Why You Should Volunteer to Collect Native Plant Seeds

Have fun and lend a hand to Mother Nature.

Volunteering to help collect native wildflower and native plant seeds is an easy, enjoyable, and important activity that is good for people and the environment.

One of the things I love about native plants is that they give you a sense of place connecting you to where you live, work, and visit.

Native plants are trees, wildflowers, bushes, grasses, and other plants that are adapted to live in a particular location (small or large) under a certain range of climatic conditions. They live off the land and survive on the rainfall available where they live. Native plants provide habitat, food, and beauty for people and other denizens of nature. Healthy ecosystems with thriving biodiversity need native plants.

Nowadays, there are many threats to native plants everywhere perhaps even in your own community or a place you enjoy visiting like a state or national park. These threats include land encroachment, air and water pollution, erosion, watershed degradation, and the spread of invasive plants (often an unintended consequence).

This is where you and I come in.

We can give Mother Nature a hand by volunteering to collect seeds that will then be used to preserve existing native plant communities, restore damaged native plant ecosystems, and to create new spaces for native plants to grow in public areas and our own yards.

Keep in mind that unless you are collecting seeds in your own yard or garden you need to obtain permission from the landowner which may be an individual, an organization, or a government agency.

My first volunteer seed collecting outing occurred on a recent Saturday morning at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA.

Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

My spouse and I often walk on the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve enjoying the views of the ever-changing Pacific Ocean and trying to name the native plants we see near the trails.

Over the past year or so, we have participated in several volunteer shifts involving the removal of ice plant from the bluffs to make way for native plants to return. Ice plant may be beautiful along its native coast of South Africa, but here it is very invasive.

Buff Trail at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA on August 23, 2019
This is the bluff at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA on August 24, 2019. The area on the left has been cleared of ice plant and you can see that some native plants are taking hold in the middle. Photo credit Tori Poppenheimer.

A couple of weeks ago, a volunteer seed collecting activity notice from the Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve landed in my email inbox. It seemed like an ideal opportunity to collect seeds for the space we had helped clear and to learn about collecting seeds. I immediately recruited my spouse and put the date on my calendar.

Collecting Seeds

Thankfully, the Friends of the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve usually ask us to arrive at 9:00 a.m. for Saturday volunteer activities. This is much appreciated by me as I am not a morning person and unlikely to become one.

It was one of those gray and misty mornings damp but not dripping.

Holly Sletteland Seed Collecting at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve, CA on August 17, 2019

When my spouse and I arrived at the Ranch, our leader for the day, Holly Sletteland and a dozen or so volunteers were already gathered at the entrance so we all headed down the trail to the location where we would begin our seed collecting forays.

Holly is always well prepared with tools, snacks, and information. This day was no different. She showed us photos of the plants we would be collecting seeds from and then had us walk over to some of the plants so we could see what the flowers and seeds looked like dried and brown.

There was a stack of paper lunch bags and a cup filled with black Sharpie markers on a portable table. Holly instructed us to write down the name of the plant, location (meaning the Ranch), and the date on the bags we were going to use for collecting seeds and to only put one type of seed in each bag.

Left to right above: Duffy Burns and his granddaughter and Maria Susperreguy collecting seeds at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA on August 17, 2019 – photo credit Walt Andrus.

To ensure there are enough seeds for the Ranch wildlife to eat and for Mother Nature to replant, Holly asked us to take no more than 10% of the seeds from each plant.

We learned that one of the perks for volunteering that day was that if we wanted to we could collect some seeds for our own yards or gardens. Actually, I had asked Holly about that ahead of time because I am eager to try growing native plants from seeds that come from an area near my home. My spouse had thoughtfully brought along bags for us to collect our seeds in.

As the group dispersed to collect seeds my spouse and I headed back down the trail where we had seen some coast buckwheat bushes growing. This was one of my target species and luckily one of the species Holly had asked the volunteers to collect. We carefully selected some brown flowers and snipped them off the plant. I thanked the plant and we moved on to the next one.

Coast Buckwheat Seeds and Chaff in a Bowl

This photo shows a bowl containing the coast buckwheat seeds we collected for our yard. You can see there is still a lot of chaff mixed in with the seeds even after we carefully cleaned them.

