Once again, in connection with the New Year For Trees on the 15th of this month (Shevat), we turn our attention to the world of' plants. Our subject is seeds.

If you were asked, which is the most important part of, a tree - the roots, or the stem, or the leaves, or the flowers? - You would probably find it difficult to answer, because every part of a tree is important to the tree's development and growth. But, surely, the most important part of a tree, or of any plant, are the seeds, since all other parts are there so that there can be seeds. Without seeds plants would live and die, and that would be the end of them, and before long there would be no more plants altogether. It is the seeds that reproduce new trees and plants after their kind, ever since G‑d created all plants on the third day of Creation.

Kinds of Seeds

Seeds come in a great variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.

Some seeds are round. Others are egg-shaped, triangular, circular, long and slender, curved, or coiled like a snail. Some seeds have horns, others have tails, and many have wings. Some are smooth, others are ridged.

The color of the skin of seeds varies also. It may be red, purple, orange, or any bright or dull color, striped or spotted, black or white. Many seeds look like beetles or pebbles in shape and color. In this way they escape being eaten by seed-eating birds. The carrot seed looks like a hairy bug, the chickweed seed like a caterpillar, and the castor-oil seed resembles a shiny beetle.

The size of seeds also varies greatly. Tobacco seeds are so tiny that one pod may contain as many as forty thousand. Poppy seeds are only slightly larger. From these tiny particles they range up through almost every size to the large Brazil nut and white walnut. The largest seed in the world of plants is -you guessed it - the coconut.

However, the size of the seed has no bearing on the size of the plant that will grow from it. The tallest tree in the world, the California redwood, grows from a very small seed. The large seed of a watermelon will produce only a low vine.

All trees and plants are generally divided into two categories: those that bear fruit and those that do not. Fruit-bearing trees, shrubs and herbs bear flowers which eventually ripen in fleshy fruits, like apples, peaches, grapes, tomatoes, and the like; or in pods, like peas and beans. In fruit-bearing trees and plants the seeds are enclosed inside the fruit, or inside the pod. In the other kind of plants, like the pine and all other cone-bearing trees, and certain fernlike plants of the tropics, the seeds grow "naked " (not enclosed in a pod or fruit).

Many plants which bear seeds also have another way of reproducing themselves. Onions, daffodils, and lilies develop bulbs from which new plants sprout. Strawberries have stems that creep along the ground. A new plant grows from each joint of the creeping stem. Potatoes have "eyes, " and each eye is a plant bud.

Most plants, however, depend upon seeds alone to continue their kind.

Seed Travelers

Although many seeds serve as food for humans as well as for birds and animals, their main purpose is to sprout and grow into new plants after their kind. If they fell straight to the ground, under and around their mother plant, they would be too crowded to thrive. Each seedling needs a patch of ground for itself and sufficient sunshine in order to develop into healthy plants. What are seeds to do? They cannot just flyaway, or can they?

Well, you may be sure that the Creator took care of thc problem when He created all plants on the third day of Creation, He provided many wonderful ways in which seeds are scattered, so that many of them will have a good chance to sprout and grow. Here are some of the ways in which seeds travel.

Airborne Seeds

Many of us are familiar with the dandelion that sprouts a blowball head. You might have even plucked one and blown it into the wind. When a dandelion's blowball head is ripe, each seed has a long tail tipped with a parachute of fluffy hairs. The wind snatches the seeds off and carries them far away as they are held up by their parachutes. When they eventually spin to earth, the seed, which is the heaviest end, sinks a little in soft ground. The first rain may beat it in, or an animal may stamp it into the earth -and so it is planted.

Other wind-borne seeds have delicate wings instead of parachutes. The most familiar wings are those of the maple seeds, which grow in pairs. Kids sometimes pick them up, split them, and stick them on their noses, like horns of a rhino. The pine's seed bas one long wing, which is curved like a propeller blade. The wing helps the seed spin in the air, catch currents from all directions, and so travel long distances. Ash and other trees have seeds with similar wings.

The poppy's seeds ripen in the familiar poppy's capsule, which has many tiny holes around the top. These have trap doors to keep the seeds from falling out. When the wind tosses the stalk back and forth, the doors snap open and the seeds are sprinkled out in a fine spray, which is scattered by the wind. There are other ways in which the wind is helpful in scattering seeds. For example, the tumbleweed of the Western Plains rolls itself up into a ball when the seeds are ripe, and its roots dry up and shrink. The first wind uproots the entire plant and sends it tumbling and rolling over the prairies, scattering seeds as it goes.

