Collecting native plant seeds at Duke Farms is an integral part of its ecological mission. As part of its stewardship programming, it is DFF’s responsibility to grow and nurture plants that are well adapted to the site conditions and that exhibit characteristics conducive to the growing conditions of Central New Jersey. Growing seedlings from indigenous seed collected from the area in which you plan to replant them makes sense on a number of levels. One, it will provide seedlings that are more genetically predisposed to the site in which they’ll be planted and two it will produce diverse plants that will be more adaptable to the local site conditions.
Collecting seeds can be done year round and can be a fun rewarding experience. By closely observing the flowering and seed development you can begin to determine and schedule the seed gathering timetable. Once the seed matures on the plant, DF Stewardship staff begins the collection process. Selecting a nice sunny afternoon, it becomes a fun filled day to collect seed. This is a great volunteer opportunity for the community to join in this process. After harvesting seeds, the cleaning process begins. The proper handling and processing of the seed is crucial to its longevity and viability. Improperly processed seed can lead to low germination rates and failure at planting time.
Here are the steps required to gather, clean and store seed for future use:
- 1. Seed is handpicked and collected into small containers. The seed still contains the chaff and other unwanted plant parts that need to be removed. It is important to keep all seeds separated so there is no contamination with other seed types, etc. Even seeds taken from different site locations are kept separated as the genetic makeup of the seeds will vary according to the environment from which it comes.
- 2. On a clean working table, seed is spread out and the cleaning process begins. Large seed can be cleaned by hand but the smaller seeds need to be ran through screens which help remove the chaff; the debris left after cleaning. This can be done by willowing or blowing gently across the seeds.
- 3. Clean seed is then placed in envelopes and clearly identified with the species, collection date and location. Using a paper envelope allows the seed to breath and no moisture gets trapped inside. No plastic bags!
- 4. The seed needs to be placed in a cool humidity controlled environment. Providing these conditions will provide the opportunity to store seeds for long periods; maintaining the viability of the seed.
- 5. It is important to note that many seeds need to go through a cold storage period, called vernalization or stratification, before they will germinate so seeds collected cannot be planted right away as they will not germinate and grow without initiating this process.