Moving from plant to plant we slowly filled up our five collecting bags with seaside golden yarrow, thrift sea pink, bush lupine, seaside daisy, and coast buckwheat seeds. We even found a few gum plants with seeds that were ready to collect (most of them were still blooming).

We made our way back and added our bags to the table that was now crowded with bulging bags filled with seeds.

Using a wooden box with a fine mesh screen, Holly demonstrated how to separate seeds from the dried flower heads. The seeds fall through the holes and much of the chaff remains on the screen. The stems and the other bits left over are returned to the land.

After thanking Holly for a fun and informative outing, we headed home to clean and store our own seed stash.

Hopefully, there will be a volunteer day in the future when we can go back and sow the seeds we collected.

Cleaning and Storing Seeds
Native Plant Seed Cleaning Equipment
I do not have a seed sorting box at home so I used a mesh colander, a bowl, and a small tray.

The seeds from most of the plants were itty bitty and difficult to completely separate from the chaff. Perhaps we could have done it using a magnifying glass and tweezers but we decided to be satisfied with our seeds having some chaff mixed in. Hopefully, this won’t be detrimental to the seeds germinating when we plant them in November before the rainy season.

When you are collecting and cleaning seeds, you should expect a few bugs. Birds and squirrels are not the only wildlife that eats seeds. I do not like creepy crawly things, which is why I always wear gloves to do gardening. I realize that this is not a useful characteristic for a native plant enthusiast, but I have yet to morph into a bug-loving person.

A few bugs had come home in our seed bags but not many. However, there were a fair number of creatures looking like itsy bitsy spiders living inside some of the lupine seed pods. The hard-shelled seeds seemed undamaged. I picked the seeds out of my sorting tray and periodically dumped the spiders into the yard.

Bush Lupine Seed Pod and Seeds

Compared to most of the seeds the bush lupine seeds were easy to clean. The seeds grow in pods (like peas) and are easily discerned. As the seeds ripen the pods turn brown and then twist open flinging the seeds away from the plant. The trick is to collect the pods before they burst.

We repurposed several paper envelopes from the last two California Native Plant Society San Luis Obispo chapter seed exchanges to store our seeds. I left the tops open so any remaining bugs can leave at their leisure.

Native Plant Seeds in Envelopes and Stored in a Cardboard Box

After placing the seed envelopes in an open cardboard box, I set it on a shelf inside a cupboard in the garage so the seeds will have a safe and cool place to rest until we plant them in November.

This volunteer seed activity made me feel extra happy. We contributed to helping the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve continue to be the awesome and beautiful place that it is. And we are giving native plants a place in our yard with hopes that they will grow and thrive and set a good example for the neighborhood.

Volunteer to Collect Native Plant Seeds Yourself

If you are looking for a way to give back to your community and to help make Earth a better place, volunteering to collect native plant seeds might be just the activity for you. It is easy, fun, and rewarding.

Depending on where you live, there may still be opportunities to volunteer to collect native plant seeds at an open space in your own community. Use your Internet search window to look for events. If it is past collecting time, there are still things you can do.

  • Attend a local seed exchange (you don’t always have to have seeds to share).
  • Join a native plant society, botanical garden association, or seed saving group in your area so you are prepared for next year.
  • Visit your local library. Some library systems like the ones in San Luis Obispo, CA and Rochester, MN offer seeds packets for library cardholders.

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”

Lao Tzu

Featured Image at Top: If you look closely you can see a western fence lizard sitting atop this coast buckwheat plant sunning itself and enjoying the view of the Pacific Ocean from the bluff at the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA on August 24, 2019 – photo credit Tori Poppenheimer.

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San Luis Obispo 2019 Lights for Liberty Rally

Support the human rights of all people.

Saturday, hundreds of people in San Luis Obispo joined a worldwide movement protesting the inhumane treatment of people at U.S. immigration detention centers.

My spouse and I were among the participants.

Over the past many months, I have been reading with growing horror and outrage, the news reports detailing the inhumane and illegal treatment that children, women, and men are suffering in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers located on our borders and around the country.

Especially distressing is that thousands of children have been separated from their families and are living in what are basically prisons. Imagine if it was your child or a child that you love. These children will be scarred for the rest of their lives by the experiences they are enduring now.

This cannot be happening in the United States of America—but it is.

