Collecting Seeds Locally to Preserve Regional Biodiversity

As many have looked on at the rain we have received this past season with awe, terror, glee, hope, fear, or pure chagrin…we have been looking on with excited anticipation. Because after the bloom comes the pollination, fruiting, then ripening, and finally, the dispersal of those embryonic plants we call seeds. What follows is the opportunity to collect seeds in a season as abundant as any of us has seen in what feels like a generation. More water = more seeds!

Why collect seeds in the first place? The four components involved in growing a plant from seed are rather simple: soil, sunlight, water, and, you guessed it, seeds. Of the plants we sell in the nursery, around a third are grown from seeds. Seeds are sourced through a variety of methods so that we can provide folks with a diverse array of species as container plants and seeds in the nursery. A lot of commercially available seeds are farmed in order to lower costs, keep pressure off of wild populations, and streamline the process of cultivating and collecting seeds. 

Acquiring wild seeds is an entirely different process that is heavily dependent on botanical understanding and skill, timely collection, and a broad array of specialized techniques only gained through years of experience. To top it all off, it is usually conducted during the peak heat of the summer season. It also yields far fewer seeds than farming because of the widely distributed nature of wild plants, their susceptibility to drought, their relative inaccessibility, and because only a limited percentage is collected on a very specific time scale to avoid harming the very plants we aim to conserve. TPF brings those skills and knowledge to bear through our Local Source Initiative (LSI). 

Co-conceived by ecology-driven TPF staff and developed and managed by TPF Seed Program Manager Genny Arnold, the LSI has met and grown the demand for locally-sourced and well-adapted plants. It’s a process that includes advocating for seeds, applying for permits and building meaningful relationships with land managers, and conducting field and laboratory work to ensure quality seeds are available to both grow out and secure in long-term storage. As the demand for these local ecotypes (plants of a specific geographic area) rises, the need for copious amounts of that fourth—and vital—ingredient becomes even more paramount. Demand is growing as larger-scale urban restoration projects are funded and as more home gardeners are looking to go even beyond “CA native” by planting hyper-local species in order to promote local ecologies. 

You can recognize these plants at the TPF nursery via the purple tag and unique signage telling you it was wild-sourced and the geographic area where it was collected. As this new wave of demand surges, we are advancing the LSI through heavy investment in seed collection and processing this year and via the Los Nogales Nursery at Deb’s Park. We aim to have that nursery producing and providing exclusively locally- sourced native plants grown from ethically collected wild-sourced seeds. We look forward to providing these plants to our community and partners in our collective effort to transform Los Angeles back into the ecological bastion it once was. Now, off to collect some lemonade berries, they should be ripening right about now…