Plant seeds: The basis of human civilization

Ray Mueller
Without plant seeds and the nutrients in their endosperm, there would be no human civilization, says former Lakeshore Technical College Horticulture instructor and author Ray Rogers of Sheboygan.

KIEL – Without plant seeds and the nutrients in their endosperm, there would be no human civilization, “always gardener” Ray Rogers of Sheboygan assured his audience in a presentation titled “Much to Do About Seeds” at the Kiel Public Library.

That's because seeds – in the form of grains – are the main ingredient for bread, cereal, pasta, baked goods, cooking oils, and malted beverages, Rogers pointed out. He noted that seeds are also a main source of nutrition for the animals and birds that make up another large portion of the human diet.

For Rogers, a former instructor at Lakeshore Technical College, his “earliest memories” about childhood all involve seeds plants and the growing of plants. To verify that, he shared a newspaper photo of himself as part of a 2nd grade class engaged in the saving of seeds and growing of plants.

Basics of Seeds

A seed is a baby plant (or embryo) that's encased in a box (or seed coat) with its early stage nutrients (minerals, starches, sugars) in the endosperm or one or more cotyledons (the early growing point), Rogers indicated. “Think of the whole thing as a lunchbox.”

For a seed to germinate, it needs water to activate its enzymes but germination also depends on the right combination of oxygen, light (presence or absence), and a suitable temperature range, Rogers emphasized. He said the smallest seeds are the most dependent on light to germinate while larger ones germinate in the dark (under ground).

Ray Rogers

The combined set of variables for seed to germinate is why the instructions on packaged seed should be followed in order to enjoy success, Rogers remarked. Some seeds will germinate immediately after ripening while others such as the peony need a period of stratification (periods of cold and dark) of up to three winters before they germinate, he explained.

Among the exceptions are the gingko and pawpaw seeds which have to be eaten as fruit by a deer or other animal and then excreted before the seed will grow, the coffee beans which first need to have the caffeine (a natural herbicide and bactericide) removed, and some of the beans and other hard seed which should have their coat scratched or rubbed to enhance germination, Rogers indicated.

Spreading of Seeds

Many seeds, especially those of fruit plants, have various ways of moving away from the parent plant because of their diverse shapes, sizes, and flavors, Rogers observed. He listed agents and methods such as ants, animals, the wind, water, gravity, and autochory (plants whose seed heads explode to reach new growing spots).

“There's no one correct way to sow seeds or transplant seedlings as long as you understand the science and good practices that support what you're doing,” Rogers advised. “Be prepared for challenges by making observations and conducting research.”

Rationale for Seeds

The relatively low cost compared to other ways of plant propagation, the only way to grow botanical annuals and biennials, the difficulty of obtaining some plants locally, species preservation, the ability to produce new plants through hybridization, the introduction of new plants, the preserving of germplasm for future generations, and the chance to “start and then feed a passion” are among the reasons to grow from seeds, Rogers stated.

He also mentioned that some plants resent transplanting (butterfly weed, peanut pumpkin, and opium poppy are examples), the benefits of seedling variability, and the ease of having seedlings grow as volunteer plants.

Another value of seeds is how long some of them can be viable. Rogers mentioned instances of still viable seeds preserved in ruins for a thousand years or more and heirloom (non-hybrid) tomato seeds saved for 150 years that will grow today. In addition, the international seed vault in far northern Norway is preserving a great variety of seeds in the cold and dark, he noted.

Special Seed Traits

For the reasons he outlined, Rogers recommends starting with seeds to establish such plants as the alpine strawberry (from rotted fruit), pot marigold, parsley, eggplant, asparagus, foxglove, money plant, and feather and Turk's-cap cacti. Among the plants which repopulate themselves voluntarily are the spider flower, sweet alyssum, and African daisy but anyone hoping for a seed from a dove tree will have to wait 20 to 30 years, he noted.

A fruit – in this case a rose hip – develops along with the seeds it contains and protects.

The daffodil will produce many varieties from a single seed while many hybrids can be obtained among the day lilies, Rogers pointed out. Other plants that growers should establish with seeds are the dahlia, African forest lily, the hybrid ox-tongue, and cardinal climber while the separation of bulbs and corms works for increasing the population of blood lilies, the stinking arum, and giant Peruvian daffodil, he observed.

In his presentation, Rogers illustrated many of the species he mentioned with photos by heralded seed plant photographer Rob Cardillo. To learn more about Rogers' lifetime passion for seeds and plants that can be grown from them, check his website at