More life exists below the soil than above it. In fact there is more biodiversity, both in terms of total biomass and variety of species, in the dark earth below our feet than over it. Quite miraculously, most of this life unfolding beneath our feet is unknown to science. There are countless undiscovered species lurking in the darkness, and of those known to science, very little is understood.

It is here, within this dark and largely unexplored space that the clockwork chemical mechanisms that give rise to all food on earth, the time capsules which hold the memory of life, quite literally, take root. Seeds, under the right conditions are truly time-capsules of life; evolutionary master pieces, seeds can lie dormant in the earth for hundreds of years, waiting patiently for the right conditions before germination. Seeds, in the event of a global meltdown akin to that which wiped out the dinosaurs, will far outlast humans – they have a resilience we humans lack. And funny to think that the popcorn cornel which you throw salt onto as you sit down to watch TV has a gene code far more complex than that of the simple human who sits munching away.

Seeds, in their various shapes and forms quite literally feed the planet. None of us goes through a single day without consuming a vast number of seeds, things that grew from seed and things that ate seeds - the flour in our toast, the egg on top of it and the beans which flavour our morning cup of coffee we owe to seeds.

Small wonder then, that the study of seeds, their breeding, manipulation and ultimately the control over the genetics contained within them is such a contested topic.

Ethiopian farmer and farm worker, Getnet Muluye, at his home holding maize from his garden. Getnet is 35 and married with 4 children. He moved from Goyam Province to Doni to find work as a daily labourer (casual worker) at Robani Agriculture Enterprises farm. He gets paid 25 birr  ($1.25) per day at the farm. 

Globally a wide range of actors working for food security, advocate for the protection of locally adapted and open pollinated seeds. They argue that because these open pollinated varieties keep farmers in control of their genetic material, they do far more to promote food security that high yielding varieties developed and sold by large multi-nationals. 

Image Credit: Robin Hammond

Honeycomb patterns can be observed in both the inanimate and animate world: for example, in the arrangement of the carbon atoms in graphite, or the honeycombs of bees. They are also applied in modern construction engineering where honeycomb cores afford stability to sandwich structures (e.g. doors and other lightweight components for aircraft).

In the case of seeds, the honeycomb pattern greatly increases the surface area of the seed and its air resistance and buoyancy. This improves its wind dispersal capabilities.

The seeds pictured above are between 1.2 mm and 1.9 mm in length. 

Trichodesma africanum – native to North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula; single-seeded nutlet; 3.9 mm long, and surface detail.

The fringe of tiny hooked spines enables the fruit to attach itself to passing animals; its flat shape may also facilitate wind-dispersal.

Larkspur (Delphinium peregrinum, Ranunculaceae) – native to the Mediterranean; wind dispersed seed covered by papery, lacerated lamellae; seed, diameter 1.5mm

The seed structures that plants have evolved as adaptations to wind dispersal are aesthetically pleasing and often masterpieces of engineering. The tiny dust and balloon seeds show above and below are some of the most spectacular of all seed structures, but their incredible sophistication is only revealed at high magnification.

Image from Wonders ofthe Plant Kingdom – A Microcosm Revealed by Wolfgang Stuppy, Rob Kesseler andMadeline Harley, published by Papadakis Publisher © 2014,

Greater Sea-Spurrey (Spergularia media) - The seeds peripheral wing assists winddispersal; 1.5 mm in diameter, including wing

Image from Seeds – Time Capsules of Life by RobKesseler and Wolfgang Stuppy, published by Papadakis Publisher © 2014,

Cymbalaria muralis

The seeds are planted by the mother plant, which deposits its fruits in dark cracks and crannies. The rugged surface of the seeds may prevent them from rolling out of their sheltered location; seed 0.6 mm long

Skilled fingers separate good seed from bad at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Philippines. "Miracle rice" varieties developed here in the 1960's doubled yields in Asia. Further growth has stalled since the mid-1990s, as investment in agriculture has declined. "Governments thought we'd won the war on food security," says IRRI Director General Robert Zeigler. "So they put money elsewhere."

Every genus of rice seed grown on earth is stored at the International Rice Research Institute — IRRI is our vault for protecting the entire rice supply on our planet. Here is how important these skilled hands are — when Pol Pot of Cambodia decimated not only his people but his nation, he let ruin the entire agricultural industry. Once his rule ended and the nation began to try to rebuild, they realized all their indigenous rice crops were gone, turned to weed or imported rice from Thailand and Laos. IRRI caught wind of this reality and searched in their vault, finding a few packets of the indigenous rice from Cambodia, immediately sending those packets to Phnom Penh. Thanks to hard, passionate work, today, the people of Cambodia areonce again growing and feeding themselves upon their own indigenous rice crops. 

Seed Images from: 

Wonders Of The Plant Kingdom – A Microcosm Revealed by Wolfgang Stuppy, Rob Kesseler and Madeline Harley.

Published by Papadakis Publisher © 2014,

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