Pheasants Forever Nebraska

Seeds, What do they know?

Plant seeds, miracles of mother nature that we all know, and can even say, are essential for our very survival. But have you ever wondered how they “know” when to grow?
Now to say seeds “know” things may not be entirely accurate. But consider how many plants go to seed in the summer and fall, but do not germinate and grow till the time and conditions are right next the following spring or summer. This is due to the evolutionary advantage of internal seed dormancy. If these seeds simply germinated when matured and dropped onto moist warm soil right before winter, the growing summer plant would likely die in the harsh unfavorable months ahead. But, with internal seed dormancy, they “know” to wait till conditions change and will be favorable right before a long growing season.
There can be many ways to break a seed’s internal dormancy. Many of our native grasses and wildflower seeds, like milkweed for example, require a stratification period of 30 to 60 days in a cold, moist environment. Exactly like the conditions you would find during the winter on the plains under snow! Without going through this period, the seed might “think” winter is still coming and will likely not germinate. When the conditions in the spring warms indicating summer is on the way, the internal dormancy has been broken and the seed germinates and grows. Without this stratification period, the seed can wait for months, or even years, for the conditions to be right for survival.
Another example of internal dormancy can be found in many of our native shrubs. When the fruits containing the seeds of the next generation fall to the ground, they likely will not germinate after the fruit rots. Growing directly under the parent shrub, where there would be limited light and nutrients, would be a disadvantage to the young seedling. Instead, the shrub invests energy into fruit to attract birds and mammals. When the fruits are eaten, the ingested seed passes through the acidic gut of animal to be “deposited” elsewhere. These seeds need the scarification of the acid breaking down the hard, tough seed coat to “wake it up”.
As Pheasants Forever Farm Bill Biologists, we have an in depth understanding of many of these requirements. So much so, that we require most of our native seed mixes be planted during the dormant winter season between November 30th and April 30th. This allows our mixes to get the required stratification to break the internal dormancies to increase germination and success. Therefore, using mother nature’s own tricks for survival to our advantage.
So, in the end, trust mother nature and the miracles of her seeds. They have been doing this much longer than any of us!!

About the Author: Mike Klosterman

As a Senior Farm Bill Biologist in the panhandle of Nebraska, Mike oversees Farm Bill Wildlife Biologists and efforts in the west. Mike puts in the effort in his job as well as in his own practice owning a dryland farm and ranch raising wheat, hay, cattle and nearly 1000 acres of CRP.