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Word of the Week: Achene

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Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Achene [uh-KEEN] (botany noun): A dry, one-seeded fruit lacking special seams that split to release the seed. The seed coat is attached to the thin, dry ovary wall (husk) by a short stalk, so that the seed is easily freed from the husk.

During this time of year, many of the High Park sunflowers are producing their seeds. Each of the individual ‘seeds’ of the sunflowers are actually entire fruits called achenes with a single seed present inside each one.

Sunflower seeds and an incredibly important source of food for wildlife, especially when it gets cooler outside and animal/insect protein is less available. In fact, the animals which consume these seeds are major contributors to the dispersal of sunflowers.

Birds, like purple finches, cardinals, woodpeckers, grosbeaks, chickadees, and nuthatches, can peck the achenes out of the flower heads, knocking some of them to the ground. Mice, squirrels and other wildlife will cache the achenes in burrows or shallow holes, which are often quite a ways away from the parent plants. Although many of these sunflower seeds end up eaten by these hungry animals, the achenes that end up buried in soil and up forgotten have the ability to grow into new sunflowers.

Keep an eye out for sunflower achenes and the birds enjoying them on your next visit to High Park!

FUN FACT: Strawberries also produce achenes