How to identify autumn seeds

Many late-summer flowers are now in seed. We have illustrated 12 distinctive species to look for this autumn.

Teasel at sunset/Credit: Getty Images

All illustrations by Felicity Rose Cole 

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Creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense)

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Produces white, feathery seeds, or thistledown. Before dispersal each tight seed head is known as a pappus.

Lesser burdock (Arctium minus)

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Relative of thistles that bears stiff, prickly, hooked seeds, which disperse by clinging to fur.

Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum)

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Tall, thistle-like herb that produces fruiting heads protected by spikes, once used to tease out wool fibres.

Traveller’s joy (Clematis vitalba)

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Hedgerow climber that bears seeds on pale grey, wispy tendrils, hence its alternative name of old man’s beard.

Goat’s-beard (Tragopogon pratensis)

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Member of dandelion family that produces a spherical ‘clock’, each containing many fluffy seed heads.

Common mallow (Malva sylvestris)

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Wayside plant that bears seeds inside capsules shaped like cheeses, hence their old name of pick-cheeses.

Meadow cranesbill (Geranium pratense)

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Wayside plant that encloses its seeds in pointed pods shaped like beaks. When ripe, they explode at a touch.

Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)

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Tall grassland flower that bears burs on long spikes; these can be ‘unzipped’ by pulling upwards.

Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)

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Member of the clover family with splayed pointed seed pods in the shape of a bird’s foot.

Himalayan balsam (Impatiens glandulifera)

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Invasive, damp-loving plant from the Far East. Its seed pods explode at a touch when ripe.

Wood avens (Geum urbanum)

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Hooked seeds designed to attach to the fur of passing animals. When bur dries out, those left fall to the ground.

Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

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Large relative of cow parsley with round, ribbed seeds that cling to the dried umbrellas of the parent plant.


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Main image: Wild teasel silhouette. © Stephen F Kitt Photos/Getty