Monday, August 31, 2020

How Do Seeds Travel?

In an earlier post (What Happens When You Plant Birdseed?), I described a science experiment in which some children in the neighborhood and I grew plants from birdseed this summer.  The children 'discovered' that birdseed can produce plants and those plants are able to grow and thrive.  In this blog post, I will describe another science experiment involving seeds.  This time we are going to learn about how seeds can travel!

How Do Seeds Travel?

Even though plants are living things, they are not able to move from one place to another.  They will spend their entire life cycle where they were planted.  Their seeds, however, can travel from their parent plant to a new place.  Scientists call this seed dispersalDispersal means "to spread or to scatter."

1. Some seeds fly through the air when the wind blows.  Dandelion seeds travel this way.

Dandelion seeds travel through the air.

2. Some seeds will fall into the water.  They will float in the water until they are carried to a place where they can take root.  (Did you know that coconuts are very large seeds?)

This seed is floating in the water.

3.  When animals eat plants with seeds, the seeds get swallowed.  Later on when the animals have to "go to the bathroom," the seeds will take root where the animals drop them.  This happens a lot when birds swallow seeds.

Hummingbirds eat seeds.

4. Some seeds like these burdocks are able to stick to animals' fur.  When these seeds fall off of the animals and onto the ground, they will take root where they fall.  Some people call these seeds "hitchhikers" because they "hitch a ride" to new places.

This dog is covered with burdock seeds.

5.  Humans can also help seeds travel.  We can buy seeds from the store and plant them in the ground.  Farmers will plant thousands of seeds in the ground each spring.  These newly planted seeds are already starting to grow!

These newly planted seeds are starting to grow.

Dirty Socks Science Experiment

When learning about the different ways seeds can travel (aka: 'seed dispersal'), it's important to emphasize that these seeds will eventually land somewhere. Older children will understand this instinctively, but younger children may not.  This simple science experiment will help them understand that seeds can be anywhere... even if we can't see them.

There are seeds on these socks.

Materials Needed

  • a pair of white socks for each child
  • one sealed Ziploc bag per child
  • spray bottle filled with water
Dirty Socks Planting Seeds


  • Have the children put on the white socks and got for a walk around the outside of the school.  Walk in the grass, on the sidewalk, under the trees, etc.  Keep walking until those socks are dirty... the dirtier they are, the more seeds they are likely to pick up.  You could even let the children have recess while wearing those socks.  (Note: If you are nervous about letting the children walk and play outside in just their socks, that's OK.  The children can put the socks over their shoes instead.)
  • After the socks are nice and dirty, have the children take them off and lay them on the sidewalk.  Spritz the socks with the water.  The socks should be wet to the touch, but not saturated.
  • Place the wet socks into the Ziploc bags and label the bags with the children's names.
  • Hang the bags in a sunny window and wait.
  • Within a few days, any seeds that are on the socks will begin to sprout.
  • Depending on where you live, the best time of year to do this science demonstration will vary.

Dirty Socks Planting Seeds

Have you tried this activity with your students before?  If so, how did it go?  Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

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