Bells of Ireland Seeds – A Lesson in Geometry

Open Bells of Ireland Flowers

Open Bells of Ireland Flowers

I recently noticed that the lower “flowers” on the bells of Ireland are beginning to lose their green color and are turning a straw-like color. I write “flower” because the true flower of this plant is short-lived. The green bell is actually a fused calyx (a collection of sepals) and it is very long-lasting. As the individual bells lose their color, they dry and the inflorescence can be used as a dried flower.

Seeds inside Bells of Ireland - note that one seed is still green

Seeds inside Bells of Ireland – note that one seed is still green

I took a closer look at a few of the bells and was surprised by what I saw. At the center of each individual bell was a round feature divided into four equal parts. It was green in the younger bells and dark brown in the more mature ones. It took me a minute to realize that I was seeing the seeds of bells of Ireland.

Each single flower produces four seeds though I’m sure if I looked at all of them I could probably find one with three or five seeds – nature almost always throws in those little surprises… like a four-leaf clover! What caught my eye was that these four seeds are equal in size and when looked at from above, each is a perfect slice of a circle with a 90° angle.

Seeds Attached to the Receptacle

Seeds Attached to the Receptacle

When you peel back the bell and look at the four seeds together you see that each is 1/4 of a cone. That’s why bells of Ireland seeds look a little strange. Their rounded bottom, pointed tip, one rounded side and two sides at a right angle to each other seems strange until you see how they grow.

Bells of Ireland Seeds

Bells of Ireland Seeds

As the seeds mature, they separate from the receptacle, the tip of the pedicle that supports the various structures of the flower. They fall onto the ground and start another cycle of bells of Ireland. I’ve noticed that the majority of the seeds wait until spring to start growing.

The seeds of bells of Ireland are a great example of the symmetry found in nature. On this one plant you can see a perfectly divided circle and a cone in four segments. You have to look closely but when you do, you just might be reminded of geometry class!


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