It is expected of every child that sooner or later he becomes an avid collector of something, if not a thorough packrat. Collections will therefore fall easily into his plans. While it is true that gathering various forms of plant life is a sideline to actual gardening, collections do provide a lesson in the infinite complexities of nature's inventiveness.
Seeds and seed pods offer an opportunity for an almost endless collecting spree. Pods come in countless intricate shapes and designs monkshood looking like Grecian vases, portulaca like tiny jewel boxes, poppies functional as salt shakers, chestnut burrs formed like little porcupines, Queen Anne's lace cupped into birds' nests, and a multitude of other forms resembling nothing else on earth.
Nature has provided seeds with incredibly ingenious ways of getting away from home base. Some are equipped to fly or soar on the wind by means of fluff, down, wings, propeller
blades, parachutes, feathery tails, kite tails, or wind catching twisted pods. The ailanthus tree has a winged seed with a sharp point that enables it to drift down to earth and dig in. The linden tree grows its seeds in clusters like a bunch of toy balloons. Rising from the center is a leaflike bract, which sails away with them when they are ripe.
A few seeds stay on plants such as the tumbleweeds, which roll and tumble them to their destinations. Some seeds glide over the snow like little snowboats, as does the honey locust pod. Others are inflated and waterproof; cattail, arrowhead and coconuts thus float to shore when they fall on the water.
A lot of seeds rely on birds to scatter them by means of an edible pulp (which birds love) surrounding a hard seed which is indigestible. Still others, such as Spanish needles and burdock burrs, depend on hitchhiking to new locations on animals to whose coats they cling by means of a variety of sharp hooks and sticking devices.
Most extraordinary of all are the seeds containing various elastic mechanisms that actually shoot them out of their pods like a slingshot. Violets, wild geranium and impatiens behave this way.
Children who make seed collections will benefit from using a strong magnifying glass. Seeds which look quite ordinary to the naked eye almost always expose curious formations and patterns under a magnifier.
More zest could be added to seed collecting by having the youngsters compete to see how many examples of each dispersal method they can round up. Another stimulating angle would be to concentrate on seed pod forms suitable for Christmas tree ornaments.
Cones could be a collection in themselves. There are over fifty species of pines in different parts of the United States, as well as many other cone bearing trees (spruces, firs, cedars). Acorns, too, are worthy of collecting; there are over sixty species of oaks.