Clingers & Shakers

What do Coneheads, Fluffies, Ballistic Missiles, Mama’s Boys, Clingers, and Shakers have in common? They’re all whimsical names applied to types of seeds based on their dispersal mechanisms.

The familiar dandelion, for example, disperses its seeds by air, each attached to a fluffy appendage known as the pappus. We’ve all experienced blowing on the tuft of a ripe dandelion seed head to watch the little “parachutes” float away on a breeze. Thistledown is another example of pappus. We might categorize seeds dispersed in this manner as Fluffies.

Generally, as organisms rooted in place, plants benefit from dispersing their seeds away from the parent; that’s how a population might expand and how new territory might be claimed by a given species. Some plants disperse their seeds with the aid of mobile animals. Seeds with bristly attachments, hooked hairs, and the like (think Bidens, enchanters’ nightshade, or stick-tight) might be called Velcro Seeds or Clingers. Those of us who have had to face the challenge of trying to comb bur dock out of a dog’s fur know just how stubborn such seeds can be in clinging to an animal.

Some seed pods are spring-loaded and catapult their seeds a considerable distance, perhaps as far as 30 feet. Such a dispersal mechanism could be termed, Ballistic. Local examples include Geranium, violets, and jewelweed.

If you’d like to learn more about seed types, especially in terms of harvesting native seeds for use in ecological restoration of natural areas, we have just the program for you:  Seed Collection & Dispersal, here at Severson Dells on Monday, October 2, from 9:00 a.m. until noon. We will begin with a brief presentation of seed types and dispersal mechanisms, followed by a hands-on field session of seed collection, and concluding with a tour of the Winnebago Forest Preserves’ seed-processing facility.

Each seed is a treasure, a little box of promise. Each seed represents the vegetation of the future—and our own future wellbeing may well hinge upon the vegetation that sustains the diversity of life in our region. To hold such promise in the palm of our hand, to nurture the future, is an honor and a privilege. And you are welcome to participate.

The event is free. RSVP at or call 815-335-2915.

Ripe seeds of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)--shown without the pappus

Ripe seeds of common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)--shown without the pappus