Hitchhiking Seeds

A familiar way for seeds to travel far from the parent plant is by means of hooks and barbs. These grasp and cling to furs of passing animals, or clothes of people who brush against them. Such are the prickly seeds of burs, sticktights and other plants.

Many seeds are scattered by birds, animals, and people. When the seeds of fleshy fruits and berries are ripe, ready for planting, the skin of the fruit turns to a bright color, making it stand out against the green leaves. Birds and other creatures are quickly attracted and eat the fruit. The seeds are not digested. They pass through the animals and are scattered in this way. Some fruits are carried off by people or animals, and the seeds are thrown away when the fruit is eaten.

The oak's seeds are its acorns, which are eaten by squirrels. They bury many of them in different places to store up food for the winter. Some of them are forgotten, or left over, and they sprout into seedlings and grow into magnificent oak trees,

Seeds of plants that grow near water may float downstream or across lakes before they are washed ashore. The coconut may be sea-borne for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles until finally cast ashore to sprout and grow into a beautiful and useful coconut palm.

Importance To Man

Seeds are of great importance to man. They provide man's staple foods -breads and cereals. Enormous quantities of wheat are consumed throughout the world. Rice is the chief food of millions of people in Asia and in the Pacific Islands. Other important cereals are rye, corn, oats, barley, millet, and buckwheat.

Fruits and nuts are seeds and seed coverings. Beans, peas, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, melons, peppers and other vegetables are also seed foods. Coffee, cocoa, and chocolate are beverages made from seeds. Mustard, black pepper, caraway, and vanilla are flavoring substances made from seeds. Cotton is the fluffy down of seeds.

Oils extracted from seeds have a multitude of uses. They are used for food as salad oils and cooking fats, and in making soaps and perfumes, paints and varnishes, medicines, insecticides, and many other things. Some of the most widely used seed oils are cottonseed oil, linseed oil, castor oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, coconut oil, palm oil and soybean oil.

Some Reflections

The New Year for Trees (15th of Shevat) is a time to reflect on the green world of Nature in general. Clearly, without plant life there could be no animal life, nor human life, on earth. Our earth would be as desolate as the Moon. And what keeps our earth green and colorful are seeds.

It is certainly marvelous how the Creator has provided each of the countless kinds of plants with its particular kind of seed, and sees to it that the seeds should be scattered and dispersed, in various wonderful ways, so that enough of them should survive to continue and perpetuate their kind.

In our Holy Tongue, the language of our holy Torah, the word for "seed" is "Zera", and it is used not only for plant-seed, but also for human seed - children, offspring, future generations. I t is very often used in the Torah in this sense. Thus, G‑d promised our Father Abraham: "To your seed I will give this land" (Gen. 12:7), and He reaffirmed this promise by a covenant with each of our three Patriarchs, in each case referring to our Jewish nation as their "seed," assuring our Patriarchs that the Land of Israel would be the everlasting inheritance of our Jewish people. In the Books of the Prophets and Holy Writings our Jewish people are often called "seed of Jacob, " "seed of Israel." "holy seed," and "G‑d - blessed seed. "

Bearing in mind what we have learned about seeds, we can better understand many expressions in T'NaCh, as well as Talmudic sayings. Here are some examples:

The Prophet Hosea said, "Sow (Zir'u) to yourselves in Tzedoko (righteousness), reap in Chesed (kindness)." (Hosea 10:12). By this the Prophet meant that a person should scatter charity and good deeds all around, like seed, and these are sure to produce a good crop of kindness also for the person doing it, since G‑d rewards in kind, and, in deed, many times over, just as a seed that is planted produces a plant bearing many fruits and seeds.

Rav Nachman said, "Our Father, Jacob did not die...just as his seed lives on so does he live on forever." (Taanith [5]b). To be sure, a tree lives and dies, but so long as it has produced seed after its kind, and the seed is alive and thrives, the tree lives on forever through its seeds.

Rav Oshaia said, "G‑d has done kindness to the Jewish people by dispersing them among the nations " (Pes. 87b). For, as seeds are dispersed by the Creator to make sure that many of them would survive and continue their kind, so, when G‑d sent our people into exile, He dispersed them among the nations, so that at no time should any hostile power destroy all of them, G‑d forbid. So has it been throughout the almost 2000 years of our exile. When one Jewish community was destroyed by a cruel enemy, many others thrived elsewhere. But G‑d also promised, "Fear not, Israel, for I am with you. I will bring your seed from the east... and from the west... and from the north... and from the south " (Isa. 43:5), to be planted again in G‑d's vineyard in the Holy Land.