How prairie plants disperse seed

As a kid, we all picked a puffy dandelion and blew the wisps into the air.

Little did we think that we were actually helping dandelions disperse their seeds. Dandelions and other plants only survive when their seeds are dispersed so that new plants grow the next season.

They spread through a variety of ways --- wind dispersal, water, root systems and even animal movement.

Let's take a look at some of the ways that prairie plants disperse their seeds.

yellow flowers in field

gray-headed coneflower

Gray-headed coneflower

Gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) has a center that is cone-shaped, hence the name, that produces tiny seeds, about the size of the writing on a dime. These seeds fall as the coneflowers dries at the end of the season. They overwinter and will grow near the mother plant the next year.

This type of seeding without any help from humans or other creatures is called self-seeding.

Birds also enjoy eating coneflower seeds, and then those seeds end up in new areas in the bird's droppings.

pink flower in the prairie

purple coneflower

Purple coneflower

Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) have an even larger seed head than gray-headed coneflowers do. These flowers also self-seed as the seeds spill out of the seed head, and they are also dispersed through bird droppings.

Coneflower seeds are also scattered by the wind.

Wild White Indigo

In the legume family, wild white indigo (Baptisia lactea) seeds grow in a pod. At the end of the season, the dry pods explode open and the seeds will fall to the ground. It doesn't have great seed dispersal, so it is often found in less disturbed habitats where is can thrive without too much competition.

purple flower

wild bergamot

Wild bergamot

Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulousa) spreads easily by two different measures. It is self-seeding as its seed head dries at the end of the season and drops seeds, but it also spreads underground. Roots will shoot out new stems that spread rapidly beneath the surface.

(Prairie plant roots help water quality)

Wild rose

Animals love rose hips, or the berries that grow on wild roses (Rosa setigera). Birds, squirrels, rabbits and deer will eat the berries, which include a seed, and then the seeds will be dispersed through the animals' excrement.


Common milkweed

One of monarch butterflies' favorite plants, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), spreads easily. Like dandelions, common milkweed seeds are attached to a superfine fuzz that helps them float through the air. Wind dispersal is incredibly efficient for these plants.

Common milkweed also spreads by underground rhizome, like wild bergamot. Other species of milkweed, such as butterfly milkweed, spread a little less erratically if you are looking for a great pollinator option for your yard.

(Four ways to tell apart swallowtail and monarch caterpillars)


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