October: The season of the traveling embryo

Milkweed seeds ready to be scattered by the wind. Photo by Tom Lewanski

October is an ideal time to observe the mechanisms plants use to move. Most terrestrial plants are firmly rooted in place and yet for the species to thrive and survive they must find ways to travel. Plant embryos, known by most people as seeds, not yet stuck in place, are in the best situation to move on the landscape. There are several general types of dispersal: wind, animal (inside), animal (outside), water and propulsion. It takes a lot of energy for a plant to produce embryos and for many of them this process culminates in the fall. If my dog’s coat is any indication, seed hitchhiking is a very effective way for plants to distribute their embryos and ensure their genetic material moves forward in time.