Seeing Seeds Photo Essay: Plant Photography at Its Finest

Allow Robert Llewellyn’s stunning plant photography to take you on a journey into the beautiful, complex, and up-close world of seeds. 

By Teri Dunn Chase, Photos by Robert Llewellyn
Fall 2016

A centuries-old saying goes, “Great oaks from little acorns grow.” But as Seeing Seeds reveals, there is much more to a seed than the plant it will someday become: Seeds, seedheads, pods, and fruits have their own astounding beauty that rivals, and sometimes even surpasses, the beauty of flowers.

In the pages of Robert Llewellyn and Teri Dunn Chace’s stunning book, you’ll gain an understanding of how seeds are formed and dispersed, why they look the way they do, and how they fit into the environment. Seeing Seeds will take you to strange and wonderful places. When you return, it’s safe to say that you’ll never look at a seed the same way again.

Honesty seed closeup

Honesty:

Lunaria annua

The pods, technically siliques, of the honesty plant are transparent. Transparency is a desirable feature of honesty or integrity, so perhaps this is the origin of the name.

Chinese Lantern seed closeup

Chinese lantern:

Physalis alkekengi

Even if you have a patch of this plant in your yard, you may have to search your memory to recall that the flowers look like little white bells. Chinese lantern’s colorful husks are technically calyces, with round orange-to-red seeds lodged inside. Unlike its near relatives Cape gooseberry (Physalis peruviana) and tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica), the fruits and seeds of Chinese lanterns aren’t edible. As with its relative, the potato, (Solanum spp.) Chinese lantern’s unripe fruits contain solanine, which, at best, causes gastric distress. This plant can be invasive, so consider growing it in a pot or in a contained garden bed.

Clematis seed closeup

Clematis:

Clematis spp.

No matter the flower color or bloom size, all Clematis species eventually form some version of these fuzzy-looking green-and-white seedheads. Tease apart a typical Clematis seedhead, and you’ll discover that each tail is attached to a single seed.

Lotus seed closeup

Lotus:

Nelumbo nucifera

A lotus pod, which looks like an alien spaceship, holds each seed in an individual bay. Although tastiest when fresh and not yet ripe, the seeds are edible at any stage. Mature seeds are so hard that gardeners have to abrade the surface to spur germination. In nature, they can lodge in mud or soil for decades, even centuries, and still remain viable. Lotus seeds as old as 1,300 years have been successfully sprouted.

Upland Cotton seed closeup

Upland Cotton:

Gossypium hirsutum

Cotton’s white fiber, which is actually almost pure cellulose, forms a protective layer called a “boll” around the seeds. A single cotton boll can protect up to 45 seeds. Modern farms don’t discard cotton seeds; some seeds may be reserved for replanting, and others are used for animal feed or are pressed to make nutritious oil.

Southern Magnolia seed closeup

Southern magnolia:

Magnolia grandiflora

Magnolia is an ancient genus. The flowers produce no nectar, so despite the seductive call of rich fragrance, bees and butterflies give them a pass; instead, beetles do the necessary work. Magnolia seeds fall out of their chambers yet remain on the fruit, held by what is essentially a short umbilical cord. The little red seeds dangle, even moving enticingly in a breeze to attract notice. In this state, they may remind you of a West African percussion instrument with the beads dangling off a dry gourd.

Blue False Indigo seed closeup

Blue false indigo:

Baptisia australis

A member of the bean family (Fabaceae), blue false indigo’s spikes of vivid blue flowers definitely grab attention. While the pea-like pods that follow are not especially long or unusually shaped, they are also worthy of admiration. As they dry, they often become so dark as to be nearly black, which is also a good show against the plant’s leaves. Sheltered within are a few seeds; these will come loose and rattle around inside the fully ripe pods. A near relative with smaller yellow flowers and similar pods, Baptisia tinctoria goes by the common name rattleweed.

Osage Orange seed closeup

Osage orange:

Maclura pomifera

The inedible Osage orange fruit, found only on fertilized female trees, is nearly obscured by stringy stigmas when young. As the fruit matures, the stringy stigmas eventually dry and some fall off. When punctured, the fruit leaks a bitter milky sap that turns black on exposure.

Seeing Seeds book cover


Taken from Seeing Seeds© Copyright 2015 by Teri Dunn Chace and Robert Llewellyn. All rights reserved. Published by Timber Press, Portland, OR. Used by permission of the publisher.

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