Intro to my gardening book, ‘A plant only wants to make seeds’

Published 10:48 am Friday, November 8, 2019

I’m not a horticulturist by trade and my short experience leaves me well short of expert. So I could never write a gardening book. But if I were to be so foolhardy, I know how I would kick it off.

I’d start with my opinion that a plant only has one mission in life and it has nothing to do with you or me. A plant doesn’t care if we eat or go hungry. It doesn’t care whether or not we have clothes, firewood or a chest of drawers. It doesn’t matter to a plant if we ever see wildflowers or smell a rose. A plant’s only mission is to replicate itself; to procreate; to maintain the species. And this single goal is attained by making seeds. A plant only wants to make seeds.

How’s that for a simple opener?

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Left to nature, the seed-making role of plants is the only original way plants had to match their environment. Sometimes called “survival of the fittest,” plants that withstood weather extremes were the ones left to provide genes within pollen and embryos and forwarded to seeds.

At some point after mankind first noted differences in yields and taste and so forth among plants of the same kind, we began saving seeds from superior plants to grow the next generation. Eventually, instead of leaving pollination and plant genetics to nature, our ancestors slowly took control.

They planted this good plant next to that good plant and let wind and insects move pollen around. Then our ancestors took over pollen-movement duties to create improved varieties among favored plant species.

Obviously many plant species are not routinely multiplied and planted by seed anymore.

Grafting, rooting, division and other forms of vegetative propagation are the norm for a lot of species, especially woody stem shrubs, bulb and tuber plants and most fruit and nut trees. This is because many perennials and even some annual plants “don’t breed true” and their seeds will not produce exact replicas of the parent plant. But the creation of the parent plant was originally done with seeds through pollination between two grandparent plants. All new plant varieties are created as seeds.

We gardeners don’t deal with azalea seeds or rose seeds or juniper seeds. But the folks whose jobs entail developing new varieties of those plants do deal with their seeds. Ditto for people trying to come up with better asparagus and sugar cane. 

All terrestrial plants produce seeds. Or they used to. Or they do in their homeland.

Other than forest trees, most of the plant species we grow here on purpose came from elsewhere within the past 400 or so years.

Some can’t produce seeds here because it gets too cold, or too hot. And by ignoring seed production in the plants we propagate vegetatively, the genetic ability for seed production has waned in some species. Rose seeds are few and in some varieties very rare. But making seeds is all a rose plant cares about, not you or me.


Terry Rector writes for the Warren County Soil and Water Conservation District.