The coco de mer has the largest seeds of any plant on Earth.

The coco de mer (Lodoicea maldivica) has the largest seeds of any plant on Earth. Blickwinkel/Alamy

Plant sciences

Seed size linked to speed of plant evolution

Faster-evolving plants tend to have smaller seeds.

Javier Igea at the University of Cambridge, UK, and his colleagues analysed the masses of individual seeds from more than 30,000 flowering plants. They found that the faster a plant species diversified — by splitting into different strains or species — the smaller its seeds tended to be. The size of the seed also tended to change more quickly over time in fast-evolving plants. The finding confirms that seed size can influence the way in which a plant evolves. For instance, smaller seeds can be dispersed farther, allowing small, isolated populations to grow.

Smaller seeds are also associated with shorter-lived plants, in which more rapid turnover provides more opportunity for mutations to occur.