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May. 13, 2011

Science Dad (and Science Grandpa!) on Seeds

by Vince Harriman

Click to enlarge images

This week things will be a little bit different. While visiting the grandparents last week, Grandpa suggested a science topic for Beckett to think about! It took me about two seconds to invite him over to talk about science and give myself the week off. Science Grandpa asked Beckett how seeds moved around and were spread.

Japanese Maple in our backyard

They started in the backyard where we have a small Japanese Maple. It is in full bloom and has just produced seeds, which both Beckett and Science Grandpa call helicopters. They picked seeds off the tree and ground and fluttered them around -- the airfoil shape lets them float slowly to the ground in a whirligig fashion. Rather than dropping straight to the ground, they float sideways.

We all went out front where there is a giant maple that puts out really large seeds. To see how these flew, Beckett and Science Grandpa both found some really nice large seeds and threw them as high as they could. The largest had really nice lateral movement and usually fell far from where they were dropped. The airfoil shape seemed to help the seeds fall far away from the tree.

We went back to the backyard to check out the oak tree -- and found lots of last year's acorns directly under the tree. The size and weight of the seeds cause the seeds to fall straight to the ground. But searching around we were able to find acorns all over the back yard -- the dozens of squirrels that live in and around our yards saw to that. Here was another method for seeds to move around -- animals.

Science Grandpa watching helicopters fly

Dandelion seeds floating in the wind

Back in the front yard, we found some dandelions. Like most kids, Beckett and Rowan love spreading dandelion seeds. The seeds have fluffy tops that are extremely light and float easily in the wind. We watched some dandelion seeds float away -- as light as they are, they really can travel.

After Science Grandpa left, Beckett and I continued to talk about the many different kinds of seeds and how they get around. Coconuts, for example, can float for hundreds or even thousands of miles in the water before growing into a tree. Some seeds stick to clothing or fur. And some seeds are even hidden inside delicious foods -- they are eaten and moved around by animals then dispersed where they poop!

Take a look around your neighborhood, what kinds of trees and plants can you see and identify the seeds? What other ways can seeds get around? Does the size of a seed determine how far it travels? Does the shape of the seed matter? In the case of fruits, nuts, and vegetables, does the meat of the fruit or vegetable matter?

In our house, we have a saying -- the nut doesn't fall too far from the tree. Well, I think you can see what I mean. Beckett has a whole lot of his Science Grandpa in him!

About Vince Harriman

Science Dad, AKA Vince Harriman, is a freelance writer living in Annapolis. His two sons, Beckett-6 and Rowan-2 1/2 ask him 'why' approximately 6,542 times a day.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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