Parachutes and Helicoptors in the Backyard

I planted some dandelions today.  Oh, c’mon admit it.  You’ve done it too.  Who can resist the tantalizing wispy white seed head of a dandelion plant in springtime?  You hold the beautiful stem in your hand, gazing directly at the horde of delicate seeds gathered in a circle around the ovule at the top of the stem.  Their tenuous grip on their life source indicates their readiness to make the trip for which they were designed.  If you examine them closely, you’ll notice that each seed has a tiny, slender stem, the bottom of which is attached to the main plant.  At the top of that tiny stem is an umbrella, a parachute of sorts, specifically designed to carry the seed far enough away from its sire to spread the species.

Careful not to inhale too close to the seed head, you take a deep breath and push it back out again, directing the stream of air right at the puffball.  The resulting explosion of little flying whirligigs is spectacular!  And, if you weren’t watching so carefully out of the corner of your eye to see if the neighbors were peering angrily from behind their curtains, you would laugh for joy to see God’s creation at work.  A common weed, we call it.  Ha!  More like a miracle in action, putting to shame all the complicated machines that our feeble minds can contrive to complete the tasks we deem important.  The simplicity, along with the amazing resilience, is so far beyond our imaginations that we can only marvel.  The process needs us not at all, as is evidenced by all the empty stems I see as I view the yard.  The strong April winds have already spread the plant’s progeny to the four corners of my property (and maybe just a little beyond, truth be told).  The gentle rain that fell last night has already helped to press them into the soil, and even tonight, I imagine they are starting to germinate, putting down their stubborn tendrils into the damp earth, preparing for another bumper crop in a few weeks.

I hear the naysayers in my ear as I write this.  “Why would you allow this vicious weed to thrive in your yard?  Don’t you know it’s aggressive and ugly?  Aren’t you aware that it spreads to my perfect lawn?”  Of course I know that after I mow the lawn, they pop up and make it look as if I haven’t mowed at all.  I know that millions of dollars annually are spent trying to eradicate this “blight on the landscape”, but all in vain.  Ugly or not, I’m doing my part to protect the species, although they have no need of my protection.  I must admit, I have never dug a dandelion plant from my yard, never sprayed a drop of pesticide to control them.  They are, to me at least, one of Spring’s best gifts to the awakening world, with the wonderful maple helicopters running a close second.

The fantastic design of the maple seedpod is another source of amazement for me.  This spring, the red maple in my backyard is covered with them.  Their proper name is a “samara”, but I much prefer the descriptive name “helicoptor”.  Of course, the English have a fine name for it also; calling it a “spinning jenny”.  Every two years or so, the branches almost sag beneath the weight of the seeds (as with this year), until the spring winds call to them, coaxing them off, first just a few at a time.  I think the first ones are the adventurous type, not needing the company of the rest to know that this is what they were made for, but before you know it, the slightest breeze fills the air with the spinning, gyrating seeds, headed by the hundreds of thousands to a resting place in the surrounding yards and ditches, awaiting their time to be pressed down into the soil and be watered; ready to spring up into saplings.  If we humans weren’t so intent on open spaces in which to do nothing, the hills would be covered with the beautiful trees.  Oh, I know…not all of the seeds would produce trees.  If they did, the forest would be so dense nothing could live.  But, I am particularly fond of the maple trees, with their large shade-providing leaves,  shaking and quivering in the storms, turning brilliant oranges and yellows before loosing their grip on the branches in the fall; only to be the earliest to burst forth again as the warm air triggers the cycle once more in the springtime.

I will grudgingly admit to the beauty of the autumn, the excitement of a beautiful snowfall in the dead of the winter, but spring is the season I love best.  I think it’s because my mind cannot fully contain the wonder of creation; cannot take in the fantastic design of the wonderful and diverse organisms surrounding us, from the flowering trees and bushes, to the pollinating hedges (covered with bees and flies to carry the pollen far away), to the amazing methods of regeneration afforded to all of the growing, thriving flora and fauna around us.

It also might have something to do with the simple pleasures that spring affords.  And, it doesn’t hurt that I love it when the children in my life are overjoyed as they plant dandelions along with me.  What a profitable way to spend a cool springtime evening!

“If dandelions were hard to grow, they would be most welcome on any lawn.”
(Andrew V Mason M.D.~American doctor and author) 

“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.”
(A.A. Milne~English author)

2 thoughts on “Parachutes and Helicoptors in the Backyard

  1. That’s funny. I realized whilst reading this that I had “popped in” for a broom to sweep helicopters off my porch for the umpteenth time in only a couple of days. I made the mistake of checking the fb on the way to the broom. 😉 And yes, I blew a dandelion with the eight year old this weekend too! LOVE SPRING-weeds, tree fodder and all!

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