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Treebeard's Stumper Answer
14 Nov 97

Birds and Berries

Trees and shrubs around school are starting to show their fall colors as Thanksgiving approaches. Deciduous trees are just starting to turn color. Ripe fruits are more obvious. Pepper trees and pyracantha in the Valley, and toyon and madrone in the wild lands along Highway 154, are all developing brilliant red berries now. The berries look delicious, and are to many birds and animals. But isn't this the exact opposite of camouflage? How does it actually benefit local plants to attract animals to eat their seeds?

Plants with bright red autumn berries attract birds and other animals to scatter their seeds. Birds eat the berries, but the seeds pass through unharmed, and they are excreted ready to grow in a new place with their own ration of fertilizer. Some endozoic seeds actually need this trip through an intestine to sprout. Humans are not exempt. Years ago, we decided to try a truckload of processed "sludge" from the sewage treatment facility near the Santa Barbara airport. It was free compost for our orchard trees, but thousands of tomato plants soon sprouted!

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Marc Kummel / mkummel@rain.org