Notes from the Field: Collecting Seeds for Tomorrow’s Restoration
Running my hand over the seed heads of Hordeum branchyantherum (Meadow Barley), I make sure our collection tool of choice, the manila envelope, is perfectly positioned beneath my hand to catch the falling seed. Peering inside the envelope, I see the seed source for the following year’s plants.
Seed collecting is a major component to Save the Bay’s Community-based Restoration program. It is something that we spend months thinking about and moments doing. It is fleeting but important, integral to the operation of our nurseries and our ability to produce 35,000 plants annually. And, it is one of my favorite things to do.
There is something so simple about seed collecting. It gives homage to our long forgotten hunter-gatherer roots, a game of hide and seek with nature. I enjoy keeping up with the cycles of flowering, remembering when things went to seed last year at a certain site, and engaging in an interesting race to get to the seed before it drops.
When a seed is ready to collect, especially grass seed, it does not require effort to gather. Instead, it falls effortlessly into your waiting receptacle. You don’t need to yank or pull hard, a brush of the palm is all the prodding that it needs. Grass seeds in particular, which are known to self-seed have small windows in which they are ready and the seeds move quickly from the “not ready” stage, to “shoot, where’d they go?” stage. Timing is everything.
Seed collection also takes a lot of coordination. At each site where we collect seed, our Nursery Manager must get permitted to collect there. It is illegal to collect seed from State and Federal Land without a permit. When seed collecting, it is important to never take more than is needed and leave seed for the plants to re-produce themselves. There is a rule of best practices that when collecting, a person should never take more than 10% of a plant’s population. This ensures that the population will not be affected by our collecting it.
The seeds we collect are taken back to office, cleaned and stored until they get taken to our nursery and sown into large flats to germinate. After germination they will get transplanted by our many volunteers into stubs, where they will stay for many months at our nursery growing big, until they are ready to be put into the ground at our restoration sites in the fall and winter of that same year. Once planted in the ground, our only hope is that those plants will grow and establish, and one day start reproducing seed.
- Crescent Calimpong, Restoration Specialist