When I spotted the Lights for Liberty announcement in my social media feed, I could easily have scrolled past it. But I didn’t. As I sat looking at the image of the Statue of Liberty on the event poster I found myself wondering “What would she do?”

Just two weeks ago, for Independence Day, I wrote a post entitled 4th of July – Patriotism and the Environment about the intersection between patriotism and environmentalism. I included Emma Lazarus’ beautiful sonnet that is engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty. Here is an excerpt from the end of the sonnet.

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

I think of myself as a patriot and an environmentalist, but if I am not willing to stand up for the human rights of other people, then what kind of an American am I?

I knew participating in the Lights for Liberty rally would not fix the situation immediately but I do believe that people in the streets can affect change. So I asked my spouse to join me, marked the date on my calendar, and transformed my reusable sign into the one you see above.

Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo

Many Lights for Liberty events around the country were held on Friday, July 12 in the evening and involved lights. Our San Luis Obispo, CA rally occurred on Saturday, July 13 during the day. It was organized by Allies for Immigration Justice, SLO County and Women’s March San Luis Obispo.

On Saturday morning, I slathered on sunscreen, filled up my reusable water bottle, and found a strap for my spouse’s camera so that I could wear it around my neck at the rally.

Crowd Listening to Speakers at Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo on July 13, 2019
This is part of the crowd listening to the speakers at Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo, CA on July 13, 2019.

We arrived late so we missed the first speakers. The crowd of several hundred people was split into those willing to stand under the hot sun close to the courthouse steps near the speakers and the rest of us trying to find a bit a shade under the trees.

We heard the harrowing story of a local man who had been arrested and detained by ICE. Some people held large photos of people who have died in ICE custody as we listened to their histories being recounted. After each name was read, the crowd repeated the word presente as a way of remembering them.

This KSBY video provides an overview of Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo, CA on July 13, 2019.

One speaker talked about the importance of calling your elected officials to voice your concerns and ideas. She mentioned a group called 5calls.org that provides scripts for calls on a variety of issues. I liked her suggestion for phone averse people (like me), which is to call at night and leave a message.

The last speaker said something that I think is very important and she asked the crowd to repeat it several times (I hope I remembered it correctly).

Do the right thing.
Don’t turn away.
Stand up.

I understand the desire to turn away from things that are frightening or painful to think about, I feel it, too. But you and I can choose to do the right thing and stand up for the human rights of all people.

After the rally and vigil, we did a sidewalk march through downtown San Luis Obispo.

That means we peacefully walked down the sidewalk carrying our signs and chanting things like “Free the kids, close the camps,” while making room for the people going in and out of the stores and restaurants.

We obeyed traffic signals resulting in there being a number of marching clusters. One thing I realized is that each cluster needs someone willing to suggest chants and to keep them going. I am not that person, but a few of us in our cluster did the best we could.

Lights for Liberty Sidewalk March Cluster in San Luis Obispo, July 13, 2019
My spouse and I were walking with this sidewalk march cluster that was patiently waiting for the signal to change during Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo, CA on July 13, 2019. In the upper right corner, you can see my spouse’s sign “Families Belong Together” and the back of my sign “Close the Camps.”

After the march, my spouse and I walked to a local ice cream store for a cool and refreshing treat and then we headed home.

What Can You Do?

Below are just a few ideas of things you can do to help. (These ideas are pertinent to all kinds of human rights issues like racism, homelessness, and discrimination, to name a few.)

  • Participate in rallies, protests, and marches.
  • Contact your elected officials. (I contacted Senator Feinstein, Senator Harris, and Representative Carbajal.)
  • Talk to your family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors.
  • Donate time and/or money (see the resources section for articles that contain suggestions).
  • Find out what is going on in your community.

We are all human beings deserving of life, liberty, and a chance for the pursuit of happiness.

SLO Climate Coalition at Lights for Liberty Rally in San Luis Obispo, July 13, 2019
If we had been on time, we could have been in this photo with fellow environmentalists from the SLO Climate Coalition at Lights for Liberty in San Luis Obispo, CA on July 13, 2019. From left to right: Scott Lewis, Rita Casaverde, Dylan Stafforini, Janine Rands, John Smigelski, June Cochran, and Lauren Rueda. I got this photo from June.

Featured Image at Top: This is my reusable sign transformed for Lights for Liberty.

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