The Power of Seeds

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Jan 07, 2012

"Anyone can count the number of seeds in an apple but only God can count the number of apples in a seed."
Robert H. Schuller

In just a few weeks our grocery stores and garden shops will be filled with stacks of flower and vegetable seeds. Some ambitious gardeners will plant flats of plant possibilities and tenderly care for them inside long before the ground is willing to surrender to the blade. 

I often stand in front of those packets of seeds with their pictures of limitless potential imagining what could be during this year's growing season. This may be the time to try growing watermelons or cucumbers or pumpkins. 

A typical seed includes three basic parts: an embryo; a supply of nutrients for the embryo; and a seed coat. The embryo is an immature plant from which a new plant will grow under the proper conditions. 

Seeds come in many different sizes. The dust-like orchid seeds are the smallest with about one million seeds per gram. The largest seed is produced by the Coco de Mer, or "double coconut" plant. The entire fruit may weigh up to 50 pounds and usually contains a single seed. 

Unlike animals, seeds are limited in their ability to seek out favorable conditions for life and growth. A seed must "arrive" at a location and be there at a time favorable for germination and growth. When the fruits open and release their seeds in a regular way it is called dehiscent. When fruits do not open and release their seeds in a regular way they are called indehiscent. 

When wind disperses seeds it is called anemochory. Maple and pine seeds have a wing that aids in wind dispersal. The dust-like seeds of the orchid are carried efficiently by the wind. Dandelion and milkweed have hairs that aid in wind dispersal. 

When water disperses seeds it is called hydrochory. Some plants produce buoyant seeds termed sea-beans or drift seeds because they float in rivers to the oceans and wash up on beaches. 

When animals disperse seeds it is called zoochory. Seed burrs with barbs or hooks attach to animal fur or feathers, and then drop off later. Seeds with fleshy coverings like apple or cherry are eaten by animals which then disperse these seeds in their droppings. Seeds in the form of nuts (acorns; walnuts; etc.) are an attractive long-term storage food resource for animals and some will escape uneaten because the animal forgets them. Myrmecochory is the dispersal of seeds by ants. 

Of course, the gardener and the farmer must develop an acute acumen for dispersing or planting seeds. I can still smell the freshly prepared soil on our family farm as we loaded the grain drill and corn planter with just the right seeds to be dispensed with just the right fertilizer at just the right distance from each other. 

One important function of most seeds is delaying germination, which allows time for dispersal and prevents germination of all seeds at one time. One of the most remarkable examples of protracted dormancy is a date palm which sprouted in 2005 from a seed recovered from Masada, near the Dead Sea in Israel. It is the oldest seed known to have been sprouted and is estimated to be about 2000 years old. The oldest documented seed to be grown previously was a 1300 year old lotus. 

The economic importance of seeds is almost incalculable. Many seeds are edible and the majority of human calories come from seeds, especially from cereals, legumes, and nuts. The list is endless of the ways seeds are useful. 

The Bible accurately says, "Whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7). In order to counter the law of sowing and reaping, I heard of some people who sow their wild oats all week and then go to church on Sunday to pray for a crop failure. 

Yes, there is amazing power in seeds. 

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of 
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA 
Responses can be mailed to