Semillas Silvestres: Twenty-five Years of Native Seed Production in the Iberian Peninsula

Contributed by Cándido Gálvez, Botany PhD. Founder and technical manager of Semillas Silvestres, S. L.

Founded over 25 years ago in Córdoba, Spain, the native seed company Semillas Silvestres S. L. is a pioneer and leader in bringing the diversity of the Iberia flora to market and increasing the use of native plants in ecological restoration. Today our seed list is an essential resource for the drafting of any project related to Iberian diversity, whether environmental restoration, recovery of biodiversity in agro ecosystems, or for new projects for sustainable landscaping, so necessary actually in the cities.

Currently, we have two exciting collaborations and applications using native seeds.  The first with with Spanish universities and public research organizations to advance sustainable agriculture by using seeds of native plants to establish herbaceous understory in woody crops and to increase functional biodiversity to support beneficial insects in arable crops. The second is with landscapers and technicians of green areas in Spanish town councils to promote native biodiversity (plant and animal), in urban landscapes as part of the legal requirement to eliminate pesticides and herbicides from the urban environment. 

But in parallel with the increase of commercial supply, Semillas Silvestres has developed an important outreach effort for the sustainable use of native Iberian seeds. It is important to highlight the effort made in recent years to achieve a sustainable production and quality of native seeds. Still today this is a sector with important professional deficiencies, based on the native collections and also wild in many cases, instead of the production through crops with origin and quality traceability. In this sense, we show again the way forward not only by other private Iberian initiatives, but also the Spanish administration itself that has already begun to be receptive to our approaches relating to use and multiplication of the Iberian Plant Genetic Resources (IPGR).

Likewise, the continuous participation in IPGR research, in development and innovation projects since the beginning of our activities have allowed us to link the scientific world and the end user. On the one hand, we contribute by giving practical meaning to the efforts of several groups of researchers related to the use and potential of IPGR, while on the other, we provide innovative solutions to the new challenges of the Spanish society in relation to diversity management and its ecosystem services.

Twenty-five years ago, Semillas Silvestres began a journey with the collection of seeds for forestry species to meet the demand at the time of seedlings for government and private nurseries. At the same time, Semillas Silvestres was interested in providing seeds and generating a commercial source of seeds for native shrubs species

For the time being, the road that we have traveled allows us today to carry out semi-mechanized productions of many taxa with a guarantee of quality, traceability and sustainability of wild populations. And therefore, allow the development of projects with native seeds, avoiding as far as possible a genetic pollution inevitable in the past, by introducing commercial varieties instead of our native and original resources.

Despite these achievements over the past 25 years, many challenges remain. The tremendous plant genetic wealth of the Iberian flora represents an almost inexhaustible resource for the current and future challenges of our society, both for the restoration of degraded areas, their agricultural production and to contribute to a higher life quality in our cities.

Conscious of the importance of these achievements for the Iberian environment, from our position as producer of native seeds in the Iberian South, we will continue to support the use of native seeds as a key resource of our natural capital and for the sustenance of Iberian productive development.

The Mediterranean Basin is a biodiversity hotspot. At its western end, the Iberian Peninsula and associated islands are particularly rich floristically due to overlaping ranges of plants from Africa and Europe. In addition, under the prevailing conditions of the Mediterranean climate with dry and warm summers, and mild and humid winters, a flora is developed with two fundamental adaptations: woody species reduce transpiration in dry periods, while many other taxa have developed an annual cycle and spend the summer in the form of seed until next fall. Only tree species linked to forest production were considered resources of interest for many years.

Iberian herbaceous species were not included in seed multiplication and revegetation applications until years later, when they were incorporated into the mixtures of ecological restoration. Again the selection made by Semillas Silvestres served as the basis for all commercial catalogs of native Iberian seeds.

From this moment, the work of choosing and multiplying native seeds has not ceased until being today a representation of the most important taxa of the Iberian flora used in various fields of application in Spain and Portugal.