Large, distributed collections of miniaturized, wireless electronic devices may form the basis of future systems for environmental monitoring, population surveillance, disease management and other applications that demand coverage over expansive spatial scales. In this paper, we show that wind-dispersed seeds can serve as the bio-inspiration for unusual aerial schemes to distribute components for such networks via controlled, unpowered flight across natural environments or city settings. Techniques in mechanically guided assembly of three-dimensional (3D) mesostructures provide access to miniature, 3D fliers optimized for such purposes, in processes that align with the most sophisticated production techniques for electronic, optoelectronic, microfluidic and microelectromechanical technologies. We demonstrate a range of 3D macro-, meso- and microscale fliers produced in this manner, including those that incorporate active electronic payloads. Analytical, computational and experimental studies of the aerodynamics of high-performance structures of this type establish a set of fundamental considerations in bio-inspired design, with a focus on 3D fliers that exhibit controlled rotational kinematics and low terminal velocities. Battery-free, wireless devices for atmospheric measurements provide simple examples of a wide spectrum of applications of these unusual concepts.