Gone with the Wind: Plant Seed Dispersal

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Key ideas Biology Vegetation Evolution Aerodynamics

Introduction Have you ever ever appeared outdoors on a windy day and seen “helicopter” seeds spinning by means of the air? Or picked up a dandelion and blown on it, sending the tiny, fluffy seeds flying everywhere? Wind is essential for dispersing seeds to assist vegetation reproduce. On this mission you’ll design a few of your personal “seeds” and see which of them work greatest when they’re blown throughout the room by a fan.

Studying: why is seed dispersal essential

Background Dispersal of seeds is essential for the survival of plant species. If vegetation develop too intently collectively, they need to compete for gentle, water and vitamins from the soil. Seed dispersal permits vegetation to unfold out from a large space and keep away from competing with each other for a similar sources.

Seeds are dispersed in a number of other ways. In some vegetation seeds are housed inside a fruit (akin to apples or oranges). These fruits, together with the seeds, are eaten by animals who then disperse the seeds after they defecate. Some fruits will be carried by water, akin to a floating coconut. Some seeds have little hooks that may stick on to an animal’s furry coat. (You’ll have gotten them caught in your clothes should you ever went mountain climbing within the woods or tall grass.)

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Different seeds are dispersed by the wind—such because the “winged” seeds from a maple tree that spin and “helicopter” by means of the air as they fall or the sunshine feathery seeds from a dandelion that may catch on the breeze. The longer a seed stays within the air, the farther it may be blown by the wind, serving to the plant species broadly scatter its offspring. On this mission you’ll make your personal synthetic “seeds” from craft supplies. Are you able to design seeds that can keep within the air for a very long time?


  • Examples of various seeds which are dispersed by the wind (Relying on the place you reside, you might be able to discover a few of these seeds outdoors. When you’ve got entry to the Web, you can even do a Internet seek for maple seeds, dandelion seeds and different kinds of wind-dispersed to assist get concepts.)
  • Small, uniform, light-weight objects that you should use as “seeds” (For instance, you can use small paper clips or small binder clips; or buy a bag of actual seeds—akin to sunflower seeds—on the grocery store.)
  • Craft provides to construct dispersal mechanisms to your seeds (These may very well be so simple as paper and tape or you can additionally use issues akin to streamers, cotton balls and even objects you discover outdoors, akin to blades of grass.)
  • Scissors, tape and glue for slicing and attaching your craft provides to your seeds (Watch out when utilizing scissors.)
  • A window fan or massive field fan (Use with warning and applicable supervision.)
  • Stopwatch or timer (optionally available)
  • Measuring tape or ruler (optionally available)


  • Clear an open space within the room the place you’ll do the seed-testing exercise.
  • Place the fan on a desk or chair, aimed throughout the room. You can too do the experiment outdoors on a windy day.


  • Design and construct a number of—at the very least 4—dispersal mechanisms to your seeds. The exercise works greatest should you can create at the very least two related dispersal mechanisms to check in opposition to each other (see examples under). You should use your creativeness and give you your personal concepts however listed here are a couple of to get you began (utilizing a paper clip for instance “seed”):
    • Connect a paper clip to a small, sq. piece of paper, concerning the dimension of a Sticky Observe, with out making any modifications to the paper.
    • Connect a paper clip to a different small piece of paper, however make a a number of parallel cuts in a single aspect of the paper to provide it “frills,” and bend them outward.
    • Connect a paper clip to a cotton ball.
    • Connect a paper clip to a cotton ball that you’ve got pulled on to increase it a bit and make it wispier.
    • Minimize out some paper within the form of a maple seed and fasten a paper clip.
  • Which seed dispersal mechanism or mechanisms do you assume will journey the farthest when dropped in entrance of the fan? Why?
  • Activate the fan. Standing in the identical place, strive dropping your seeds one by one in entrance of the fan. Additionally strive a plain “seed” (for instance, a daily paper clip with nothing hooked up) to see what occurs.
  • How far do the seeds get blown by the fan? Do sure seeds take longer to achieve the bottom than others?
  • Take into consideration your outcomes. Did a few of your designs not work in any respect (fall straight down, with out blowing ahead)? Did some work higher than others? What are you able to do to enhance your designs? Are you able to make modifications to your seeds to make them blow even farther?
  • Further: Have a pal use a stopwatch to time how lengthy it takes the seeds to hit the bottom. This may be simpler should you drop the seeds from the next location. (Have a tall grownup drop them, fastidiously stand on a chair or drop them from the highest of stairs.)
  • Further: Use a tape measure to file how far the seeds journey horizontally from the place you drop them to the place they hit the bottom. Which seeds go the farthest?
  • Further: How do your outcomes change should you change the velocity of the fan?

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Observations and outcomes

You need to discover that including gentle supplies to the “seed” could make it fall extra slowly and blow farther—nonetheless, the form of the supplies can also be crucial. For instance, a paper clip hooked up to a crumpled-up piece of paper will nonetheless fall very quick. A bit of paper with a “wing” design (much like that of a maple seed) or a bunch of particular person streamers (like a dandelion seed), nonetheless, will fall extra slowly and be blown farther by the fan. Precisely how far the seeds blow will rely upon the energy of your fan however it’s best to positively see a distinction within the horizontal distance traveled between a “plain” seed and one with a dispersal mechanism. If you take your greatest designs and attempt to enhance on them, you mimic the method of evolution—as a result of the “greatest” seed designs in nature are those probably to breed!

Extra to discover Gone With the Wind: An Experiment on Seed and Fruit Dispersal, from Science Buddies Crusing Seeds: An Experiment in Wind Dispersal, unique mission from the Botanical Society of America Make a Whirlybird from Paper, from Scientific American Science Actions for All Ages!, from Science Buddies

This exercise dropped at you in partnership with Science Buddies

Science Buddies

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