What is a Seed?

Shut your eyes and picture a seed. What did you see? A tiny black dot? A fat bean? A kernel of corn?

Given the right conditions, any seed can give rise to a new plant.

Seeds have some basic parts in common. Every seed has a protective coat, some stored food, and an embryo that is the beginning of a new plant. Most seed embryos have a tiny root (radicle), a stem (plumule), and one or more leaf-like parts called cotyledons.

Energy pack

Most seed-making plants pack energy into seeds from starch, sugar, and fat. When you eat bread (made with flour ground from seeds of grains such as wheat and rye), oatmeal (made from processed oat seeds), or nuts, you are using energy stored inside seeds. Many animals eat seeds and the structures such as berries that surround them. Bears, squirrels, deer, grouse, insects, and other forest animals eat nuts and berries. Ducks and geese eat seeds from aquatic (water) plants such as wild rice and water-lilies.

Where do seeds form?

Seed-making plants, including trees, can be divided into two groups based on where their seeds form.

In gymnosperms, seeds form between the scales of a cone or in a berrylike cup. Since the seed is easily visible, gymnosperm seeds are also called "naked seeds." Conifers, cone-bearing trees that keep their leaves year-round, belong to this category.

graphic: White Pine Cone showing Gymnosperms

In angiosperms, seeds develop in sacs called ovaries. Ovaries then form a structure such as a fleshy fruit or nut, which encloses the seed. Trees that flower in the spring and lose their leaves in the fall, called deciduous trees, form seeds in this way.

graphic: Angiosperms shown in Red Oak Acorn

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