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Using seed of native plants to restore plant communities.

Please view my videos on Direct Seeding:

Species table

Cleaning seed and seed stratification

Native plants and native plant communities are vital to maintaining healthy natural ecosystems. Human development, invasive species and climate change are three serious threats facing native plants across the United States.  These threats are so large and widespread that solutions to the problems need to be just as large.  To date the efforts to safeguard native communities has been minimal at best. Money is scarce and what little effort has been done is directed towards a few rare plant communities on public lands.

But the threats to native plants are not in some isolated location or limited to public lands. The threats are everywhere, in our backyards, fields and forests. If our local plant communities are going to be protected and restored to health, we need to take action on a local level.  As individual landowners we cannot expect any help to come from local and state governments, environmental groups or academia.      

An army of willing volunteers is ready and waiting to take action if empowered and given the knowledge and tools. There are conservationist, environmentalist, horticulturalist, birders, plant enthusiast and nature lovers of all types who would be more than willing to do something, anything if given something tangible to do.  But what can one-person do to conserve native plant communities on a local level?  The plants themselves hold the key to their own survival and reintroduction.

 Native plants can be reintroduced on a scale that will have a noticeable impact on local plant communities. All plants in the wild grow from a seed. So starting with seed is the logical way to reintroduce native plants. Most plants produce large quantities of seed as a way to ensure survival of the species. Over production of seed has evolved as a way to overcome high natural mortality. A single plant can produce tens of thousands of seeds This over production of seed can be harvested and used for restoration.

Seed collection and dispersal is the most important activity you can undertake to directly benefit native plants. Past human activity has played the major role in restricting the distribution of native plants.  Most shrubs and forest forbs were eliminated from vast tracts of land in centuries past.  Now they need our help to get reestablished in habitats where they no longer exist. The absence can be easily corrected by collecting and dispersing seed of native plants wherever they are missing, to all the land and out of the way places that need native plants. In nature wind, birds, animals and ants play the primary role as dispersal agents but this only occurs where the plants are present and within a limited distance from the seed source. A distance of just a few yards of open space can restrict seed dispersal. Fields, houses, roads, lawns and any open area creates a permanent barrier to plants spreading their seed.  This may occur naturally over decades or centuries, but nature doesn't have the luxury of decades with the current threats to native plants looming. 

The process of seed collection and dispersal can be as simple as picking the seed and broadcasting the seed where you want new plants to grow.  You can increase the likely hood of the seed  germinating and growing into a plant  if you take a little more care and plant the seed in the ground. Most seed will have higher rates of germinate if planted in the soil. Anyone with the most basic understanding of horticulture practices can collect and plant seed. Collecting seed is an enjoyable outdoor activity that can be done alone, as a group with friends or with children as a family. As you walk in nature observe where and when seed is produced by specific species of plants. When the seed is mature collect it. Take note of where you find specific native plants growing in the wild. Look for other sites similar to where those plants were found and sow the seed of that plant.

Plant seed wherever you think that plant has a good chance of growing. Don’t worry about being wrong.  You are participating in a process that occurs all the time in nature and you are simply lending a helping hand.  Nature will determine the final outcome of whether the seed will survive.

Consider the potential of hundreds if not thousands of people across the country all taking this one little step of collecting and dispersing native seed. This individual and accumulative action can have a significant impact on the conservation of native plants in your neighborhoods and region. New populations of plants would be established where they didn't exist before and small isolated populations would be stabilized and enlarged.

Seed collection and dispersal can be used to grow trees, shrubs and forbs. Each plant species has general requirements for germination and growth. 
Success of seed introduction will be greatly improved if you pay attention to these requirements. Take note of shade, soil type, orientation to the sun, soil moisture and companion plants. These factors indicate the type of habitat where that plant will grow. Try to match the plant with its habitat. Most species will grow in a range of soil types and under a range of environmental conditions but others have more defined requirements.   But remember this most important idea. If you want native plants to grow, you must get the seed into the environment where it has a fighting chance.   Collect lots of seed from lots of different native species and sow the seed in the soil or broadcast the seed on top of the ground if time is limited.  In the end nature will be the selective force and decide what will grow where and what will not. 

Planting the seed is only the beginning of the stewardship/restoration process.  For the plants to be self sustaining the seed you plant must germinate and grow into mature plants that will produce seed themselves.  This can really only occur where the natural processes can continue unimpeded by people. That requires land in a natural or semi-natural state. It is no longer enough for a person to put a few native plants in their backyard and think they’ve done their part.  

