Hello! In this tutorial, we are going to learn all about helicopter seeds. Including, what they are, which trees they come from and why they spin as they fall. Afterwards, if you would love some more resources about our most common flying seeds, we have also added a handy flying seed spotter sheet at the bottom. Are you ready? Lets get started!
Helicopter seeds are a type of flying tree seed. There are actually two types of flying seeds – winged seeds and parachute seeds. Helicopter seeds are winged seeds, but they are not the only type of winged seeds. They are so named because they spin through the air as they fall – like helicopter propellers. (There are also non-spinning winged seeds.)
Helicopter seeds are known by several common names, including whirligigs, whirlibirds, spinning jennys and helicopter seeds. But, the real name for winged seeds, is a samara (while, parachute seeds are called pappi).
Many trees produce winged seeds and helicopter seeds. But, in the British Isles, there are eight main types of flying tree seed:
We also have a few tiny flying seeds, such as those of birch and alder. (Also, linden is not technically a winged seed, as its ‘wing’ is actually a leaf and not attached to either the fruit or the seed. But, it is easily mistaken for one so is on my list). Meet our other nuts and seeds
The aim of all trees is to reproduce, and they do this via seeds. But, if a tree’s seeds landed straight at their feet, then the new, baby trees would compete with them for food, light and water. So, they try and send their seeds away, or disperse them. Flying is one way to do this.
Apart from flying, seeds can also disperse by other ways:
Scientists have carried out all sorts of experiments to try and find out why helicopter seeds spin as they fall. The answer is pretty amazing. Much like a tornado as it whirls and spins, helicopter seeds create their own mini vortex, allowing them to spin gently instead of simply falling to the ground! This slows them down, giving them more time to fall and more time for the wind or air currents to carry them away. Find out how maple seeds spin as they fall
Not all samaras look like helicopters. Some have only one wing (like ash and pine), others have lobed wings (hornbeam, birch and alder) and some have round wings (wych elm). There are three seeds which are paired and look like helicopters – field maple, Norway maple and sycamore. Meet our other nuts and seeds.
The three big ‘helicopter-type seeds’, field maple, Norway maple and sycamore, can be a little tricky to identify at first, but there are a few ways to tell them apart.
Our other winged seeds are also pretty easy to identify once you know what to look for.
Do you think you could identify these seeds if you found them? Remember to use all available clues to help you.
Onto the fun part! How to fly your helicopter seeds!
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