‘Can you see grass seedheads?’
These are probably the most difficult questions we ask on Season Spotter Questions. We ask these questions because the production of seeds is one of the key events in the life of plants. In an ideal world, we would know when plants first put on leaves, when the plants are mature and have all their leaves out, when they flower, when the flowers turn into seeds, when the seeds leave the plant, when leaves start dying, and when the leaves fall off.
The presence of cones on conifer trees and seedheads on grasses indicate reproduction. Like with flowering time, the production of seed doesn’t necessarily correspond to when leaves come on the trees or grasses. In fact, for some long-lived plants and trees, seeds are not even produced every year! Instead these trees and plants wait until conditions are just right for their seed and then produce many, many seeds. These conditions might be a cool spring with a wet summer or immediately following a fire. You may know of some trees that have “mast years” when they produce more than the usual number of seeds in response to favorable conditions.
I’m having an interesting time this year with a neighbor’s tree that overhangs my yard. For the past few decades, it has not seeded (according to my landlord). But for some reason, this year was the right year for it to reproduce, and we were treated to a beautiful display of flowers in the spring. I remember thinking back then, ‘did that tree bloom before? I don’t remember it being so showy…” As the summer wore on, we all discovered that it was an apple tree! A huge, bountiful apple tree that has been showering our yard with large green and red fruits for months. It makes me wonder, ‘why this year?’
And that is the type of question we’d like to be able to answer in Season Spotter. What years do the trees produce cones and the grasses produce seeds? When during the year do they do so?
But these questions may not be answerable with our landscape-viewing cameras. As many of you have noted, the trees in many images are too far away to see cones and it’s not always clear whether grasses have seedheads or not. Whether or not we can use these images to detect cones and seeds will be one of the first analyses we do with your data. We know computers can’t do it. Maybe your sharp eyes can.