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15 Plants That Shoot Seeds (With Pictures)

The natural world is full of many surprises. You may be astonished to learn that some plants actually catapult, or shoot, their seeds into the air. This is an adaptation that stems from the environment where the plant lives. 

The surrounding environment shapes how plants distribute their seeds. Fruit trees rely on animals eating the fruit to distribute seeds through excretion. Coconuts float because they are tropical plants whose seeds often drop directly into waterways and estuaries. 

Plants that shoot seeds use mechanical means to distribute their seeds. Wind is a prime factor in whether the seed will find a fertile place to sprout.

By shooting out their seeds, plants increase the likelihood that the seeds will be airborne and catch a breeze that carries them to a new place. Shooting out seeds also reduces the probability that the young seeds will sprout too close to the parent plant.  

This article will tell you more about 15 species of plants that shoot seeds to propagate themselves. Some grow in North America and others grow in places all around the world. You’ll discover facts about their habitats, scientific names, and appearance. 

15 Plants that Shoot Seeds 

1. Jewelweed

Jewelweed | image by Kevin Kenny via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Impatiens capensis

Jewelweed is a popular ornamental flower that grows well in temperate areas of North America during the spring and summer. Its only requirement to grow successfully is regular rainfall and moist soil. This is a great plant to keep in a flower garden because it discourages weeds and is pretty low-maintenance. 

Another name for jewelweed is touch-me-not. This is because the seed pods explode upon contact. That can be a person attempting to harvest seeds or a bird looking for a tasty snack. 

2. Common Yellow Woodsorrel 

Common yellow woodsorrel 
Common yellow woodsorrel  | image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Oxalis stricta

If you live in the eastern United States, you may see wild clumps of common yellow woodsorrel around in fields and meadows. Unlike other plants on this list, this seed-shooting plant is a weed. It’s actually invasive in states like Kentucky and Virginia.

Identify common yellow woodsorrel during the spring and summer. It has clover-like leaves and bright yellow flowers like a buttercup.

Some herbalists use the flower as food; it’s edible in small quantities. The most common uses are as garnishes on salads and a lemonade-adjacent beverage.  

3. Orchid Tree

Orchid tree
Orchid tree | image by Dinesh Valke via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Bauhinia purpurea 

The orchid tree is a lilac-blossomed tree that grows in the western United States, especially California’s chapparal habitats. Its seed pods are so powerful that they can shoot seeds as far as 50 feet away from the main trunk. 

If you’re looking for a good backyard tree, orchid trees are still a great option. It has large pink-purple orchidlike blossoms. Aesthetically, they look similar to a jacaranda tree or even a crepe myrtle. 

4. Gorse 

Gorse bush
Gorse bush | image by Rob Hodgkins via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Ulex spp. 

The gorse bush is rarely seen as ornamental or valuable by landscapers and gardeners. Most stands of gorse grow wild in empty lots or undeveloped land.

They are woody, evergreen, and equipped with sharp thorns all over. The yellow flowers bloom as early as January and last until June. 

Be careful though if you’re standing next to a gorse bush in late summer! Pollinated flowers develop into seed pods. As the pods dry out, they explode in a ‘pop’ that propels the seed several feet away. 

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5. Bitterbark Tree 

Bitterbark tree 
Bitterbark tree  | image by Ethel Aardvark via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Petalostigma pubescens 

The bitterbark tree is more commonly known by the moniker ‘quinine tree’ since its bark was used to make medicines that prevented malaria. The tree itself is a medium-sized tree with ashy, dark bark and simple leaves. 

Bitterbark trees have a complex process to their seed dispersal. First, they produce kiwi-sized fruits, which emus eat directly from the tree.

After the emus excrete the hard endocarp inside, it dries in the sun. At their driest point, the endocarp pops open violently and flings the seed across the ground. 

6. Sandbox Tree 

Sandbox tree 
Sandbox tree  | image by Tatters ✾ via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Hura crepitans 

You won’t find the sandbox tree in North America. It’s a native of the southern hemisphere, specifically the Amazon Rainforest. It has sharp spines along its trunk and can grow 200 feet tall. 

Sandbox trees have exploding seed pods, which explode as fast as 160 miles per hour! They’re shaped like pumpkins.

When they’re ripe, they split open. They get their name from the uses of their seed capsules. Back when ink didn’t dry quickly, writers sprinkled sand across the paper. This tree’s seed capsules were used to hold the sand. 

