Seeing Seeds Up Close

By Robert Llewellyn and Teri Dunn Chace
Sep 14, 2015 5:00 PMNov 19, 2019 12:04 AM


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Photo Credits: Robert Llewellyn

A centuries-old saying goes, "Great oaks from little acorns grow." But as a new book, Seeing Seeds, reveals, there is much more to a seed than the plant it will become.

Seeds, seedheads, pods and fruits have their own astounding beauty that sometimes even surpasses that of their flowers.

One example, shown here, is the seed pod of annual corn, or Flanders poppy, Papaver rhoeas. The plants self-sow in gardens and fields. The tiny seeds have been known to lay dormant for decades.

In the following slides we share some of our favorite seeds. 

Photo Credits: Robert Llewellyn

Eastern red cedar "berries" appear only on the female trees. Despite their small size and coloration, they are considered cones and they hold little brown seeds.

Photo Credits: Robert Llewellyn

A close-up of dandelion filaments shows how numerous they are.

Every seed of a dandelion has its own stalk and fluffy parachute. Once released, the weight of the seed will keep this wind traveler pointed downward — just as the weight of the person under a parachute keeps him or her beneath it.

Photo Credits: Robert Llewellyn

The pods — technically siliques — of the honesty plant (also called a money plant) are transparent. Transparency is a desirable feature of honesty or integrity, so perhaps this is the origin of the name.

The small seeds are held inside and ripen gradually as the siliques go from green to silver or nearly white to, if left on the plant, tan.

Photo Credits: Robert Llewellyn

The most familiar gymnosperms are conifers, but this cycad is also a gymnosperm, meaning "naked seed plant."

While most gymnosperms depend on wind pollination, cycads long ago evolved a relationship with beetles. But their seeds are no more protected or guarded in their cones than the seeds in any pinecone.

The red seeds of the cardboard plant, Zamia furfuracea, fall right off the female cone.

Photo Credits: Robert Llewellyn

This whirligig seed head followed from a beautiful clematis blossom. At the base of each twisty tail is an achene, or tiny fruit. The plume attached to it helps it drift or fly to a new location.

Photo Credits: Robert Llewellyn

Every fall, most maple (Acer) trees send sailing hundreds or thousands of these samaras.

These have an ingenious design. The heavier fruit is encased to keep it safe and dry, but also flanked by aerodynamic wings. With the aid of wind, these wings can take the maple seed far afield. 

Photo Credits: Robert Llewellyn

Black walnuts are a tough nut to crack. But left to its own devices the nut will eventually spring open and begin generating a sapling. Somehow it knows if a spot is promising and recognizes the right season and even an optimum year.

Photo Credits: Robert Llewellyn

These ripe poppy pods are complex and interesting. The lid part, or operculum, shelters but does not clamp down on the dry capsule. Ripe seeds eventually escape via the small pores or slits. Depending on the species, there may be upwards of 200 tiny seeds inside.

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