What are helicopter seeds? (and how to easily identify them)

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what are helicopter seedss

Let's learn about helicopter seeds

Hello. In this tutorial, we will be learning about some of our flying tree seeds. Or, more  specifically, we will be looking at our helicopter-type flying tree seeds. (You can meet our other flying seeds here.) First we will find out what helicopter seeds are, then learn which trees they come from. Lastly, we will find out how to identify our most common helicopter.

What are helicopter seeds?

First, we will answer the question – what are helicopter seeds? Well, they are simply seeds with wings. But, different to other types of flying seeds, each seed has a single, stiff, flat membrane designed to help the seed catch the wind as it falls from the tree and fly away. Oh, and they often grow in pairs of two, joined in the middle. They are called helicopters because of the way they spin as they fall from the tree.

Helicopter seeds are known by all sorts of names, including spinning jennies, whirligigs and whirlibirds. But their proper name is samara.

Which trees do helicopter seeds come from?

There are a variety of trees with samaras, but here in the British Isles, Ireland and Northern Europe, we have three main helicopter-producing trees. These are field maple, Norway maple and sycamore. (Across North America, where maple trees of all sorts are abundant, these list will of course be longer.)

How to identify our common helicopter seeds

Identifying samaras, at least here in the British Isles, is really easy. All you need to look at is the size of the seed, the shape of its wing and the angle between the two wings when held in their pairs. Lastly, if you are not sure, just look at leaves. Field maple, Norway maple and sycamore leaves are all very different.

field maple seeds

Field maple seeds

Field maple seeds have the greatest angle of the three and grow almost horizontally away from each other. Each seed is curved in an upward scoop from the bottom.

identifying helicopter seeds - norway maple seed

Norway maple seeds

Norway maple seeds also grow far apart from each other, but at a closer angle than field maple seeds. Each seed is broad at the tip and has a wavy appearance to its edges.

identifying sycamore seeds, what are helicopter seeds

Sycamore seeds

Compared to field maple and Norway maple, sycamore seeds are smaller and they grow much closer together. Each seed is rounded at the tip and curves outwards at the bottom.


Well… there we go! A brief introduction to helicopter seeds and how to identify our three most common bi-wing samaras. I hope you enjoyed this tutorial? Let me know in the comments. Happy nature walking and see you soon!

P.S. If you enjoyed this tutorial, don’t forget to subscribe below x

My Nature Nook

Hi there, I’m Leila! I help Nature lovers grow their Nature knowledge and deepen their Nature connection. Learn more…

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