Editor’s note: A previous version of this article misspelled Lindsey Riibe. It has since been corrected.

On Wednesday, April 8, University of Florida biology graduate student Lindsey Riibe worked with the University of Florida Thompson Earth Systems Institute’s Scientist in Every Florida School Program to share her vast knowledge on plants and their relationship with wind and water with second, third, and fourth-grade gifted Lee County students.

Riibe told students her interest in plants began with mosses, but she also worked as a seed collector for restoration and conservation before focusing on ferns for graduate school. She stated that along with studying how different ferns are related, she also studies how and when certain species arrived in the Caribbean islands and from where. Riibe shared the many ways in which seed and spore dispersal occurs and why it is important to the survival of plants.

Students were able to learn how wind and water are factors that contribute to the dispersal of seeds and spores. For example, some plants such as coconuts rely on water to disperse their seeds, while other seeds have adhesive features that allow them to “hitch rides” with animals and travel to new areas. Some plants, such as dandelions, developed “wings” on their seeds as an adaptation to allow them to be carried long distances by the wind.

Ferns are also able to disperse long distances by the wind, but instead of winged seeds they produce tiny, lightweight spores. The spores are produced in specialized structures called sporangia, which break open and fling the spores into the air, an action known as spore shooting. These adaptations allow spores to reach the jet stream (bands of strong winds in our atmosphere) where they can travel hundreds to thousands of miles across open ocean to remote islands.

Students engaged throughout the presentation with interactive quiz questions that Riibe had prepared. In addition, after the presentation, many still wanted to know more, asking questions such as: What is the difference between a spore and a seed? Around how many of the world’s different seeds produce flowers? About 400,000 species! The students and their teacher, Britt Monroe, expressed how much they enjoyed the experience.

For more information or help bringing scientists into your classroom, please contact the SEFS team or visit us at Scientist in Every Florida School.

Featured image by Wikimedia Commons User Luinfana (CC-BY-3.0)