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.

Dog Day Blooms

It’s HOT.  We’ve had some good thundershowers recently, so it’s not a drought at least.  Next week’s forecast of mid-90’s highs every day with little chance of rain means you should probably water your shrubs a bit this weekend.  Our potted plants at the farm are being watered twice daily.

The spring bloomers are looking pretty ragged at this point as they seem to just shrivel under the weight of the hot air, but the summer and fall bloomers have put on some robust growth and beautiful flowers.  I hope you have a minute, there’s lots of pretty pictures:IMG_5229

 First, a Downy Lobelia (Lobelia puberula) bloom in the greenhouse with an Agapostemon bee on it.  There are lots of species in that genus, but they are all commonly known as ‘sweat bees.’  One of our many native ground-nesting bees, there have been several in the greenhouse for the past week or two.  There is a lot of open, parched ground around the greenhouse’s compacted clay foundation and that just happens to be just what ground nesting bees look for in real estate. 

Out in the nursery another Lobelia is also blooming:IMG_5246

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is gorgeous as usual. IMG_5244

 A Phlox species that we think might be Phlox maculatum? 


Large Flowered Coreopsis (Coreopsis grandiflora) blooming in pots! This plant looks like a marigold on steroids in the ground, but always did poorly in pots until I stuck them on the highest, driest, sunniest spot in the nursery.IMG_5237

 Family resemblance of the day: Joe Pye and Boneset.  These both used to be in the same genus (Eupatorium) until recently, but are both still in the family Asteraceae (subfamily Asteroideae, supertribe Helianthodae, tribe Eupatorieae……there are A LOT of Asters).  Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium fistulosum) on the left has pinkish flowers, and Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)  on the right has white blooms.

IMG_5236Spotted Horse Mint (Monarda punctata) isn’t even technically blooming yet and is already eye-catching.  The flowers are those little green parts clustered around the stem, the seemingly painted-on colors are modified leaf-like bracts. 

All of the previous pictures are of flowers formed by plants in pots.  If you were to install them in your yard they would be twice as big (at least), more floriferous, and you’d get to walk past them every day.

IMG_5266  Out in the propagation beds you can see what I mean. Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) with hundreds of blooms as opposed to the ones in pots with only a dozen or so.


Blue Skullcap (Scutellaria incana) is also loving the heat.


 Passion Vine (Passiflora incarnata) does have some of the most unique blooms you’ll find this far away from the Equator, and it makes little edible fruits commonly known as Maypops. You can see one forming on the left.IMG_5162

Finally, Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea).  It really is a workhorse of a pollinator plant.  I tried to focus in on the tiny individual flowers in between the spikes.  Those little dark tubes with the yellow star-like stamens sticking out are the fertile flowers that the bees and butterflies want. IMG_5152

 It’s like a giant counter full of delicious smoothies, and you have a built in straw. Also, it’s guarded by massive spikes to keep those pesky mammals from just eating the whole thing.  Echino- is the Latin for “spiny; prickly.” Sea Urchins and Star Fish are “Echinoderms.”  IMG_5254

 Despite being larger than the whole flower head this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (as well as most other butterflies) has a very long, thin, retractable, tube-like tongue which it methodically moves from each tiny flower to the next to extract the nectar.


 Trying to get these two guys in the same frame took a minute.  They don’t like sudden movements.


 I think that this is a female Tiger Swallowtail, so we should have plenty of caterpillars soon!

Living Green Series

  We recently took part in the ongoing collaboration of The Wylde Center, DeKalb County Public Libraries, and the City of Decatur by speaking at their Living Green Series of educational talks on May 6th.  Pandra and I talked about our native bee species and what the public at large can do to help maintain and create habitat for them.


 About 15 people came out to hear us speak, which isn’t bad for a Monday morning at 10 a.m


Pandra let them know all about Bumblebees and their method of buzz pollination, which makes them much more efficient pollinators.


I described how bees fill their pollen baskets on the backs of their legs.


More talk of pollen, this time on a Blue Mason Bee.


And then a few samples of housing built for bees.  We demonstrated how to roll up tubes of old newspaper to create similar houses for Mason Bees and let everyone join in the fun after the talk.  We enjoyed meeting and talking with a number of people very enthusiastic about helping out the bees with a few nectar plants here, a few bare patches of ground there, and a few bundles of tubes up a tree.

And speaking of insect housing, check out this cool link someone emailed us just this morning.  Houses for insects can be interesting garden sculptures as well.

The Living Green Series  continues in June with a composting workshop for the whole family!  Compost is one of those things that may be daunting to start, but it quickly becomes a habit, or a way of life, and it’s one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your waste stream dramatically AND you get free soil amendments.  Mark your calendar for June 15th and make sure to RSVP for this FREE class.

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.