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Discovery Magazine 11/1/2000

Small Seeds—Big Kingdoms!

by  Bert Thompson, Ph.D.

Not all plants have seeds. Mosses, algae, and ferns rely on tiny spores to spread themselves around. The main types of plants that have seeds are conifers (like pine trees) and flowering plants.

Seeds come in all sizes and shapes, but all have three parts: (1) an embryo, which is a small, very young version of the plant; (2) stored food, which the embryo will use to start growing; and (3) a tough outer layer or coat that protects the embryo.

Flowering plants—from scrawny weeds to massive oak trees—wrap their seeds in a package called a fruit. Like the seeds they surround, fruits take many fascinating forms. Scientists divide fruits into two main types: fleshy and dry. Fleshy fruits with a single seed inside are called drupes. These include plums, peaches, and olives. Fleshy fruits with several seeds inside are called berries. Tomatoes, pumpkins, and oranges are types of berries. Dry fruits, where the seeds are attached to the inside of the fruit wall, are called legumes. These include peas and beans. Nuts, like acorns and hazelnuts, have a hard or stony outer layer, and two or more parts on the inside. Achenes (a-KEENS) are, perhaps, the most common kind of fruit. They are small, have a single seed, a coat, and not much in the way of stored food. Many of the things that you plant in your garden, like sunflower seeds, are achene fruits. The “helicopters” from various maple trees are “winged” achenes. Dandelions have hairy tufts at the end of their achenes.

As you can imagine, how scientists name fruits and how we name fruits are not always the same. For instance, strawberries are not berries at all, but have achenes stuck on the outside of a fleshy pulp. Peanuts are more like legumes than nuts. Almonds, walnuts, and coconuts are drupes, not nuts.

In Genesis 1:11 God commanded every plant to produce after its kind. A peach seed only produces a peach tree, and a dandelion achene only produces dandelions. God has created plants so that they reproduce in many different ways, but whether their seeds are big or small, or whether they are found on the inside or the outside, they all reproduce after their kind—just like God designed.



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