7. Rubber Tree 

Rubber tree 
Rubber tree  | image by Vinayaraj via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientific Name: Hevea brasiliensis 

The rubber tree is native to the jungles of South America. While it did evolve in the new world, it was extremely economically important in the 1800s because it was the source of rubber before petroleum-based rubber products were invented.

Rubber trees have tripartite seed pods that fling open when the fruit is ripe. In the wild, the seeds are shot several yards or more away from the parent plant. 

8. Himalayan Balsam 

Himalayan balsam 
Himalayan balsam  | image by Dr. Hans-Günter Wagner via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Impatiens glandulifera 

Himalayan balsam is an invasive species of flowering plant that has found its way to North America. In fact, it was introduced in the early 1800s as an ornamental, but became a nuisance specifically because of its exploding seed pods. 

Wild Himalayan balsam grows near riverbanks and creek edges. After the plant produces light pink flowers, they mature into seed pods. Exploding seed pods fall into the river, which carries them downstream to new fertile growing spots. 

9. Purple Lupine

Purple lupine
Purple lupine | image by Joshua Mayer via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Lupinus perennis 

Like some of the other flowers on this list, purple lupin is not native to the United States. This flowering plant is originally from Europe and was brought over to be a flower in ornamental gardens. Thanks to its tenacity and ballistic method of dispersing its seed, it has succeeded as a wild weed for multiple centuries. 

Purple lupine is one of the most commonly seen plants to colonize an area after there is a disturbance like an avalanche or forest fire. It’s a legume that fixes nitrogen, so it can grow almost anywhere, even in bad soils. That’s what makes it so difficult to remove. 

10. Ganges Primrose 

Ganges primrose 
Ganges primrose  | image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Asystasia gangetica

It looks similar to the primroses native to Europe and North America, but watch out! This Asian primrose species packs a nasty punch for other environments.

It’s a highly invasive perennial that has proven problematic in subtropical places with abundant water. Florida is one such state where Ganges primrose competes with native plant life. 

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When the seeds of the Ganges primrose are mature, they explode out of small capsules. The seeds can even tolerate exposure to salt!  

11. Honey Spurge 

Honey spurge 
Honey spurge  | image by Leonora (Ellie) Enking via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Euphorbia mellifera

Increase biodiversity and wildlife visitation in your backyard garden by planting some honey spurge. This bush grows tall in shade but stays compact and domelike in the sun. Its flowers smell like honey and attract bees and butterflies. 

Flowers on honey spurge are yellow. After they fade away, they’re replaced with the fruits, which soon burst since they’re full of seeds.

12. Cotton Tree 

Cotton tree 
Cotton tree  | image by Forest and Kim Starr via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Scientific Name: Ceiba pentandra

You probably won’t see a cotton tree in the United States – they’re native to South America – but chances are you won’t want one in your yard anyway. They have bad-smelling flowers and exploding seed pods. 

Cotton trees don’t get their name from the crazy way they spread their seeds. Instead, they are named because of the cotton-like fibers that line the inside of the seed pod. After it explodes, all the fluff is taken up by gusts of wind.  

13. Firecracker Flower

Firecracker flower
Firecracker flower | image by Katy Warner via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Crossandra spp. 

Firecracker flowers is a catch-all name given to members of the genus Crossandra. Their flowers are bright orange and they bloom in the summer. If you make sure they don’t keep propagating, they can be planted outside to entice butterflies.  

If you’re looking to grow one of these plants, we recommend doing so in a container. You’ll have a prime view of the beautiful peachy flowers and the seed pod maturation process. 

14. Chinese Witch Hazel 

Chinese witch hazel 
Chinese witch hazel  | image by Plant Image Library via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Hamamelis mollis 

The Chinese witch hazel plant is native to mainland Asia, especially China. It’s a shrub popularly planted in ornamental gardens for curb appeal. Unlike most shrubs, they bloom in winter, so they add lots of color to what would otherwise be a drab and snowy landscape. 

Chinese witch hazel bushes can grow over 25 feet tall and expand dramatically in the space they take up on the ground. The exploding seed pods take a year to mature. 

15. Hairy Bittercress  

Hairy bittercress  
Hairy bittercress   | image by Andreas Rockstein via Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Scientific Name: Cardamine hirsuta 

Hairy bittercress certainly lives up to its name. This small groundcover plant grows wild in most of the eastern United States during the late winter and early spring. It has a slender growth habit but only grows about 4 inches tall. Their flowers are white and small.

When touched, the seeds of hairy bittercress fly outward like tiny rockets. You can’t walk through a bed of them without being pelted with tiny seeds. A single seed can be flung up to 16 feet!