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  • Writer's pictureJean Linville

Full Circle & Seed Math

Seed to Seed! This past week the native plants that I

have been working with have come full circle. A year ago the potential of these plants, now standing tall in neat rows at The Hickories, was tucked away into small seeds produced by their parent plants. Now, fully realized, this year's plants are producing seed for a new generation of native plants. What is absolutely amazing is the sheer quantity of seed that one plant is capable of producing. Plants produce large numbers of seed because generally not all of the seeds produced ever reach the soil, grow and reach maturity and others are eaten or damaged in storms. So to increase the chances of viable seeds being dispersed and thereby ultimately ensuring the continuation of the species, plants err on the side of caution and produce large quantities of seed.

​​If you think that you can't transform your yard or open spaces in your community by simply planting one or two native plants, think again. Just one plant can provide you with enough seed to supply not only yourself, but most of your neighborhood. I have evidenced this firsthand by spending some time counting seeds this week. Here is a bit of the number crunching that I have been working on. Each seed pod on a swamp milkweed plant was found to contain approximately 69 seeds. Most swamp milkweed plants produce an average of 5 pods, which means that one swamp milkweed can produce approximately 345 seeds. Wow!

Even more impressive seed producers are New York Ironweed plants. Figuring out the amount of seed that one plant might produce actually required that I get out a pen and piece of paper as you will soon see. Each seed head on an Ironweed contains approximately 35 seeds. I selected an average sized Ironweed and began to count. The plant I selected had 10 stems which each contained between 5-24 seed heads. Additionally, there was a grouping of seed heads at the top of the main stem. All told there were 154 seed heads on my chosen plant. If each of these seed heads were to contain 35 seeds this would mean that this one plant would have produced 5,390 seeds!!!!!!! If each of the 120 plants in the row were equally as productive, the result would be 646,800 new ironweed seeds! All of this came about from the collection and planting of just 120 seeds last year. Of course some seed will be lost due to migrating birds, heavy rains, collection mishaps and damage during cleaning, but even so the amount of seed that can be collected from a single row of native plants is unbelievably impressive. With luck, these seeds will land in the hands of caring plant stewards who will continue to exponentially increase the number of native plants being grown in our landscapes.

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