vast majority of them only travel 33 feet (10 metres).

Poisonous seeds – There are some very dangerous seeds contained in attractive, shiny black berries, such as those that come from deadly nightshade plant, Altropa belladonna, that contains tropane alkaloids, notably hyoscine (also called scopolamine), hyoscyamine and atropine. At least five other toxic components have been isolated in belladonna. Though the root is believed to have the highest concentration of the toxins, the berries are usually the cause of accidental poisoning because they look so nice. In the Middle Ages, belladonna was associated with witches.

The seeds from the true Castor-oil plant, Ricinus communis, [used in laxatives and lubricants] (not Fatsia Japonica, the false Castor oil plant) contain ricin, a known toxin.

Edible orchid seeds – Vanilla pods come from the only edible orchid, Vanilla planifolia, a vine that grows to about 10 metres in Mexico. Vanilla also grows in Tahiti, Central America, and the Caribbean; top producers are Indonesia and Madagascar. Some vanilla seed pods contain up to 3 million seeds. About 30,000 orchid seeds weigh barely one gram.

Largest seed (pictured, above) – The biggest seed belongs to the double coconut, Lodoicea maldivica. The coco-de-mer palm has separate male and female trees and is native to the Seychelles. The fruit usually contains just one seed, which can weigh 20 kilos and have a circumference of 50 centimetres. The seed is comprised of two lobes, making it look like a human posterior.

Seeds know their directions – Seeds sense gravity. So even if you plant a seed upside down, it knows down from up. The root grows toward graving and the stem grows away from gravity. The stem also senses light. If you shine a light sideways at a plant, it will grow sideways.

Seed production – Seeds only develop when a plant is fertilized by pollen. All 250,000 flowering plants produce ‘enclosed’ seeds. These are seeds that grow inside sacs called ovaries, which turn into a fruit around the seed. The 800 or so conifers, cycads and ginkgos produce ‘naked’ seeds, which means there is no fruit around them.

Spores contain special cells which grow into new organisms. Green plants like ferns, mosses, and fungi (such as mushrooms) all produce spores.

Seeds are like sponges – Seeds have the capacity to swell up several times their size when watered. On January 9, 1948, a 220-foot (67 m) steel schooner named the Cali left Guayaquil, Ecuador, loaded with grain and bound for Santiago, Cuba. On January 27, the Cali began taking on water during a storm near Grand Cayman Island. As the seawater leaked in, the grain swelled up so much that it ruptured the hull and sank the ship.

Seed vaults – There are five seed vaults around the world that keep seeds of every known plant, shrub and tree on Earth, to protect biodiversity—and in the event of plant diseases, insect infestations, and a global Doomsday.

Viability of seeds – After maturing, seeds go into a state called dormancy. Seeds can remain viable for years. Seeds found in Canadian tundra were planted and actually produced flowers. The seeds were thought to be more than 10,000 years old.

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