An Orchard Invisible: A natural history of seeds by Jonathan Silvertown - ISBN 0226757730 - Chicago University Press 2007


note that this was finished much earlier but without recall, recall starts a month before the current date to already start with very spaced recalls


Read and appreciated DemonsInEden by the same author, also decided before about the name "Seedea" from the merging of "idea" and "seed" for its ontogenesis and compact nature, consequently hopping to learn more from the book to see if the name does fit the concept.

Pre-reading model

Life is a cyclic mechanism that is spread from a living organism to another, seeds are very slowing loops in order to maintain themselves longer with wasting minimal resources until their environment allow them to grow (cf discussion with Nathan in Berkeley).


  • 1 An Orchard Invisible: Seeds
    • reference to Thoreau and his passion for seeds (p3)
    • "This book is about why seeds have all the wonderful properties that they do, feeding us, flavoring our food, moistening and protecting our skin, and growing into plants that give us fruits, flowers, fiber, pharmaceuticals, poisons, perfume, protection, and pleasure." (p4)
    • "why do plants bother producing seeds in the first place? Why are plants, or animals for that matter, so hooked on sex? " (p4)
  • 2 First Forms Minute: Evolution
    • "From a sea recipe, evolution cooked up something brand-new to serve the demands of life on land: an embryo in a box, which we call a seed. " (p8)
    • "though evolution seems to have a direction when we look back from the vantage point of the present, it doesn’t follow purposeful steps - rather, it wanders from one chanced-upon solution to the next with no aim whatsoever. " (p11)
    • "what happened next on the particular path that we are following to the evolution of the seed liberated plants from a dependence on a watery environment for sex. The large, robust plant, instead of shedding its female spores, retained them within its tissue where they became a protected, tiny sex machine. " (p11)
    • "countless examples in evolutionary history when a device that evolved in the service of one need (parasitic feeding) was turned to a quite different use (sperm delivery). " (p14)
    • "evolution works by using what is already to hand to fashion new solutions. Every novelty has some kind of antecedent. " (p15)
    • "it is possible that endosperm is a sacrificial, sterilized embryo turned food-supplier to its sibling. " (p16)
    • explanation of the ratio (not numbers) of maternal (m) to paternal (p) genes to 2m:1p in the endosperm thanks to Wikipedia:Kin selection
  • 3 Even Beans Do It: Sex
    • regarding the evolution and purpose of sex, see my earlier notes on TheRedQueen and TheMatingMind
    • no conscencus at the time of the writting but 2 main paradigms
      • suggested by Thomas Hunt Morgan in 1913 "the advantage of sexual over asexual reproduction is that sexually produced offspring can inherit an accumulation of beneficial genes from a wide network of ancestors, while all asexuals get is what their mother had." (p35)
        • "This ever-widening network of ancestors is like an immensely deep funnel through which any favorable genes that arose in the past are collected together and passed down to the most recent generation." (p35)
        • "Asexual offspring have no network of ancestors, but just a lineage, like a single-file line of identical clones stretching into the past." (p35)
      • suggested by H. J. Muller in 1964 "in asexual populations individuals with accumulated mutations exist in multiple copies, and selection cannot purge deleterious mutations just by removing the few most severely affected offspring: whole clonal lineages must be removed." (p36)
  • 4 Before the Seed: Pollination
    • "The inferiority of inbred offspring is now recognized as a very general phenomenon known as inbreeding depression." (p43)
    • "Every coevolved relationship is susceptible to subversion." (p49)
  • 5 According to Their Own Kinds: Inheritance
    • presentation of Mendel's work
    • "Progress in science depends so much upon having the right experimental system." (p59)
  • 6 O Rose, Thou Art Sick!: Enemies
    • "Like ergot, the corn smut infects its host via the flowers, taking the route normally used by pollen to reach the ovules by growing along the length of the corn silks that hang from the cob." (p64)
      • a metaphor for hacking : how can you bypass security by using openings that were not intended for that usage then hijack resources for your own good
    • evocating the arm-race situations (cf Seedea:Research/Drive and TheRedQueen)
      • "The ensuing three decades of U.S.-Soviet relations were dedicated not to peaceful competition in the technology of home appliances, but to a military arms race driven by a shared strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction." (p68)
      • "Red crossbills (Loxia curvirostra) and lodgepole pines (Pinus contorta) are locked in an arms race." (p68-69)
    • "A larger beak comes with a larger body size that requires more food. For seeds too, size and food are a matter of survival." (p69)
  • 7 The Biggest Coconut I Ever See: Size
    • "The absence of species already adapted to changing conditions gives species that are already present a chance to evolve to match the new demands and opportunities of the changing environment. " (p73)
    • "The solution that evolution came up with to this problem [competition for resource between parents and offsprings] is stunningly simple: if the seed is too big to move, then move the seedling" (p74)
    • "The seed sends out a kind of umbilical cord which buries itself in the soil and tunnels away from the seed at a depth of thirty to sixty centimeters beneath the soil surface. " (p74)
    • "each seed is like a ticket in a lottery for survival. The more tickets you have, the greater the chance that at least one will win. " (p76)
  • 8 Ten Thousand Acorns: Number
    • "Masting is a strategyto outwit seed-eaters by surfeiting them with food in mast years and then starving them between times [also called predator satiation]." (p83)
    • "evolution continually subverts the strategies of one species to the ends of another" (p83)
    • "Nut trees have a kind of advance-payment system, using a proportion of their seeds to purchase the dispersal of the remainder. " (p85)
    • "Fruit trees, on the other hand, purchase dispersal with a payas- you-go system. " (p85)
