“In the garden more grows than the gardener sows.”
This old proverb is very painfully obvious if we but look in our own gardens. Have you ever wondered, while weeding the garden or lawn, where all the weed seeds came from? Perhaps you have been surprised to discover the various types of plants growing in one locality. How did they all get there?
Suppose we consider the forms of seed dispersal: they are birds, insects, wind, water, animals and inherent mechanical devices. In this issue let us limit ourselves to the first two: namely –birds and insects.
The world’s greatest traveler is the bird. With the air as his highway all is accessible-hill and valley, mountain and canyon, land and sea, frigid and torrid regions. What creature could better serve to scatter the earth’s seeds.
There are several ways in which birds unintentionally distribute seed. One interesting way is by the means of the mud which sticks to the feet of the bird; especially, is this true of the aquatic species as geese, ducks, partridge, snipe and others. During his experimentation, Darwin discovered 82 seeds in the mud he removed from one red-legged partridge.
Some seeds produce a mucilage, thus making it possible for them to adhere to the bird’s body. An example of this type of seed is produced by the mistletoe whose berries contain pulp which is very sticky and proves to be quite a delicacy for birds. While eating these berries, the birds eject the gummy seeds by wiping their beaks on the bark of the tree. The mucilage which remains around the seed hardens, and, incidentally attaches it firmly to the bark, where the seeds germinate. It may be interesting for the reader to know that the mistletoe, commonly used for decorative purposes during the holiday season, is not a shrub as many suppose but is a parasite which always grown on the branches of living trees, from which it gets its food supply.
On the islands of the Eastern Archipelago are found the Pisonia trees-the nesting place of the herons. The seeds of these trees are exceedingly viscous and often clog the bird’s feathers to such an extent that flight is impeded; and, in some known cases, the birds are so encumbered by this sticky substance that death results.
Likewise, the seeds of the wormwood are very muscilaginous, and are transported from place to place by the small owl.
However not all seeds which attach themselves to bird’s bodies are of this nature. Many are small and light, as the Kentucky blue grass and caraway seeds which adhere especially to the downy type of feathers. A duck may even appear green due to the many small duck weeds it has on its body. Very innocently he continues the great project of seed dispersion as he visits from one pond to another.
Nuts, a common form of seeds, are also transported by these air travelers, one of which is the crow who frequently carries hickory nuts, acorns, walnuts, beech nuts, or chestnuts. Observation has proved that in the case of the Arizona woodpecker but may be transferred to little pits within the tree itself. Very securely, this woodpecker buries each acorn in these special little crevices which he has dug and even human hands cannot remove them. Similar in habits to the squirrel is the “crested jay” which carries its nuts and buries them in the ground to be used for its winter provision. Once again we see how seeds are scattered almost incidentally.
Frequently, the bird deposits the seeds it carries in the nest it is building. Later, when the nest deteriorates, these little embryos of life sheltered within, are scattered to and fro. Some naturalists have even observed plants growing within the nest itself. A certain robins nest, after being in a museum for four years, was watered and produced sixty-four plants which had been dormant within the nest. Similar experiments illustrate this factor for various examples are on record: a sparrow’s nest having 59 seeds, a barn swallow’s containing 19 and eight robins’ nests totaling 325.
Seeds are also distributed by “dropping” as is evident by the numerous shrubs and trees found along fence rows (especially in the case of the cherry tree and berry bushes).
The second agent of seed dispersal is the insect, the ant being the most outstanding. They have been known to carry the seeds of various plants in the crotches of trees, where later they may develop. Epiphytes are plants which grow on other plants. Certain species of ants collect the seeds of epiphytes and roll them in little balls of earth which they attach to the branches of trees. Here they are able to develop in the proper environment. The seeds of the bloodroot and the ginger plant have albuminous appendages which prove very tasty to the ant who carries them considerable distances until the nest is reached. One experimenter, Sindlinger, removed ½ pounds of soil from an ant hill and found that 62 plants developed from it. All of these instances prove the importance of the ant in seed distribution.
Hairy larvae (the worm-like stage of the butterfly and moth) have been observed to carry many small seeds on their bodies.
Seeds have also been found in the dropping or dead bodies of locusts, which fly great distances and, thus take the seeds to various places, far removed from the original location.
At the time of creation God ordained that all living things should produce after their kind. This was also true of the plant kingdom which would propagate itself by means of seeds. Gen. 1:12. “And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after its kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself after its kind: and God saw that it was good.”
Even as God has decreed since time began the means of propagation (the seed), so also has He provided the instruments and agents to carry out this purpose in intricate detail.