October Meeting Recap – Growing Natives Through Seed Collecting

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Our October 2017 chapter meeting on Growing Natives through Seed Collecting, presented by Jim Keenan did not disappoint! Mr. Keenan, who is chairman of the Wildflower Preservation and Propagation Committee and a certified ecological restoration volunteer with the McHenry County Conservation District, treated us to his tried and true strategies on the subject. It was a solid hour and a half of very valuable information that included native seed harvesting and processing, great slides of the plants, seed heads, the seed itself and what part to collect from, plus much more.


Here are just some of Jim’s important tools, rules and tips for successful native seed collection, cleaning, storage and even propagation.  


The Basic Tools 

  • 1 bypass pruner (for removal of seed heads from live plant material)
  • 1 long blade hand tree pruner or anvil pruner (for use on dead plant material or wood)
  • paper bags
  • gloves  


 The Rules

  •  Do not collect wet plant materials.
  •  Always have permission of the landowner.
  •  Limit collection to 10% – 50% of available seed. 
  •  Collect from random locations for genetic diversity.      

    Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) seed heads


Seed Collection

  • Check for readiness: Stalk should be brown under seed head.
  • Seed should be hard, full-sized and ready to drop.
  • Pods should be dry and ready to split, not green and flexible.
  • Pappas (fluff) should be dry, fluffy and pull free easily.        


Dried Thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrical) with seed

Note: If bloom time is before July 4, collect seed and plant right away. If blooming occurs later, collect after first heavy frost.

Label your seeds with name, date and location (include GPS if possible) and type of site where seeds were collected.     



Cleaning, Drying and Storing Seed

Beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis) seeds

 Cleaning the seeds  You can stomp, shake, screen or machine them.  The rejected material can be ground up and used when broadcasting the seed.

Note: Clean seed stores best. There are fewer fungal and insect pathogens to worry about thus seed viability will be maximized. 



Seed drying screen

Drying the seeds  They can dry in paper collection bags if not packed too tightly. Turn contents daily, for 1-2 weeks. Best if dried on raised screens. Make sure the cleaned and dried seeds are well labeled before storing.   




Storing the seeds  The best conditions for seed storage are in an area with cool temperatures and low humidity. Your garage may be better than the basement. When seeds are dry, place in sealed labeled containers that protect from multiple problems (such as moisture, insect infestation, rodents, etc.).


Propagating Seed

Propagating your natives from seed is one of the best ways to preserve the plant’s genetic diversity. Some seeds require special treatments to overcome dormancy. If starting seed indoors, learn the germination requirements of the plant species you wish to propagate (scarification, stratification, wet/cold or wet/warm treatments, etc.).   


We are glad so many of you could attend this wonderful and useful presentation. Many thanks, Jim!  



Want to learn more about native seed collecting, processing and propagation? Check out these helpful resource sheets and websites.

J.Keenan Resource 1

J.Keenan Resource 2

Great information on seed dormancy and propagation can be found at Prairie Moon Nursery  www.prairiemoon.com/blog/How-to-Germinate-Native-Seeds

The University of Iowa Press www.uipress.uiowa.edu

Wildflower Preservation & Propagation Committee  www.thewppc.org


Still have questions?

Ask Jim Keenan at: jkeenan211@gmail.com

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