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May 6, 2011

when a seed sprouts, it first sends down a radicle, its embryonic root. then it unfurls its cotyledons (seed leaves in greek), the first one or two leaves which are already formed inside the seed.

all flowering plants have cotyledons, and they are divided into two classes based on how many cotyledons they have (along with a number of other associated characteristics). plants that have only one are called monocots — whereas dicots begin with a pair of matching, opposite leaves. of the plants that we eat, cereal grains like corn, wheat and rice are the main monocots, while most vegetables and fruits are dicots. the only monocots we have in our greenhouse (besides grass weeds) are alliums like onions, leeks and shallots — everything else comes up with two little leaves.

what’s fascinating about cotyledons is that for the most part, they look quite unlike the true leaves that come after them. and while the leaves of different species in a plant family (such as peppers and tomatoes) can look quite different, their cotyledons usually appear very similar.

my first step in becoming familiar with food-producing plants was to learn to identify the mature plants that give us their edible parts. at some point i realized that i could look out the window while speeding down the highway and identify what’s in a field based on the shape, height and color of the plants growing there (of course this is made a lot easier by the predominance of monocultures in the agricultural landscape). the next level of familiarity is being able to see just the cotyledons of a newly sprouted seed and know what type of plant it will become. by now, i’ve planted enough seeds and watched them come up to be pretty good at this game too — what about you?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. gene richeson permalink
    May 6, 2011 7:27 am

    ….very nice post including visuals……..bravo!

  2. thea maria permalink*
    May 6, 2011 12:06 pm

    you all are smart. i should have made the quiz harder…

  3. Amanda Beeson permalink
    May 6, 2011 3:05 pm

    love it! love you! the tomato is a dead give-away, though! i didn’t know zinnia or lettuce so i still learned something!!

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