Increasing Native Seed Supply for Restoration Efforts in the Western United States

Highlights from the Wildflower Production Field Day 2016

Olga A Kildisheva & Nancy L Shaw

With nearly two thirds of the world’s ecosystems classified as degraded, restoration efforts rely heavily on large quantities of wild-collected seed, which require significant collection effort and place extra pressure on seed donor systems. In the western United States, where uncharacteristically large and frequent wildfires are becoming increasingly more prevalent, obtaining adequate quantities of seed for a multitude of species on a short timescale can be challenging – particularly in big fire years. Seed supply is often limited by species availability, especially as wildfire locations and extent are not predictable and most occur after the harvest period for many plant species. This is especially true for herbaceous forbs and shrubs that have only recently become the focus of many restoration efforts in the Inter-mountain region of the western United States, prompted by the growing awareness of the critical ecological function they provide, such as habitat and food resources for invertebrate, bird, and mammal species.

One effective method for increasing seed availability is through the establishment of agronomic-style seed propagation and increase programs that produce native plant seed for restoration. Oregon State University’s Malheur Experimental Station (OSU MES) in Onatrio, Oregon is leading this effort. At a recently held ‘Wildflower Production Field Day’, Dr. Clint Shock (Station Director and Professor of Crop Research, Irrigation Management, Watershed Stewardship) and colleagues shared the progress gained over the last decade through their field-based research into native plant seed production efforts.

Research conducted by OSU MES aims to identify and resolve the challenges encountered in the production of native forbs species considered to be of high priority for restoration, but which have never or only rarely been produced in cultivation. Bottlenecks to the production of individual species may relate to aspects of plant biology, seed technology (seed dormancy, conditioning, harvesting, or storage), planting techniques, seedling establishment, and cultural practices (irrigation, weed management, control of seed predators and diseases, pollinator management). More than 30 species are now included in the OSU MES research program.

This collaborative effort is run in partnership with the Great Basin Native Plant Project (GBNPP) – a multi-state, cross-institutional collaborative research effort initiated in 2001 by the USDI Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystem Research Program, with the objective of improving the availability of native plant materials and increasing understanding and technology required for their use in restoration across the Great Basin.

During the field day, Dr. Shock, OSU MES personnel, and GBNPP co-operators discussed results in terms of guidelines for producing seed of individual species; potential yields, and as yet unresolved challenges. Results of this research, disseminated through the OSU MES website, field days, reports, publications and one-on-one consultations, are providing commercial growers with the knowledge and technology required to add new species to their production programs. 

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