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Gone With the Wind: An Experiment on Seed and Fruit Dispersal

Difficulty
Time Required Very Short (≤ 1 day)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Very Low (under $20)
Safety No issues

Abstract

Up, up, and away! If you have ever made a wish and blown the fluff of a dandelion, you have witnessed how some plants are adapted to spreading their seeds using the wind. The tiny, furry parachute allows the seeds to be picked up by the wind and to be carried far away from their parent plant. In this experiment, you will make models of seeds and fruit to investigate dispersal by wind and to evaluate the relationship between the structure of the seed and its ability to be dispersed by the wind.

Objective

The goal of this experiment is to investigate how the size and shape of fruits or seeds influence their ability to be dispersed by wind.

Credits

La Né Powers
"Sailing Seeds: An Experiment in Wind Dispersal," Steven K. Rice, Amy Russell, and the Botanical Society of America

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Gone With the Wind: An Experiment on Seed and Fruit Dispersal" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 26 June 2014. Web. 30 Sep. 2014 <http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/PlantBio_p013.shtml?from=Blog>

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2014, June 26). Gone With the Wind: An Experiment on Seed and Fruit Dispersal. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from http://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project_ideas/PlantBio_p013.shtml?from=Blog

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Last edit date: 2014-06-26

Introduction

dry seeds scatter
from my hand into the wind
one clings
as if to say there is in me
something yet to be

—Jeanne Emrich


Dispersal of seeds is important for the continued survival of a plant species. If plants grow too closely together, they compete for light, water, and nutrients. Seed dispersal allows offspring to be spread over a wide area and decreases the competition between offspring.

Seeds are dispersed in several different ways. In flowering plants like apple trees, one or more seeds are housed within a fruit. The fruit is the portion of the apple that we eat. Sweet fruit, like apples, are eaten by animals that disperse the undigested seeds. Some fruits can be carried by water, like the coconut. Burdock fruits have hooks that attach to an animal's furry coat. Dandelion fruits are suspended from feathery "parachutes" that are carried on the wind. The fruit of maple and ash trees have wings that let them float on air.

In this experiment, you will investigate how the size and shape of fruits or seeds influence their ability to be dispersed by wind. You will design your own fruit or seed and measure two important qualities that enhance its ability to disperse in the wind: distance traveled and time aloft.

From "Sailing Seeds: An Experiment in Wind Dispersal," by Steven K. Rice, used with permission.

Terms and Concepts

Terms
  • seed
  • fruit
  • wind dispersal
  • water dispersal
  • animal dispersal
Concepts
  • the relationship between seed shape, mass, size and dispersal method
  • the relationship between fruits and seeds
Questions
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of dispersal?
  • Is a fruit or a seed more likely to be dispersed by the wind?

Bibliography

Materials and Equipment

  • fruit and/or seed examples from sunflowers, dandelions, maple trees, coconuts, apples, peas, nuts
  • supplies to construct artificial "fruit" or "seeds" (paper, tape, scissors, glue, pipe cleaners)
  • window or large fan
  • meter stick or tape measure
  • stop watch
  • marker
  • an assistant
  • a video camera (not required, but it may help to analyze the data and enrich your observations)

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Experimental Procedure

  1. Investigate different types of fruits and seeds. Take notice of fruit or seed shape and size and research how each is dispersed. Is there a relationship between the structure of the fruits and seeds and how they are dispersed? Record your observations in your lab notebook.
  2. Experiment with several sunflower fruits (commonly called "sunflower seeds") by constructing different wind dispersal mechanisms for the fruit. Focus on what shape and size will allow your fruit to travel the farthest and stay aloft for the longest amount of time.
  3. After you have made several different models, evaluate each fruit's dispersal characteristics according to the following procedure:
    • Set up the fan on a table blowing horizontally across the room.
    • Establish a standard drop site above the fan and set up a tape measure along the floor beneath the fan.
    • If you are using a video camera, set up the camera to record the complete flight.
    • Each fruit model should be dropped at least four times from the same point above the fan. Experiment with your set-up to find the best height, then use that height consistently for all trials.
    • Record the time aloft and the distance traveled for each trial.
    • Average the time aloft and distance traveled for each fruit.
  4. Graph your results.
  5. Is there a correlation between maximum time aloft and the distance each fruit traveled?
  6. Example Data Table:
    Seed Dispersal Example Data Table
      Time Aloft
    (s)
    Distance Traveled
    (cm)
    Average Time Aloft
    (s)
    Average Distance Traveled
    (cm)
    Control #1 (no wings added) Trial #1        
    Trial #2    
    Trial #3    
    Trial #4    
    Model #1 Trial #1        
    Trial #2    
    Trial #3    
    Trial #4    
    Model #2 Trial #1        
    Trial #2    
    Trial #3    
    Trial #4    

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Variations

  • Experiment with different masses or shapes or sizes of seeds to determine the best shaped seed for wind dispersal.
  • Focus on a different mode of dispersal (water) and conduct an experiment to see what size and shape of fruit or seed is dispersed best by water.

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