New Online Guide for Identifying the World's Seeds
and Fruits By Erin
Peabody March 8, 2007
Trying to identify the exotic Laelia orchid is one thing. Recognizing
this rainforest resident based on its microscopic, dust-like seedsamong
the tiniest in the plant kingdomis quite another.
That's why scientists with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Beltsville, Md., have created a
special online database, called the "Family
Guide for Fruits and Seeds", for identifying the world's myriad seeds and
Seeds are what enable plantseven those rooted well in one
spotto disseminate their reproductive material over hundreds, if not
thousands, of miles. That's impressive when considering the wide variety of
plants we value and cherish, including agricultural crops that help feed and
clothe us and the ornamental species that make our gardens dazzle.
But invasive plantsthose ecologically destructive species that
are spreading at an alarming rate in the United States and elsewherealso
derive a big boost from scattering seeds. Small and lightweight, seeds from
invasive plants make the perfect stowaways, hitching rides in cargo and plant
material traversing the globe.
It falls to regulatory agencies, like USDA's
Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service, to try to stop the entry and spread of noxious weeds into the
country. The new seed database created by ARS will be a critical tool to aid
their efforts, helping inspectors make tough and tricky seed identifications.
The guide was developed by
Kirkbride, an ARS botanist who works at the Systematic Botany and Mycology
Kirkbride, who manages the
Seed Herbarium housed within SBML, relied heavily on this collection and
its more than 120,000 dried specimens when developing the interactive database.
According to Kirkbride, stopping seeds at their point of entry is one
of the simplest and most cost-effective ways of keeping non-native plants in
on how ARS is helping nab troublesome weeds, see the latest issue of
Agricultural Research magazine.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.