By Les Harrison
Wakulla County Extension Director
“Gone to seed” it is a distinctly American agricultural saying, usually with very negative connotations when applied to people, places and things. The implication is the subject of the remark has reached terminal depreciation after delivering all they are capable of producing.
This adage came from the time when most of America’s population was on the farm. Once the field crop had gone to seed it meant harvest was at hand and the fields could be cleared.
The plant from which the annual crop was derived had little worth. It was chopped and used for livestock bedding or burned, but had no additional potential for growing anything of value.
Winter in Wakulla County, even warm ones, results in many native annual plants displaying seed which were grown during the previous season. Better knowledge of how plants which live only a year function throughout their lifecycle and has led to understanding the ingenious ways they continue their species next spring.
Many plants identified as wildflowers have gone to seed by now. They are preparing for next year’s colorful show, but the dying foliage still has a valuable part to play in both the curing and distribution of the seed.
Most wildflower seeds are distributed by wind, birds and animals. The seed heads or pods are easily shattered when the seed is mature and are readily scattered.
Spanish needles employ two barbed prongs which attach the seed to unsuspecting passersby. After a period of travel the seed are brushed or scratched off and colonize a new plot.
Bidens alba, the scientific name for Beggarticks, literally means two teeth in Latin. The plant which has prolific white and yellow blooms is important to sustaining Monarch butterflies and European honeybees.
Partridge peas, another common native plant with a small yellow blossom, produce a flat seed pod. These pods split and seed are disbursed by animals and the elements.
This plants prolific late season blooms are an important food source to native pollinators and European honeybees.
Late autumn or early winter mowing on rights-of-ways and pastures is critically important to the continuation of many wildflowers. Timing mowing cycles to flowering and seed set is the optimal method to ensure establishment of a planting is sustainable over the long term.
Avoid mowing when plants are flowering and seeds are still maturing. Seeds need a minimum of a month to mature after an individual flower has bloomed.
The general recommendation for north Florida is to avoid mowing from April through September. Realize weather can alter flowering and seed set by at least two to four weeks.
Wakulla County’s perennial plants and native trees use many of the same techniques as wildflowers for spreading seed. Wind, animals and birds do the bulk of the scattering.
The plants and trees aid the birds and animals with discovery by having brightly colored seed. Migratory birds, bears and other omnivores are all seeking to increase their calorie count in the face of the impending winter.
The seed which are not digested pass through and are deposited in a new location, sometime many miles from the parent plant. The tree or perennial plant will establish itself in a new area if all the necessary components for plant growth are present.
The seedy activity in January leads to many positive results in spring, at least in the case of native plants.
To learn more about spread of Wakulla County’s wildflowers and wild perennials, contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/wakullaco/