The scale of stewardship/restoration has to increase along with the increased risks to plant communities and our natural landscapes.  Stewardship of land should include not just your own personal property but stewardship of all the surrounding land and even of your local region. The focus of action has to include  both public lands and private lands.  Most land is owned by individuals and it is the private landowner who will have the biggest impact preserving and restoring local populations of plants. Stewardship of the land needs to spill over the property line it has to transcend legal and political boundaries to reach all the land affected. Plants, birds and animals don't recognize property boundaries and invasive plants do not respect boundaries either.  the solutions to help preserve them cannot be constrained by manmade boundaries. Legal authority and property rights must be respected but nature isn't bound by human laws.

For the practices of stewardship to be adopted they must be implemented efficiently and successfully by large numbers of individuals, by people with minimal expertise and limited resources. People are ideally suited to assist in simple practical restoration efforts like seed collection, seed dispersal and weed pulling. We are highly mobile creatures we love to walk and hike in nature. We enjoy nature in many different capacities. We can easily take part in stewardship activities while we are doing what we already like to do.  It takes very little effort to collect some native seed while we take a walk or stop to pull an invasive weed.  We can combine our regular outdoor interests with simple activities that help to restore and preserve our surroundings.   A great deal can be accomplished with the combined efforts of many people or many small efforts by one individual.  Many small actions make a big difference over time. Like drops of water eroding solid rock or grains of sand accumulating to make a sandy beach, the combine effect of many little actions has an accumulative benefit in healthy ecosystems and robust plant communities. 

Prevention is easier than restoration, monitoring is easier than removal and dispersing seed is easier than transplanting.    Monitoring for seedlings of invasive plants is an important stewardship activity that all of us can perform.  Pulling a seedling of an invasive plant is a lot easier than removing a full-sized one. Quick removal of invasive plants prevents them from setting seed which means fewer seed in the seed bank.  Removing a few invasive plants each visit adds up to a large reduction over time. Spreading native seed each time we take a walk results in restored landscapes. Each of us can make it our personal responsibility to do many little things that adds up over time to a big positive impact on our natural surroundings.

Cleaning seed and seed stratification

Each page in the table has information on collecting, cleaning and handling seed of a native plant.   There is information on habitat, growth habits and how best to establish the plant in the wild. Look for new additions in the coming months

    Baneberry, White & Red
Actaea pachypoda & A. rubra
Basswood, American
Tilia americana
Dogwood, Red twig
Cornus sericea
Bluebells, Virginia
Mertensia virginica
Birch, Sweet
Betula lenta
Dogwood, Silky
Cornus amomum
Black Cohosh
Actaea racemosa

Blue Cohosh
Caulophyllum thalictroides

Cherry, Black
Prunus serotina
Elderberry, Red
Sambucus racemosa
Blood Root
Sanguinaria canadensis
Chokecherry, American
Prunus virginiana
Elderberry, Black
Sambucus canadensis
Early Meadow Rue
Thalictroides dioicus
Dogwood, Flowering
Cornus florida
Hazelnut, Amnerican
Corylus americana
False Solomon Seal
Smilicina racemosa
Dogwood, Pagoda
Cornus alternifolia
Hazelnut, Beaked
Corylus cornuta
Golden Seal
Hydrastis canadensis
Dirca palustris
Goldenrod, Zig Zag
Solidago flexicaulis
Celtis occidentalis
Hepatica triloba

Hickory, Bitternut
Carya cordiformis
Viburnum lentago
Marsh Marigold
Caltha palustris
Hickory, Shagbark
Carya ovata
Spice bush
Lindera benzoin
Podophyllum peltatum
  Trillium, White
Trillium grandiflorum
Hornbeam, American
Carpinus caroliniana
Viburnum, Arrowwood
Viburnum dentatum
Jack in the Pulpit
Arisaema triphyllum
Maple, Sugar
Acer saccharum
Viburnum, Mapleleaf
Viburnum aceriflium
Rue Anemone
Anemonella thalictroides
Oak, White
Quercus alba
Oak, Northern Red
Quercus rubra
Witch Hazel
Hamamelis virginiana
Twin Leaf
Jeffersonia dyphylla
Amelanchier arborea
Wild Columbine
Aquilegia canadensis
  Wild Geranium
Geraniumn maculatum
  Wild Ginger
Asarum canadense
  Wild Leek, Ramps
Allium tricocum

I would like to hear from you if you find this information helpful and you have success in growing these plants. E-mail me at jengel53@rochester.rr.com

this page updated February25, 2015