Respect Wild Plants

(Perma)Culture and Sanity

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Collecting Wild Plant Materials Responsibly

Why Collect Native Plants?

Native habitats are being threatened on a massive scale. Some of the last refuges of native plants are waterways, highway right-of-ways, and home landscapes. Of these three, our own home landscapes are by far the most accessible to our immediate control. By collecting seeds of native plants and sharing them, native wildscapes can be established in home landscapes across the state—benefiting local wildlife populations, protecting native species, and drastically lowering the amounts of precious resources otherwise needed to maintain ecologically expensive lawn grass and exotics.

Be Prepared!

If you decide to collect seeds or transplants from the wild, take the responsibility this implies seriously. Use common sense in approaching wild plants. Don't try to transplant trees after they've leafed, don't take all or even most of the seeds from any plant, don't harvest seed from rare plants or from small populations, etc. Once you've collected plants or seeds from the wild, follow through. Use the plant materials you collect to create a yard that is beautiful to see, and valuable to animals as food or shelter. You might also share some of the seeds you collect with neighbors!

The Art of Stewardship

Before you collect any seeds in the wild, learn about basic conservation concepts in general. Take great care not to threaten the plant populations from which you plan to collect seeds or transplants. Develop a strict code of care and stewardship. Remember, when you actively interact with wild landscapes you take on a great responsibility. At times the best thing you can do for a native plant might be to enjoy it where it grows and leave it to prosper on its own. Where habitats are threatened, however, it makes sense to propagate the plants in another environment where they can grow and flourish.

Know Your Plants

Take time also to learn a little about the specific life cycles and germination requirements of the plants you're collecting so you can grow the seeds into mature plants. Don't allow your seed-collecting activities to result in a seed morgue! Many native seeds require pre-germination treatments (cold/moist treatment, ingestion by birds or animals, or breaking of seedcoat) and some will die if they are allowed to dry before being planted. If specific information isn't available for the seeds you're trying to germinate, copy the method of sowing used by the parent plants (especially as concerns timing). Jill Nokes (How to Grow Native Plants, Texas Monthly Press) and others have created excellent resources on native plant seed collection and propagation, and information about obscure local plants may be found among the members of your local Native Plant Society.

Share Your Bounty

Speaking of Native Plant Societies—if you're a native seed collector, join a group and share the information and seeds you collect! These groups can be local Native Plant Society chapters, gardening clubs or seed exchanges (Seed Savers Exchange, 3076 N. Winn Rd., Decorah, IA 52101; Permaculture Seed & Plant Exchange, 3020 Whiteoak Creek Rd., Burnsville, NC 28714). If you belong to a plant group of whatever nature, start saving and sharing seeds and encouraging other members to save and share them also. Then start planting!

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Reprinted from (Perma) Culture and Sanity Website