Typically, seed pods of plants ripen to a tone of tan or brown in color, but this generalized statement is misleading. Depending on plant species, a ripe, dry seedpod can range in color from gray to tan or golden brown to nearly black. Some plants are ornamental specifically because of brightly colored ripe pods that are pink or reddish in color. The common bond among all ripe seed pods is that they are fully dry.
What is a Pod?
Botanically speaking, a pod is a dry fruit of a plant that splits open to reveal its many seeds. Perhaps the most common example of a pod is that of a bean or pea.
There are five types of dry fruits that may be called a "pod" or "seed pod" in the vernacular. Follicles are dry pod-like fruits that split only on their top side, like those of a lilac (Syringa) or milkweed (Asclepias). Legume pods split open in two opposite edges, like the bean (Phaseolus) or wattle (Acacia). Silique pods split open open where valves of the ovary meet. An example is the mustard (Brassica). A capsule pod opens with pores, like that seen on poppies (Papaver) and a schizocarp splits open into multiple segments with loose seeds, like the dill plant (Anethum).
Characteristics of a Ripe Pod
Although there may be specific scientific criteria to determine a pod, nearly any dry fruiting body on a plant may be commonly referred to as a pod or seedpod. The shape, size and color of the developing and ripening pods differs per plant species.
In general, a ripened pod will be full of dried seeds and the stem that connects the pod to the plant stem will also be dry, shriveled or brittle, easily broken off. Pods that are ripening take on the appropriate color based on the mother plant's genetics, but at some point must become fully dry. As the pod dries, it is expected that the pod will take on colors of tan, brown, or gray as the plant tissue dies and desiccates.
Diversity of Pod Colors
The sheer numbers of plants that form seed pods makes it impossible to definitively determine what color a ripened pod attains. Perhaps stating "dark brown" would satisfy the average person's inquiry; however, there are some pods that are known for their ornamental colors of white, salmon or rosy pink. Other pods are velvety in color in texture, some glossy while others matte. The ripened pod color varies with each plant species, but the commonality among all ripened pods is the drying of the enclosed seeds and the pod skin.
Timing or definition of "ripeness" of a pod also can change acceptable ideas of color. In the vegetable garden, beans and peas are called "ripe" or "ready for picking" when they truly are green, juicy, full of flavor and underdeveloped. Leave either a bean or pea pod on the plant past the time you would normally harvest it for a salad and eventually the pod fully ripens, browning and becoming fully dry to the touch, often with seeds rattling inside.