Seeds, Up Close and Personal

Seeds. They’re everywhere.  Chances are you’ve probably eaten some today already.  I had a number of them on the outside of my bagel (which was made from ground up seeds) and ground up a bunch to make my coffee.  Most of the seeds we encounter as food have been bred to be bigger and tastier for our human appetites.  The seeds on non-domesticated plants, i.e. native wildflowers, have evolved their own special adaptations to appeal to the animals that consume and spread them.  They also have other interesting features that aid in their dispersal and germination so they can become new little plants.  The trouble is most of them are really small, and its hard to see those features.  Fortunately we have a microscope at the farm.  After many hours of the often mind-numbing task of removing the seeds from their capsules and screening out all the associated detritus I decided to take a break yesterday and look at some of my cleaned seeds a little closer.  Fortunately I was able to get my camera to focus through 2 extra lenses and was able to get a nice set of photos.

IMG_5446A familiar looking seed from the Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) as it resembles the big fat sunflower seeds you see in the grocery store from it’s cousin Helianthus annus.  IMG_5449

Another familiar looking seed from the bean family (Fabaceae), these are from Wild White Indigo (Baptisia alba). You can see the tiny umbilicus on the one where it was attached to the seed pod.IMG_5454

This seed and pod are from American Ipecac (Gillenia stipulata). It looks like a tiny brain to me. IMG_5453

False Aloe (Manfreda virginica) seeds look very similar to the seeds of their cousin, Yucca, but just a bit smaller.IMG_5452

Swamp Hibiscus (Hibiscus grandiflorus) surprised me with these stripes. I was immediately reminded of clam shells and how they form by adding layer upon layer.IMG_5450

Blue Star (Amsonia tabernaemontana) is one of the few cylindrical seeds I’ve ever seen. They form stacked end to end in a tubular capsule.


By far the biggest seed I looked at, Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)  might have broken the 1 cm barrier.  I have planted plenty of these seeds, but I had never noticed the tiny hairs.  They just look smooth to the naked eye.


Like a crazy toy troll, these Tall Thimbleweed (Anemone virginianum) seeds have some wild hair. The mass of seeds looks like a puff of cotton on the plant, but here you can see the individual wiry hairs that encase the seed and help it float away on the breeze.  IMG_5439

I accidentally crushed one of these Skullcap (Scutellaria nervosa) seeds while I was moving it with tweezers.  The previous seeds were small, but these are tiny. I zoomed in another quarter turn on the microscope to take this. They look like perfect little spheres to the naked eye, but zoom in and they are anything but smooth. IMG_5441

Another one with hair, but this one has a comb.  These Blue Mistflower (Conclinum coelestrum) seeds also have hairs that are meant to catch the breeze and pull them along like an upturned umbrella. I was confused as to what that blurry violet stuff was, but then I realized that it’s the flowers! Each of those tiny flowers has a tube going down to an ovary.  When pollen is transferred to the flower, it is transported down the tube and a seed forms. Every single one of those tiny little flowers was visited by a pollinator to make every single one of these tiny little seeds.


And speaking of pollinators, the ones who made all of these seeds possible, here is a bee.  I’m not sure how she died (possibly all that arctic air), but she was on the porch and I suppose can live on in a blog post.  All the little hairs coming out of the compound eye were very interesting to me.  You can really see how pollen would get stuck to all those hairs.

There are plenty of seed heads out there right now.  Break one open and look closely at what’s inside.  Get out your hand lens or a magnifying glass.  Thank a pollinator and then cast the seeds to the wind.

The Pocket at Pigeon Mountain

  In our continuing effort to observe natural plant communities in and around the Georgia Piedmont we took another field trip on March 14 to the Pocket Loop Trail in the Crockford-Pigeon Mountain Wildlife Management Area.  ‘The Pocket’ is often billed as the best wildflower viewing area in Georgia.  It’s still a little early in the season as far as blooms go, but there was plenty to see.

