Gardening Sowing Seeds Weeds

Seed: Sow Thyself!

Common stork’s bill seed planting itself. Photo: p. roullard

The seeds of the common stork’s bill (Erodium cicutarium), a sticky, hairy annual weed closely related to geraniums (Geranium) and pelargoniums (Pelargonium), sow themselves.

20190111B Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons
Erodium seeds with awns tightly coiled and nearly uncoiled. Photo: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons

The seeds are launched abruptly into the air by a springlike mechanism, landing up to 3 feet (1 m) from the mother plant. Since they also bear feathery parachutes, they can travel even further on a windy day. But what is really interesting is what they do when they land.

In the video, you see the awn both uncoil as it pushes the seed into the soil, then coil and uncoil several times as it adjusts the seed depth. Video: p. roullard

Each seed bears a long bristle called an awn. It is spiral-shaped and begins to curl into a tight springlike shape in response to dry air. As the air becomes moister, it does the opposite, uncoiling. As it does so, the action drills the seed into the ground, effectively sowing it. If the seed isn’t sown deep enough, the awn will twist up yet again in dry weather, then do some more drilling when the air moistens, repeating the action several times if needed.

A seed that sows itself? How neat is that!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “Seed: Sow Thyself!

  1. Just found your blog and I dig it – you are the reason Horticulture is awesome bro thank you for this blog

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