When we came back from a walk through the vineyards yesterday we found little seeds like this one sticking to our clothes.
Look how elaborate a structure it has – wonderfully designed for hitching a lift! Its tenacious little hooks beautifully created to spread the species.
I was just thinking about seeds the other day when I read about the massive explosion of flowers across the Atacama Desert. Did you read about that? Here’s some of the coverage. The Atacama Desert in Chile is one of the driest places on Earth but about every five to seven years the flowers flourish. This March there was the equivalent of fourteen years rainfall in a day and now there is the greatest flourishing of the flowers for decades.
Imagine. Those seeds all surviving in the desert heat without any significant water for years and years, then suddenly, with enough rain, they spring to life.
Remarkable as that thought is, here’s another one – how do we know if a seed is alive or dead? I mean if we collected some of the seeds from the soil during the dry years, could we tell which had the potential to spring to life and which were, well, dead?
I went on an internet hunt, and you know what? Nobody really knows. There’s a phenomenon in the lifecycle of seeds called “dormancy” where the seed seems inactive but its really just sort of sleeping. Funny thing is we have no way of telling whether a seed is dormant or dead. There are techniques, including a chemical staining technique, which cleverly detect some signs of respiration or metabolic activity, but interpreting the results isn’t easy and only allows a statistical probability of life to obtained for whole batches of seeds, not individual ones.
Can you imagine that? Not being able to tell if an organism is dead or alive? Is that true? Are there any botanists reading this who know differently? Can you tell if an individual, particular seed is dead or alive?