How To Collect and Store Seeds
One way to acquire native plants very cheaply is to collect your own seed. This can
come from plants you or a neighbor already have, or from plants growing wild in your
We need to know how to collect. Timing the collection of seeds is a skill of observation.
We need to ensure the seeds are ripened to be viable, so patience is necessary. Yet also,
we cannot wait too long after the ripening or else we will miss the seeds as they get eaten
by birds, insects or mammals, or are scattered by the wind or water.
Most wild seed are collected by hand. This is because desired species don’t typically
grow in pure stands, and the topography of their environments often limits using mechanical
Always get permission from the landowner when collecting on private land, and never collect
on public land. Areas destined to be developed or destroyed in the near future provide excellent
sites for collecting seeds, provided the landowner has given permission.
Never collect seeds from rare or endangered species — collect only from plants that you find
growing abundantly in a given area to ensure that you do not eradicate an isolated population.
Take at most only one-tenth of the seeds so that enough seeds are left to reseed and perpetuate
Scouting areas during the flowering season is critical because relocating plants can be difficult
once they have turned brown from frosts. Colorful flowers make it easy to delineate the extent
of the population on the landscape.
Plants are easiest to identify when they are flowering, so it is a good idea to mark individual
plants with flagging tape or to write down specific landmarks to help you relocate populations
when the seeds are ready.
The tools and material you will need depends on the size of the harvest. Basic equipment includes
gloves, boots, drop cloths, pruning shears, boxes, baskets and paper and/or canvas bags. Although
plastic bags may be used for collecting, storing seeds in airtight containers or plastic bags will
encourage mold growth. Many plants can be stripped by hand or the seed can be beaten onto
Wait until the seed is ripe. Often the seed will become hard, dry and dark in colour. The parent
plant may show signs of dying back. Some seeds may have already dispersed.
In some cases, you can pull or shake off the seeds. In other cases its easiest to cut off the seed
head and clean it at home later.
Gather fruits from the ground only if they have recently dropped.
Keep seeds dry. Put them in a paper (not plastic) bag or envelope until they are completely
cleaned and dried. Once the seeds are cleaned and dry they can be kept in plastic bags,
preferably in a dry cool dark place. Remember to label them carefully with the species, the
date and the location where they were collected.
Most seeds mature in the fall and are intended to germinate the following spring. It is often
necessary to persuade a dormant seed that it has been through a winter. The exact requirement
for each species can be looked up, but the commonest is cold damp stratification. This means
moistening the seed and placing it in a cold environment for one or more months before planting.
Like most living things, newly matured seeds can be sensitive to temperature extremes. The
embryos within may die if exposed to extreme heat. Take care of your seeds after collecting.
It’s best to collect the seeds in paper bags, not plastic. Label the bags with collection information.
Stratification: Stratification is a process of treating seeds to break seed dormancies
and initiate the germination process in spring.
Read more: Seed Stratification
Seeds should be collected just before or as the pod turns brown and dries and before it splits or
bursts open (dehisces). The pods should be dried in single layers spread thinly on
canvas cloths, screens or trays elevated from the ground. Curing on the pod may take longer for
species other than legumes.
Air-drying takes one to three days, depending on the humidity. After the seeds have dried, you can
extract them from the pods by beating or threshing. A mature pod will often twist and split open to
drop the seeds.
Although not all seeds need to be cleaned before storage, those with pulpy fruit should be cleaned to
prevent mold. Remove the pulp of large fruits by hand by rubbing on a screen or mashing with a
wooden block, rolling pin, or fruit press being careful not to damage the seed. You can clean smaller
fruits with a blender, as long as you are careful not to damage the seeds. Blend a small amount of the
seeds in a two to one ratio with water. Use brief, intermittent agitations at low speed and then strain
the mixture to separate the seeds from the pulp.
Thrashing seeds (separating seeds from the rest of the collected plant material) is optional, but it
does have at least two advantages: it reduces the volume of seeds to be stored, which saves on
storage space and deters insect eggs, mold spores and other seed-disease vector, most of which
are removed and discarded along with the chaff. The easiest way to thrash seeds is to rub the collected
material against a coarse screen with a gloved hand.
The two most critical necessities for storing seeds are constant temperatures and low humidity.
A temperature of 50° F or less and a humidity of 50% or lower are ideal.
Store seeds in the refrigerator, not the freezer, until you are ready to plant. Low temperature, humidity
and light level protect seed longevity. If it is not practical to store seeds in your refrigerator, store them
in any place that is cool, dark and dry, protecting them from insects as much as possible.
Store the seeds in paper sacks to allow good air circulation and prevent molding. Do NOT store
seeds in plastic bags or other non-breathable containers unless they are air-dried thoroughly first.
It is important to include basic information on labels, including date of collection, species name,
location of collection and name of collector.
Dusting the seeds with a mild insecticide will help prevent insect infestation and kill any pests collected
with the seeds. Or, you can insert a pest strip for several days while leaving the paper bag open to allow
insects to escape. Freezing the seed for a brief period may also be a viable alternative.
Seeds of fleshy fruits should be kept moist to maintain viability. If allowed to dry out, they will either
germinate prematurely or not at all. This type of seed should be planted immediately or mixed in a one-to-one
ratio of moist sand or in a vermiculite or perlite mixture (depending on seed size),
and stored in a cool place.
If the root emerges from the seeds during storage, the seedling should be removed and planted immediately.
Wetland Seeds can be collected in late summer when flowers have turned into seed capsules. Watch
insect and dragonfly activity from the shoreline and you’ll be able to tell when the small sedges, rushes
and grasses are in bloom (lots of insects and dragonflies buzzing around) and when they are in seed
(few to no insects and dragonflies). This is helpful since the seed heads are usually nondescript and
difficult to tell from the flower heads, especially without a good, close-up, in-the-hand specimen to examine.
Wetland plants may have lots of tiny floating seeds, like cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) . Or they
could have larger floating seeds with air pockets such as pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) .
These eventually sink to the bottom as they get waterlogged in late fall (after migrating ducks and
geese have had their fill). Floating seeds will be distributed across the surface of the water often in late
summer over a long period, so urgency in collection is not needed, unlike with forest plants. A seed
capsule that starts drying out from the top down to the stem, like monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens),
can be cut off the plant as soon it is mostly dried. The remaining seeds will mature, i.e. dry out, if kept
inside the capsule in a container.
Meadow plants tend to bloom most prolifically late in summer to late fall. Since meadows are open
habitats, wind is the preferred method of seed dispersal. Many tiny airborne seeds (goldenrods or
Solidago spp., and Aster spp.) are blown off seed heads during fall storms. Many grasses and other
fall seed-producing plants like cattails (Typha latifolia, T. angustifolia) , common milkweed (Asclepias
syriaca) , and Joe-pye weed (Eupatorium fistulosum) also disperse their seeds this way. Capture the
seeds when fluff first appears and before the seeds are all wind-dispersed. Fall-migrating birds
searching for food help tremendously in seed dispersal, so seeds from the Compositae (daisy or
sunflower) family, including black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) are plentifully produced with open
faces and stiff stems making them ideal landing pads. The seeds are mature when the seed head
dries and the seeds change from dark brown to ashen gray. Vigorous rubbing will pop the square-sided
seeds out of their head.
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