 The trailhead was fairly easy to find.  The last turn off of Hog Jowl Rd. (such a great name) was kind of like turning into a neighborhood with little signage, but about a half mile down the road there were DNR signs.  Here’s a map if you need directions.  The first part of the trail up into the Pocket is a raised boardwalk known as the Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail.  The boardwalk protects the delicate ephemerals and all the other plants in this floodplain from human feet.  It also prevents ground compaction from foot traffic, which can have a devastating effect on the underground parts of many plants.

 The sides of the boadwalk are lined with Spicebushes (Lindera bezoin) which were just starting to flower and extend their leaves.  The flowers bloom before the leaves unfold and flatten out.  Another interesting aspect of this plant is that it is dioecious, meaning that there are male and female plants.  The flowers are so tiny that it can be hard to distinguish the males from the females, but I think I learned how with the help of a hand lens.

 Here’s a better look close up.  These are male flowers.  You can just barely make out some globular yellow tufts of pollen on the tips of the anthers.  Note my thumb for a size reference.  The female flowers are incredibly similar, but they have an ovary in the center with a stigma (looks like a white hair) emerging from it.  I couldn’t get a good close up of the female flower, but the other thing I noticed is that most of the flowers open were male.  Only a few females had their blooms starting to open, which is a good strategy, as the males need to be fully in bloom with mature pollen grains as the female flowers become receptive to pollen. 

 The Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) had their foliage up, but were not quite ready to bloom.

 A few were trying really hard though.

 Plenty of Liverworts (Hepatica acutiloba) were blooming amongst the leaves of Trilliums.

 Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was putting on a similar show amongst Trillium and Geranium leaves.

 The Celadine Poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum) were so close! I was bummed I didn’t get to see these in full bloom because I love this flower.  I suppose I will have to return in a few weeks.

 The Phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida) were just starting to open as well, but this one had a bit more sun, so it went ahead and gave us a show.

 Star Chickweed (Stellaria pubera) was also blooming farther up the trail.

 The culmination of the half mile or so after the boardwalk ends is the waterfalls.  The limestone/sandstone geology of the area gives it an interesting stepped/cascade form.

 Some really good examples of sedimentary deposition planes. 


As I said at the beginning, we headed out there just a little early to catch the peak of the trillium bloom, so there’s still time if you want to explore this amazing area in full bloom!


04.06.12 Down in the valley

We will use this geranium population as parent stock for both seed and cuttings to develop locally sourced geranium plants that are nursery propagated.

Geranium maculatum in the valley near the beeches.


09.24.11 Salvia azurea

¾ inches of rain.

Took pictures of Salvia azurea This is in the east propagation field.  The plant is amazing, grown to 12 or 13 feet tall, a leafy spire covered in sky blue flowers an inch across.   These tall wands of blue flowers do a wonderful bow and dance in any passing breeze.  Skippers seem to be visiting the flower, didn’t notice a lot of other pollinator activity.  Will keep my eyes on it. Like many salvias, this member of the mint family is a “clumper” not a “thug” or a “runner.”

Just look at this flower, it’s got a wonderful bright sky blue color.


07.09.11 Using paper mulch to kill weeds and set up planting areas.

Paper mulch weed block.

1 ½ inches of rain.  Installed paper in front beds.  8 ½ feet wide by 167 feet long.

This post describes a passive method of killing weeds or invasive plants and setting up a planting area.  It works pretty well as long as you do not till the ground after setting up the paper and mulch.

This year we have moved to using heavy brown paper with 4-6 inches of mulch or compost layered on top.   As we are not tilling the beds, the weed-seed bank should stay mostly undisturbed.  Dead woody debris is being used to hold the paper in place until the mulch can be layered on top.  The wood will be left behind to serve as moisture and mycology “reservoir” as well as serving the gradual enrichment of the soil.

Topping off the paper mulch with compost.

