Monday, February 13, 2012

Happy Belated Birthday Charles

203 years ago yesterday, in Shropshire, Englsnd, Charles Darwin was born. Fifty years later he published On the Origin of Species, his masterwork which built up — through countless examples and anecdotes, as well as evidence from the fossil record, animal husbandry, and his own observations onboard The Beagle — the case for evolution by natural selection.

Now I don't know if he was the first to enumerate the myriad ways in which seeds get dispersed in order to propagate their kind, but he did do various interesting experiments in that realm such as immersing many different varieties of seeds in seawater for days and weeks on end to see if they had the staying power to survive trans-oceanic voyages intact and still germinate (many could, even after a month.)

Here's Darwin on seed dispersal:
Seeds are disseminated by their minuteness, by their capsule being converted into a light balloon-like envelope, by being embedded in pulp or flesh, formed of the most diverse parts, and rendered nutritious, as well as conspicuously coloured, so as to attract and be devoured by birds, by having hooks and grapnels of many kinds and serrated awns, so as to adhere to the fur of quadrupeds, and by being furnished with wings and plumes, as different in shape as they are elegant in structure, so as to be wafted by every breeze.
Whenever I go running in the late fall or winter around here, I can't help coming back with clumps of the seed pods of this guy stuck in my gloves or socks.
We'll have to amend Darwin's paragraph to read: "Or adhere to the smart wool of bipeds."

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