Unbelievable, but the survival of the seeds from most of the trees is very low. One of the reasons for these high mortalities is because the seeds that fall straight down the shadow of the tree, do not receive enough light and nutrients to grow. Besides the predation by animals who feed on seeds. Contradictory if a few plantlets survive farther than the mother tree such newborn trees could live hundreds of years, however, loses of the germlings are gigantic. One way to overcome these mortalities is the dispersion to distant places from the original plant. How seeds’ trees could do that? Well, most of them fly!
All around the world, trees reproduce in many different ways, but flying seeds are awesome. From the most simple chopper and parachute anatomy until perfect gliders that could fly in circles of 6 meters or more, like the Asian Climbing Gourd (Alsomitra macrocarpa) which is an almost delta wing of 10 centimeters with a seed in the center flatter than paper.
In Venezuela, the national tree is the Araguaney (Handroanthus chrysanthus); it is a beautiful 12 meters in the average high plant with good wood, yellow flowers and small flat helix seeds of four centimeters. When Araguaney flowers bloom between March and May they cover the landscape with a yellow carpet where these trees grow. Afterword his grey flying seeds mature they start to hover many more meters than where the Araguaneys are in amounts of thousands.
Another Venezuelan tree with flying seeds is a cousin of the Araguaney. This superior plant is my favorite tree, call the Apamate (Handroanthusrosea) which is very similar to the Araguaney but taller and with lilac or pink flowers. It produces another mini chopper seeds.
Nevertheless, for me, the most amazing of the flying Venezuelan seeds is the Caoba (Swietenia macrophylla) a very robust tree with a trunk around three meters wide and more than 60 meters tall ended by a huge canopy. I knew his flying seeds since my childhood because they are the perfect natural toy for boys; they are a thick brown wing around 15 centimeters long with the real seed at the apex in an aerodynamic shape that enables the germlings to hover more than Handroanthus species. Besides, the fruit explodes when it ripens and the weather is hot enough…PANK! It sounds at the top of the trees liberating dozens of choppers from each fruit at this height during the end of the dry season. Nowadays, as many years before, children and adults still play with these seeds. It is a protected species, because of that is forbidden to cut the tree, just prone his robust branches is allowed for maintaining safety in the places where they grow.
Finally, the Ceiba (Ceiba pentandra) had a very particular flying seed with a more romantic form. It is a white weightless cloudy marshmallow that acts as a parachute with a single tiny black seed of less than one centimeter. This seed flies gently in hundreds of little fluffy pieces of cotton around our cities and towns, it is perfectly visible during June before the rainy season start. People are afraid of them because they said it could blind animals and persons if the puffy seed falls down near your face. Of course, any dusty stuff in your eyes is nasty, but studies show that ceiba’ seeds are toxic. In Colombia Nukak Maku aborigines use this venom to poison their arrows for hunting and the cotton for the stability of the darts. Therefore, popular knowledge here is correct. In Central America, the Mayas considered the local species of Ceibas sacred. In addition, in Guatemala, it is the national tree.
Meanwhile, let us enjoy the view of these flying seeds that bring us happiness and reflection over the beauty and persistence of nature.