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Hillary Schwirtlich | Tiny seeds and baby plants

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Even though the snow is lingering late this year, a hike on your local trail reveals that spring is on its way. How can we tell? Tiny plants have begun to sprout! Take a close look at the ground and see the little green leaves pushing their way out of the ground. Whether these leaves are part of a plant that grows back year after year, or a baby plant just getting its start, they all started with a seed.

Below, let’s explore more early signs of spring and learn about how many of our local wildflowers begin their lives.

Backgrounds on seeds and baby plants for kids

Seeds seem so simple that we often do not think about how amazing they are. A seed is a part of a plant that becomes a new plant. Seeds are made by adult plants one year and often sprout the following year, but they can sprout the same year or lay in the soil without sprouting for years — sometimes even centuries.

Inside the seed is an embryo. This embryo will emerge from the seed and sprout into a new plant. The seed also contains an endosperm, which is a temporary supply of food for the new plant once it sprouts. The seed also has a seed coat — a protective covering that protects the seed from damage. Some seeds have thicker seed coats than others.

Every type of seed needs different things to sprout — some need different temperatures or amounts of moisture, some need darkness while others need light, and some even need to be eaten and digested by wildlife — or to go through a wildfire — to sprout.

Once a seed sprouts, a radicle (tiny root) pushes down into the soil to help hold on and pull up nutrients and water. The next thing to appear are cotyledons (caught-el-EE-dins) or “seed leaves” — one or two tiny leaf-like things that help provide the baby plant with enough power to make its first set of true leaves. They are usually simple and smooth-looking leaves. These cotyledons are often the first sign of spring.

Seed and cotyledon activities for kids

Get out on the trail or in your backyard with your kids and look for sprouting plants. Can you find a cotyledon? Draw it in your journal or take a picture and record the date and exactly where it is. Come back as often as you can to watch it grow. What plant did it turn out to be? Next year, come back to the same spot. Are the cotyledons sprouting on the same day or are they much earlier or later? Are they the same kind?

Watch a seed sprout. Get a large, clear jar (a leftover peanut butter jar without the label works great). Have your kids fill it with paper towels, and then water your paper towels with enough water to moisten but not flood it. Push seeds — you can use different kinds to see the difference — down into the jar on the sides of the container. Make sure you can see them. Then watch as the seeds send down radicles and send up cotyledons. What happens next?

If you’re looking for other ways to celebrate spring with your kids, be sure to add the Land Trust’s Earth Day Scavenger Hunt to your list. This activity is specially designed to be flexible, so families have an easy way to celebrate Earth Day. Just show up any time between 10 a.m. and noon on Saturday, April 22, at Jacobson Preserve (near the WRAC), and look for the Land Trust table to pick up a scavenger hunt sheet. Volunteers are stationed along the trail to help you learn more about your backyard. It usually takes families 30 minutes to one hour. Bring your completed scavenger hunt sheet back to the welcome table to get a free nature journal to take home!


Hillary Schwirtlich, membership and education coordinator for the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust, loves introducing people of all ages to the beauty and wonder of North Central Washington. She writes this monthly column on low-cost and easy ways for families to spend quality time outside with their kids.