The last blog for meadow month may seem strange to some. Generally when one thinks of a meadow, the early spring greens and mid-summer colour pallet are what come to mind. The fall meadow is, I believe, overlooked.
Fall is an important time for a meadow: songbirds are feasting away on seeds, insects are laying eggs in and on stems, and those last few straggler blooms are hanging in to provide pollen and nectar for those last few straggling pollinators.
Beyond that, though, seeds from clustered seed heads and exploding seed pods are falling to the ground and making their way to the soil. Over the next few blustery months, these seeds will work their way into the soil, succumb to the freezing and thawing that is winter, and germinate after all threat of freezing again has passed.
Seed Heads vs Seed Pods
There are two distinct ways that wildflowers hold their seeds: heads and pods. The seeds on flowers with seed heads develop with individual coverings to protect the seeds.
The pods, on the other hand, provide protection for all of the seeds together as they are developing. They will break open once the pod has dried sufficiently, allowing all seeds to fall out or blow away in the wind. There aren’t as many wildflowers that create pods, but let’s discuss a few.
Baptisia, a member of the legume family, develops pods as a snap pea would (other members of the legume family). The seeds are round and each individual seed is attached in a row along the edges of the pod. Baptisia pods are a multipurpose machine: protecting the seed and providing a visually and aurally pleasing piece for bouquets, weddings, or kids. Shake a dried out baptisia pod and you get a little something like this:
Milkweed pods look like something from a sci-fi flick. With their curved tube pod and the layers of seeds that lay within, I keep waiting for an alien baby to burst forth. Unlike, baptisia seeds, the milkweed seeds are meant to travel a good distance from their parents. While baptisia seeds are heavy, milkweed seeds are light with a tufty wisp of fluff attached to each one.
After the pod breaks open, the seeds begin to fall and are carried by the wind. This creates less competition between the parent plant and its offspring once the seed germinates.
The last pod producer I’ll show you is wild senna. Another legume, this one develops pods that are more like a snow pea: where the pod encases the seeds more tightly as if it has been shrink wrapped. Wild senna produces a yellow flower and a leaf structure that I find quite attractive. The leaf stems produce multiple leaves that sit opposite one another. They remind me of tiny rounded walnut leaves, actually.
The pods, too, are stunning in the fall. Turning a mix of deep brown, orange, and yellow, they certainly provide that winter interest we’re always seeking for our gardens. I should mention that the plants can grow to about 2 meters (6 feet) in perfect conditions. Most will grow to just over a meter (4 feet).
Two of these pod producers are members of the legume family meaning that they will return nitrogen to the soil: beneficial to a meadow and to a meadow-style garden.
They add colour, texture, and interest in the fall meadow or garden when the flowers have mostly died back. Don’t be afraid to bring them indoors, either. Use them in arrangements for something a little different.