By: Perin McNelis, BRN Native Plant Program Assistant Manager
Between September and December 2021, our Native Plant and Watershed Restoration Programs kept very busy with our largest seed collection season to date. Between our seed collections for commercial sale and nursery production as well as our collections for various grants and contracts for restoration projects on public and private lands, the team collected approximately 700lbs of bulk seed! We were incredibly lucky to have an abundant crop after record monsoon rains quenched the landscape and supported a robust harvest.
Volunteer, Kirstine Grace, collecting Crimson Bluestem (Schizachyrium sanguineum) seeds on Coronado National Forest land in the San Rafael Valley.
The largest portion of our seed collection efforts this season was for a revegetation project in Mansfield Canyon in the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains. The program brought on 10 seasonal seed collectors (two crew leads and eight crew techs, plus an intern that rotated between the nursery and seed collection crew) to spearhead this project. It was our fourth year conducting seed collection for this project in partnership with USDA Forest Service, with the goal of revegetating and controlling erosion on multiple sites after the removal of toxic tailings that were leaching from a few legacy mines into the local watershed, a tributary of Sonoita Creek and ultimately the Santa Cruz River.
The 2021 seed collection crew on the edge of the Patagonia Mountains and the San Rafael Valley on Coronado National Forest land. Photo credit: Cricket Dean.
Program management scouted the Coronado National Forest lands surrounding Patagonia and identified robust populations of plants on the target species list for the project, they then monitored the phenology of the species at each site, observing when the plants were finishing flowering and going to seed and when the plants were at their “natural state of dispersal” with mature, ripened seeds ready to be collected. This careful planning informed the schedule and flow of the season. The crew was thoroughly trained in plant identification, field safety, and seed collection ethics so as to not harm or over harvest from plant populations.
Seed collectors, Olivia Diaz, Gabriel Gudenkauf, Karima Walker and Marsella Macias,
practice grass identification during crew training.
The crew then split into two groups with one lead and four techs each and took our vans out into the mountains each day to different beautiful sites in the Sky Islands covering as much ground as possible, and building genetic diversity into each collection by collecting from as many individuals in each population. Our fantastic crew collected over 460lbs of seed from 16 different species of native bunch grasses, as well as 12 different species of forbs from various locations in the Santa Rita Mountains, Patagonia Mountains, San Rafael Valley, Huachuca Mountains, Canelo Hills and Chiricahua Mountains. Sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) was a favorite target species of the group as they loved climbing to beautiful vistas in search of this charismatic plant.
The crew collecting Sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri) seeds, also known as Desert spoon, on Coronado National Forest land in the Patagonia Mountains. Photo Credit: Cricket Dean.
Additionally, we did smaller seed collections for contracts with USDA Agricultural Research Service and the United States Forest Service at the Wild Chile Botanical Area in the Tumacácori Mountains for research related to conservation of crop wild relatives, as well as for a contract with the National Forestry Foundation and Southern Arizona Quail Forever to be used in habitat restoration projects in conjunction with erosion control structures to support Montezuma Quail habitat in the Huachuca Mountains. We also collected seed for commercial use for seed sales and nursery production through Borderlands Nursery & Seed, and are excited to add some unique new species to our inventories in 2022!
Seed collector, Olivia Diaz, collects Rubber Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) on Coronado National Forest land in the Santa Rita Mountains.
The Watershed Restoration Program collected seed for a few of their own projects as well, including a project supported by funding from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Section 6 grant that involves establishing native grasses after invasive species removal to support habitat for the endangered Beardless chinchweed (Pectis imberis), as well as for landscape-scale restoration projects that combine watershed restoration work with seeding for our Path of the Jaguar project supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Arizona Department of Water ResourcesWater Management Assistance Program.
Seeds collected and stored in the BRN Native Seed Lab.
Finally, our staff harvested over 120lbs of native grass and forb seed from the farmed seed-increaser plot at Borderlands Nursery & Seed for seed production contracts with the Petrified Forest National Park, the Institute of Applied Ecology for Tonto National Forest.
As this seed collection season comes to a close, and the landscape transitions into winter, we are so grateful for the monsoon rains we received this summer that supported our fall harvest and for our incredible seasonal crew that made the scale of our collection season possible as well as fun! We were so lucky to have our own small staff joined by such a wonderful group of passionate, hilarious, observative, intelligent, adventurous, dependable, and caring individuals who brought renewed inspiration to our program, long term colleagues, and friends who care deeply about the BRN mission.
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