Tag Archives: seed heads

An understated beauty – autumn seed heads

Clematis at top, left to right  rhododendron, Schima khasiana, Hibiscus trionum, Schizophragma hydrangeoides

Clematis at top, left to right rhododendron, Schima khasiana, Hibiscus trionum, Schizophragma hydrangeoides

When I was doing my informal census on autumn flowering plants last week, my eye kept being drawn to equally attractive seed heads. I see I recorded some of these last year when I was still writing for the newspaper , but it has taken me quite a few years to get my eye in for these seasonal pictures of understated beauty.

Cardoon!

Cardoon!

It is hard to beat the big fluffy heads of the cardoon. I don’t do dried flower and seed head arrangements for indoors, but if you are thinking that way, be warned that all that soft fluff is designed to detach easily and float away in the lightest breeze to disperse. Indoors this head will fall apart very quickly.
???????????????????????????????The aster to the left has a similar fluffy seed head, as does the pachystegia to the right. Along the bottom are the highly decorative clematis seed heads – in this case C. tangutica.

The lovely Hibiscus trionum seed heads

The lovely Hibiscus trionum seed heads

Rhododendron sino nuttallii seed head

Rhododendron sino nuttallii seed head

Phlomis russeliana at top, one of the echinops below

Phlomis russeliana at top, one of the echinops below


Sedum and miscanthus

Sedum and miscanthus

Francoa and Hydrangea quercifolia 'Snowflake'

Francoa and Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snowflake’


I have often read advice to leave all seeding plants standing until early spring as they are a valuable food source for birds. This is cold climate advice that is much less of an issue in our temperate climate and our own situation which is rich in food sources all year round. However, we do get a great deal of pleasure watching the quail feeding from an assortment of seed sources. Pansies appear to be a particular favourite. We try and dead head problem plants that seed down far too freely but I am cultivating a more relaxed attitude to others. It is all about the cycle of nature and the change of season.
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Autumn seed

Autumn can seem a slightly melancholy time of year, the opposite to the bright promise and floral extravagance of spring. It is that sense of ‘passing over’, of annuals dying and other plants retreating in preparation for winter. We tend to focus on the flowering capacity of most plants but some have a subtle, understated beauty on the other side with their seed heads. Not all, of course. Some simply look scruffy, brown and of no interest. But once you get your eye in, there is an astonishing range of different forms and some are well worth admiring in their own right. Where plants are not weedy, leaving the seed heads in place provides a valuable food source for birds.

Fennel - foeniculum vulgare

Fennel – foeniculum vulgare

“Don’t buy any more fennel seed,” he said as these plants crossed over from flowering to seeding. Fennel is one of my favoured cooking herbs. In fact these are the seed heads of Florence fennel or finocchio which never made it as far as the vegetable garden. The common fennel that flowers on many a roadside but never develops that edible bulbous base is the usual one that is harvested for herbal purposes.

Phlomis russeliana

Phlomis russeliana

We find Phlomis russeliana an undemanding, handy little perennial which flowers well even in conditions of high shade. Its flowers are soft yellow, arranged like a tiered cake stand and the stiff seed heads retain that interesting form. I had to pick these to photograph them and you can see the see the seed falling out. Usually the birds – and maybe the mice – will clean up this seed.

Clematis tangutica

Clematis tangutica

While these cute seed heads are from Clematis tangutica, it is a typical clematis seed form, although these are silkier and greener because it is a late season bloomer. That light ethereal form is usually a sign that the seeds are spread by wind, as indeed is thistledown from dandelions. The plant of course has evolved not to please humankind but to ensure its own survival.

Pachystegia rufa

Pachystegia rufa

Pachystegia have fluff balls of seed, another wind dispersal candidate. This one is P. rufa, a different form of the Marlborough rock daisy to the highly prized, larger-leafed P. insignis. There is something very tactile about these soft pompoms.

Arisaema seed head, in this case A. tortuosum

Arisaema seed head, in this case A. tortuosum

Arisaemas are bulbs from the Asian subcontinent with hooded flowers somewhat reminiscent of a cobra. Many of the arisaemas, and indeed other aroids like arum lilies and zantedeschia, set attractive seed pods. The birds don’t touch these which is usually an indication that they are poisonous. Small children are not as discriminating as our feathered friends and it pays to check the safety of any plant which sets such attractive seed, as well as teaching your little ones not to put stray seeds and berries in their mouths.

Agapanthus - weed or wildflower?

Agapanthus – weed or wildflower?

Even the humble and often maligned agapanthus has an attractive seed head. These are heavy seed and don’t often fall far from the parent plant but, given the concern about weediness, dead heading seems a wise move, especially if you have them near waterways or reserves. Water is an efficient method of seed dispersal as can be witnessed by downstream and riverbank weeds.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.