Thursday, May 1, 2014

Keeping Seeds From Breaking: Parachute Water Balloon Experiment

We have explored how plants grow from seeds and how trees can protect their seeds, but we also want to explore how seeds get dispersed.  Some seeds are way up high in the trees and without protection (like fruit), they might have a bumpy landing.   One mechanism plants have developed is to give their seeds wings or parachutes (this also helps with dispersal):

We decided to try and mimic this design for our experiment.  Below is a picture of our inspiration:

Image from memorizingnature -  click on picture for the link

We did not need much to set the experiment up.  Our seeds (water balloons), some trash bags, pieces of string and painters tape.  Fill at least two water balloons.  Trim the trash bags into squares (you should get two parachutes from one trash bag).  Cut the string into four equal length pieces (10 inches).

First we spoke about what might happen to a seed from high up in a tree.  What did they think would happen to the seed?   "Splat," was one suggestion.  So we each took turns dropping water balloons off the deck.  What do you know - they went SPLAT!  This part of the experiment elicited lots of giggles and lots of repeats (make sure you fill extra water balloons!)

Although this was great fun - it was not a great outcome if you were a seed!   So we spoke about how some seeds have wings or parachutes to help them get safely to the ground.  We could not wait to see what would happen if we put a parachute on our seeds (water balloons).

Making the parachute:  
1.  Lay out your pre-cut square of garbage bag and place a piece of string at each corner facing diagonally into the center of the bag (to create an X shape when all pieces of string have been placed on the parachute)

2.  Tape down the pieces of string on each corner using a piece of painters tape.

3.  Place the water balloon in the middle and tie each of the strings to the neck of the water balloon.

Now its time to see if our seed will make it to the ground unscathed.  With much excitement, we helped the girls make sure their strings were not twisted and released their seeds over the edge.

After a while the girls even started launching their seeds!

Every time the seeds made it the ground unscathed!  Which was great to pick up and try again.  

If you elected to do this activity on a windy day you could even see how far the seeds would travel.

Of course, throwing our water balloon was the best part of the day.  At the end, we cut off our balloons and launched our seeds to see how far they would travel one last time.


  • water balloons
  • painters tape
  • string (4x10 inches long)
  • garbage bags (we used forceflex)


  1. Fill at least 2 water balloons.
  2. Throw 1 water balloon off a balcony and watch it SPLAT!
  3. Trim your garbage bag to make a large square (you should get 2 parachutes from 1 garbage bag).
  4. Cut 4 pieces of string of equal length.
  5. Lay the garbage bag flat and lay the string on the garbage bag.  One from each corner so that they are all pointing towards the center.
  6. Tape the string down in the corners.
  7. Tie the other ends of the string onto the necks of the water balloons.
  8. Hold your parachute upright so that the parachute is at the top and the water balloon is at the bottom.  Untwist any strings.  
  9. Hold over the balcony and release.


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