Although you can plant immediately after situating the paper and finished compost with this method, I prefer to let the paper and compost smother the weeds first, about 8 weeks to make certain.  That way, when setting out the plants, weeds aren’t poking through the holes that are made by planting actvities.  This method works well on forbes, plants that do not have perennial wooden stems or trunks.  It has worked very well to control Lespedizia in the beds.

Please note:  you don’t need a tractor to do this.  You can use any uncoated paper to use as a weed block, newspaper is great, rolls of kraft paper work, as well as rolls of specialty paper made for this purpose sold by organic garden vendors.

The finished bed is about 170 feet long.

The previous year we used plastic to solarize the beds to rid them of weeds.  The plastic became a problem.  Not only is it expensive, but during the process of solarizing of course it has to stay exposed to massive amounts of UV during the hottest part of the year when the sun is it’s most intense.  At the end of the solarization period, not surprisingly, the plastic was so brittle that it was virtually impossible to pick all of it up – it kept breaking apart in our hands.   It was hours of additional work trying to get these tiny shreds picked  out of the beds.  The Lespedezia and sweet gum saplings were not completely eradicated by this method.  I think their roots may have been too deep to have been fully cooked.

It takes about 2 months for the beds to be ready to prep for planting with the solarization method.  

11.10.10 Why the logs?

2 ½ inches rain. 

Mike and I finished lining the down hill side of each of the propagation beds in the East Field with coarse woody debris (CWD).  Placing dead logs on the downhill side of each bed to helps keep compost and mulch from washing downhill, but also has many beneficial qualities to lend to your garden soil. 

Three important reasons to use coarse dead wood:
1.  The decayed wood serves as a reservoir for moisture.  Larger pieces of dead wood have a more significant moisture retaining capacity than smaller pieces, and release this moisture to the soil slowly throughout dry spells.  Large woody debris improves the overall moisture retention and structure of soil.  

2.  This moisture retaining capacity of dead wood also creates an important refuge for beneficial organisms like mycorhizzae, allowing them to retreat into the moist wood and survive dry spells; these organisms will more effectively recolonize soils when conditions improve.   

3.   As fungi and decomposer species of mushrooms break down the log, the decomposition activity can actually increase the amount of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus that the deadwood holds.  Insects and other wood-eating arthropods digest (with the help of micro-organisms) the complex organic molecules that make up wood, and return this more accessible, simplified nutrient matter back to the soil as droppings (or frass).

Eventually the logs will become soil themselves.

Work cited:  
“The Ecological Role of Coarse Woody Debris.” EcoForestry, the Art and Science of Sustainable Forest Use.  Ed.  Drengson, Alan Rike and MacDonald Taylor, Duncan.  Gabriola Island, New Society Publishers. 1997.  91, 92.

There is also a good article on Coarse Woody Debris and it’s importance on Wikipedia.


10.10.10 Elmer’s Lost Well

Removed lespedezia in front of hunter’s shed.  Mike mowed lespedeia at top of ridge before it could go to seed.

Elmer's lost well.

When we first were considering the property, my husband Mike and Elmer (one of the fellas we eventually bought this property from) walked all over looking for this well.  For the past year, every time we took a hike, we kept our eyes open, hoping to catch a glimpse of the fabled hole in the ground.  Kinda gave up hope of finding it after several months went by.  Today we finally found the lost well.  It is a beautiful hand dug construction, maybe 35-40 feet deep, lined in small, carefully stacked granite boulders.  It would be a bitch to fall into, however.

10.03.10 Tracks along the Ring Road

I love walking the ring road after a rain to see who has been about.

Some Turkey tracks along the north side of the property.  There is a large flock of about 20 Wild Turkeys in the back there.  They are very skittish and cautious birds, we don’t see them often, but we have caught glimpses of them over the past year.

The second photo down, squirrel tracks? such tiny and delicate digits.  Third photo, below left, perhaps the hind paw of a skunk? The toes are very short.  This was a fair sized hind paw, about 2.5 inches long.  The fourth photo below right is one of our gray foxes.