  • 9 Luscious Clusters of the Vine: Fruit
    • "A fleshy fruit is the vehicle, the seed its cosseted passenger, and birds and mammals the motive power for dispersal. " (p88)
    • "Dispersal is a way of escaping these specialized enemies. I discuss the far-reaching consequences of this for plant biodiversity in my book Demons in Eden." (p90)
    • "Use it or lose it is a common theme in evolution, with natural selection often finding better uses for the resources that would otherwise go into redundant organs or cell types. " (p94)
  • 10 Winged Seeds: Dispersal
    • description of winged seed and their shape
    • "As it migrated north by leaps and bounds, the weight and the wing loading of seeds progressively decreased. Seeds in the recent populations of the Yukon have a wing loading that is about 25 percent less than those of Baja." (p107)
      • suggesting a correlation that would make a nice graphic
  • 11 Circumstance Unknown: Fate
    • "cereals are bred to prevent the seed heads from breaking up and scattering their seeds before the harvester can collect them." (p111)
    • "What a plant cannot do for itself, it can often trick or bribe an animal into doing for it. " (p112)
    • "Dormant seeds are time travelers. They are able to shut down their metabolism and to tick over in a state of quiescence, alive but consuming almost no energy, for years, decades, and, in a few cases, even centuries. " (p113)
    • "A seed should germinate when all the cues available, like temperature and soil moisture, point to conditions being best for growth." (p116)
    • "Assuming seeds cannot tell what other seeds are going to do and all receive the same cues, then all seeds of a species ought to act the same way and choose the same time to germinate. " (p116)
  • 12 Fierce Energy: Germination
    • "Water uptake by seeds is not passive, like filling a bath, but uses the affinity of carbohydrates (e.g., starch) and proteins (e.g., gluten) for water molecules to suck water in like a sponge. " (p119)
    • "It’s simple economics that you should spread your bets against the risks created by uncertainty" (p122)
  • 13 Sorrow's Mysteries: Poisons
    • "Seed poisons defend a plant’s immature offspring against being eaten by animals. " (p127)
    • "Plants with palatable seeds sacrifice a proportion of them to animal predators in return for the remainder, though this may be only a very small fraction, being dispersed to places where they may germinate successfully. " (p127)
    • "Just as weapons change hands between people, poisons are traded between micro-organisms, plants, and animals, and not all of a seed’s chemical armory need be homegrown. " (p129)
  • 14 Ah, Sun-flower! Oil
    • "Plant and animal oils and fats have the same basic chemical structure, but they vary in the amount of energy they store. " (p141)
    • "even though saturated triacylglycerols are more energy-rich than unsaturated ones, they are cheaper to produce in energy terms. That is the second reason it is odd that plants put unsaturated triacylglycerols in their seeds: they are expensive. " (p143)
    • "the cooler the climate during the period of seed germination, the greater the proportion of unsaturated triacylglycerols in the seed. " (p143)
    • "at lower temperatures, seeds whose oil stores are held in saturated form have difficulty germinating. " (p144)
  • 15 John Barleycorn: Beer
    • "Barley seeds are first sprouted so that the enzymes which become active upon germination convert the starch stored in them to the sugar maltose; roasting the sprouting seeds converts some of the sugar to malt, and then the mash is fermented to convert the sugar to alcohol. " (p146)
    • "Barley was important in the transition from hunter-gathering to settled agriculture and was one of the first three grain crops to be domesticated at the dawn of Old World agriculture in the Fertile Crescent." (p147)
    • "The large grains and fat peas and lentils we enjoy today are the result of artificial selection for larger seed size, another evolutionary legacy of a trend started in the Neolithic. " (p149)
    • "The advantage to ethanol production is that it poisons other microbes, hence its well-known preservative properties. " (p152-153)
    • "When did S.[accharomyces] cerevisiae acquire ADH2 [gene for an enzyme that reverse alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH)]" (p153)
      • sound slike "When did software X acquire functionnality Z?" , cf CAEE applied to software
    • "no matter what the adversity, somewhere a seed of evolutionary success always sprouts from the clay burial ground of defeat. " (p154)
  • 16 Realm of Illusion: Coffee
    • "Every invention of evolution is only what we make of it." (p155)
    • "Caffeine is chemically unaffected by roasting. The alkaloid is nearly flavorless and odorless, which is why decaffeinated coffee can still taste good. " (p158)
    • mention of Paul Erdös famous quote "A mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems." (p160)
      • see also N is a Number related documentary
    • "Adenosine acts like a brake on the firing of neurons, so when caffeine gets in the way of this brake, the human machine speeds up. " (p161)
    • "The power of commerce is rarely suppressed for long. Indeed, commerce acquired complete control of the evolution of coffee. " (p162-163)
  • 17 Nourishment and Inspiration: Gastronomy
    • "Seeds are designed by evolution to store food for juvenile nourishment. " (p165)
    • "The reason why a seed that suffices to nourish a juvenile plant is rarely enough for any animal is that plants are nutritionally much more self-sufficient than animals. " (p169)
    • "Cooking is evolutionary subversion too. When you enjoy seeds, you can enrich the experience by sparing a thought for their fascinating evolutionary journey to your plate. " (p175)

See also

Overall remarks and questions

  • Maybe because I had time to ponder about the question before actually reading the book but I am mainly discovering new details but no radical shift in the big picture.


So in the end, it was about X and was based on Y.


Point A, B and C are debatable because of e, f and j.



Amanuensis sleuthing reverie (:new_vocabulary_end:)

Post-reading model

Draw a schema (using PmGraphViz or another solution) of the situation of the area in the studied domain after having read the book. Link it to the pre-reading model and align the two to help easy comparison.


Back to the Menu