Investigating Winged Seeds

by Ana Maria Caballero McGuire, Children’s Education Fellow

November 8, 2017

dropping samaras

Investigating Winged Seeds

In Massachusetts, engineering and technology curricula standards for Kindergarten through second grade require that students be taught how to test and compare the strengths and weaknesses of different objects intended to solve the same design problem. At the Arnold Arboretum, teachers from Boston area schools gathered on Saturday, November 4 to do just that, using a large sample of winged seeds (samaras) found in the landscape.

winged seeds

A collection of various winged seeds.

Tossing different samaras from a consistent height allowed teachers to observe the flight path of each seed, determine its hang time, and record observations on a large chart. Teachers also spent time noticing the placement of the seed within the fruit structure, the shape of the wings, the size, dryness, and other attributes of each samara that contributed to the many variables to consider during testing. Taken together, this data could be used to engineer the “perfect” winged seed—one that will stay aloft the longest in order to catch the wind and disperse furthest away from the parent tree.

dropping samaras

Teachers drop samaras from the same height to investigate flight path.

Teachers enjoyed walking along Meadow Road and collecting and examining a wide variety of fruit, including berries, magnolia pods, cattail fluff, burdock, maple samaras, and rose lantern pods. They performed brief tests in-the-field to confirm their predictions regarding the various dispersal strategies plants use to ensure their species’ survival. Teachers walked away with bags full of seed packages to take to their classrooms for further studies.

This “Mechanics of Flight” investigation was part of the fall theme of our Arboretum for Educators program examining seed dispersal strategies. Held monthly and free of charge, Arboretum for Educators programs aim to help classroom teachers and science specialists teaching Pre-K through Grade 8 to become more familiar with trees and learn how to use plants and the outdoors as an integral part of teaching.

Our next Arboretum for Educators event will be on December 2: Tree Study Part 1: Inside and Outside Trees. Join us!

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