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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The Day before Christmas Donation

Think globally, give locally.

This year spread some holiday cheer in your own community by donating to a local nonprofit, volunteering your time, or better yet both.

Two years ago, I wrote a post entitled Day after Christmas Donation in hopes of encouraging readers to join me in wrapping up our holiday seasons by making a charitable donation or committing to volunteer with a nonprofit or faith-based organization. For 2018, I decided to dust off the idea but change it to the day before Christmas.

In as little as five or ten minutes, you can make an online donation, write a check and put it in an envelope, or send an email with an offer to volunteer in the future.

I realize that December 24th could be an overly busy day for you. If so, I hope you will take 15 seconds to write a note on your calendar or enter a reminder in your smartphone for a day when you will have time between now and the end of the year.

There are many national and international nonprofit organizations worthy of your money and your time, but I propose that this year we give to a nonprofit in our own communities, towns, or counties.

Think Globally, Give Locally

On this day 50 years ago, the NASA Apollo 8 crew took the now iconic photo of Earth rising behind the moon shown at the top of this post. This image clearly shows that we live on a sphere with air, water, and the land connecting us to each other. What we do to the environment we do to ourselves and all the other living things on Earth. Our fate is interwoven.

By caring for our own tiny patch of the planet, we can contribute to the overall wellbeing of Earth. Local nonprofits act as sort of a multiplier helping us do this collectively.

Like a for-profit business, nonprofit organizations need both money and people to fulfill their missions. Everyone has something to give whether it is money, time, or both (a little or a lot).

Nonprofit organizations need volunteers to solicit donations, create websites, prepare grant applications, man booths, bake cookies, call people, write newsletters, post on social media, conduct research, attend public meetings, play music, plan events, wash dishes, pull weeds, track volunteer hours, paint signs, write letters to the editor, film activities, greet people at events, write press releases, take photographs, manage membership lists, track budgets, put up tables and chairs, hand out flyers, create marketing materials, serve food, stuff envelopes, write blog posts, answer phones, do presentations, round up speakers, act as docents, plant trees, build things, take out the trash, coordinate with other groups, prepare reports, run programs, do public relations, emcee events, fix equipment, shop for supplies, and write thank you notes.

Chances are there is a nonprofit in your community doing work you feel is important and that could use your help. My interests tend to lean towards organizations doing environmental-related work because my children, your children, and everyone else’s children need a habitable planet to live on now and in the future.

Here is what I am doing for my day before Christmas donation.

Volunteering – Fiscalini Ranch Preserve

The Fiscalini Ranch Preserve is a public open space on the edge of the Pacific Ocean adjacent to the small town my spouse and I moved to about eleven years ago. We enjoy walking on the bluff path almost daily. Yet in all the years we have lived here, I had never volunteered to help take care of this beautiful place until last May.

Part of Volunteer Group in Front of One Pile of Ice Plant Removed at Fiscalini Ranch on April 28, 2018
Part of the Volunteer Group in Front of One of the Piles of Ice Plant Removed at Fiscalini Ranch on April 28, 2018 – Photo Credit Holly Sletteland

I thought I had signed up my spouse and me to volunteer at a wildflower show but we ended up at the Ranch pulling up three-foot long lengths of ice plant, which is considered an invasive plant here because it chokes out everything else. Removing invasive plants is good for the environment because it allows native plants a chance to thrive. Native plants play nice with others, use water wisely, and provide habit for local winged, scaly, and furry denizens.

That day it hit home that each one of us is responsible for caring for our community parks, open spaces, and gardens and that they need us.

We completed our third ice plant removal activity two weeks ago. Now I am on the “likes to remove ice plant” email list.

Donating – San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

I am a fan of the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden in our county. Their mission “to honor and preserve our connection with nature” dovetails with my own mission to convince others and myself to live more lightly on Earth.

Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon
Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon at El Chorro Regional Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA on February 3, 2018 – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Besides having a wonderful display of the plant life of Mediterranean climate zones, the Garden grows and sells plants, hosts activities for kids, and provides fun and educational events for people of all ages. I have attended several events at the Garden, shopped for native plants at their plant sales, and been a regular visitor who enjoys wandering through this special place.

Today I am making a financial donation to help the Garden fulfill their mission.

Regardless of whether you celebrate Christmas or not, today, I hope you will join me in donating money to a local nonprofit, committing to volunteering your time, or both. It all adds up.

Merry Christmas!

Featured Image at Top: Earthrise – Photo Credit U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Apollo 8, the first manned mission to the moon, entered lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1968. That evening, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders held a live broadcast from lunar orbit, in which they showed pictures of the Earth and moon as seen from their spacecraft.

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