Getting Around

The ground would get crowded if all of a plant's seeds sprouted beneath it. But that rarely happens. Plants have wonderful ways of moving their seeds to new places.

graphic: showing the ways plants moving their seeds

1. Wind. Some seeds soar through the air to a new home. Maple and pine seeds have flat, wing like blades. Seeds of dandelions, milkweeds, cottonwood trees, and many other plants have white fluff that catches on the wind.

2. Water. American elm seeds can float for miles after falling into a stream.

3. Carriers and buriers. Squirrels are famous for squirreling away acorns and other nuts in the fall for food later on. The nuts that last through the winter might sprout and become trees instead.

4. Plant power. In warm weather the seed pods of witch hazel, a forest shrub, burst open and fling seeds far from the parent plant. Dwarf mistletoe, which grows on evergreens, can shoot its seeds 20 feet at almost 60 miles per hour.

5. Animal insides. When birds, bears, or other animals eat fruit, they unknowingly move the seeds inside their bodies. The seeds end up in a pile of the animal's droppings in a new place. The droppings fertilize the new plant.

6. Animal outsides. Did you ever walk in a field or forest and come back with seeds stuck to your socks? Some seeds have claws, spines, hooks, or other parts that cause them to cling to animals passing by. After falling off or being pulled off the animal, the seeds can sprout in a new place.

7. People power. We move seeds when we buy and plant them. Sometimes seeds get stuck in mud in our shoes or in bike tires, then end up in a new spot. If these seeds are from fast-spreading plants such as dandelions or garlic mustard that aren't native to Minnesota, they can crowd out native plants.

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