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Can birds see colours? Our berries and seeds...…..

I was up at the allotment the other evening and I noticed that the blackbirds had managed to get into my fruit cage. It’s not a grand affair and clearly needs more work over the autumn if it’s going to work properly, but that’s probably for another day….

And then I wondered if the berries came in different colours to make them more appealing to the blackbirds. It took me back to a time when I was much younger and, when I said I couldn’t see the red berries on an ivy, my colour blindness was first diagnosed.

We know that birds often eat certain colours of berries before they tackle others - think of which berries might get eaten first on your pyracantha (if you have one). However here doesn't seem to be any firm evidence about how birds see colour or why the blackbirds seemed to target my redcurrants over my blackcurrants…….

Now where’s this going you’re probably thinking. Well the whole seed and berry thing is something that as gardeners we need to think about and to act upon at certain times of the year. Seeds and berries play a vital role in the evolution of our plants. If they simply fell off the plants and germinated where they fell then our plants would be suffering from a population crisis. Luckily, plants have developed a range of techniques to distribute their seeds over a large area.

This is how it’s done:


Simple. The plant grows. It produces flowers. They set seed. The seeds fall off and germinate wherever they fall. Sometimes the seed might have a tougher outer shell that enables the seed to roll away a short distance – think conkers. The conker falls, the shell might crack and roll away and leave the inner, softer skinned seed to germinate some distance away from the parent plant.


Animals also play a huge role in distributing seeds. And this is where my initial thinking about my red and blackcurrants started. Think about the flowering cherry that you’ve planted. You chose the tree based on the colour of the flowers or leaves perhaps. You might even have hoped for some occasional fruit. But sadly the birds get to the cherries first!

Here's a photo of some cherries that have grown over a number of years. Now although I can’t be certain I suspect that a lot of the smaller trees are self-seeded. Some of them might have come from the fruit that might have dropped, but I also suspect that the birds that enjoy the cherries have also had a part to play……..


Some plants take responsibility for their own seed dispersal. Seeds are held in pods that when the time is right – usually when the weather is warm and the water inside the seed pod has evaporated – are dispersed far and wide when the seed pod “explodes”. Have you ever walked along a coast path in the summer and heard popping sounds amongst the gorse? That’ll be the seed pods sending their seeds onwards and upwards.


Trees that grow beside water often rely on the stream or river to transport the seeds. Seeds can travel over significant areas, and some seeds have actually developed over time to maximise this. Alder seeds for instance have developed their own “life jacket” by adding air pockets and cushions of something that resembles cork. How amazing is that?


Remember dandelion clocks? Well that’s another way of distributing seed – on the wind. Now where as a child blowing the seeds off into several different directions seemed like a great thing to do, all we were actually doing was sending the dandelion seeds – which some consider to be a weed – off into someone else’s garden……

Sycamore helicoptors seeds are another childhood memory that falls into this category.

Now as gardeners knowing this and how our plants set and disperse their seeds is important. Remember the currants and my fruit cage? Well if I want to enjoy the fruit next year rather than the birds then I know I need to fix the netting better over the next few months! Have a look at our earlier post about seeds and collecting them

– if we want to manage where our Love in a Mist grows next year then we need to capture it – if we don’t then the seed pod will explode and the seeds will germinate close to the original plant.

And wind. Well if we don’t want our lawns covered in dandelion then we need to fear upsetting our children and grandchildren by stopping them from blowing the seeds of the dandelions!

The serious point though is this. We were tidying a border the other day and looked at the Valerian that was still standing. Now some of us see Valerian as a useful cottage garden plant that helps with the environmental balance of our gardens and allotments. The sweet scent of the pink and white flowers attracts many different types of insects. Some of us grow the plant for its medicinal properties. Some however see Valerian as being a particularly invasive plant and in some places it’s actually banned

If you’re leaning is towards the latter rather than the former – with not just Valerian but any plant that is starting to set it’s seed – then when that starts to take effect you need to take action. If you don’t then what was originally a small clump of Valerian/Love in a Mist/Poppies or anything else will soon become a much larger clump that might eventually take over!

Get in touch if you'd like to know more through either my facebook page, at or on 07734 365028.


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