Some plants disperse their seeds forcefully by ejecting them. Sometimes the tension is so great, seeds may be ejected up to 200 feet away from the mother plant. This method of seed dispersal is called “ballistichory,” a label that hints at the projectile-like emergence of seeds from their pods or capsules. This type of seed dispersal occurs because the fibers in the dried fruit pull against each other to create tension, and when the tension is great enough, the fruit splits open and the walls of the fruit spring back, flinging the seeds out with force.
Plants in the Fabaceae Family
One of the largest groups of plants that uses ballistichory is the pea family, or Fabaceae. This is just one type of plant that shoots seeds when touched and the pod is cracked open. Lupins (Lupinus spp.), a garden favorite that’s hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9, form columns of pea-like fruits that burst open when dry. Orchid trees (Bauhinia spp.), hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11, bear large pods that can fling seeds nearly 50 feet. Gorse (Ulex spp.), an aggressive broom-type plant that is considered a noxious weed in some states, makes a popping noise when the seed pods burst open.
Most Plants in Euphorbiaceae Family
Bitterbark is a native of Australia and hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11. The dried fruits explode and send seeds three feet into the air. The sandbox tree sends its seeds hurling nearly 150 feet, and the exploding seed pods create a loud noise comparable to a rifle discharge. The sandbox tree is hardy only in USDA zones 10 through 11. The rubber tree , the source of natural rubber, can shoot its seeds 50 feet from the tree. It’s hardy in USDA zone 10 through 11.
Prevent invasions into turf areas by encouraging good grass growth. The weeds easily infest thin or patchy areas. Apply several inches (8 cm.) of mulch around landscape plants to help prevent seeds from getting a foothold in your soil.
Severe infestations of hairy bittercress weed will require chemical treatment. Herbicides applied post emergence need to have two different active ingredients. The ingredients must be 2-4 D, triclopyr, clopyralid, dicamba, or MCPP. These are found in broadleaf herbicide preparations known as two, three, or four-way treatments.
Mowing will achieve control over time. Do it frequently enough that you remove the flower heads before they become seed pods.
Preventing Hairy Bittercress in the Garden
Hairy bittercress weed (Cardamine hirsuta) is an annual spring or winter pest. The plant springs from a basal rosette and bears 3 to 9 inch (8-23 cm.) long stems. The leaves are alternate and slightly scalloped with the largest at the base of the plant. Tiny white flowers develop at the ends of the stems and then turn into long seedpods. These pods split open explosively when ripe and fling seeds out into the environment.
The weed prefers cool, moist soil and is most prolific after early spring rains. The weeds spread quickly but their appearance reduces as temperatures increase. The plant has a long, deep taproot, which makes pulling them out manually ineffective. Control for hairy bittercress is cultural and chemical.
Cultural Control for Hairy Bittercress
Pulling out hairy bittercress weed usually leaves the root behind. The plant will re-sprout from healthy weeds and the problem persists. You can, however, use a long slim weeding tool to dig down and around the taproot and get all the plant material out of the ground.
As temperatures get warmer, the plant will die naturally without having reproduced. That means fewer weeds the following season.