Help with the Harvest: Collect Native Tree Seeds

People of all ages can provide foresters with the stock they need to grow seedlings and restore forests

09-10-2010 // Kelly Senser
Chipmunk eating tree seed

VOLUNTEERS FROM ACROSS the country are expected to collect tens of thousands of pounds of acorns and other native tree seeds this fall. Why the nutty behavior? These concerned citizens are helping to provide foresters with the stock they need to grow seedlings and replenish riparian tree stands, which have suffered due to development, nonnative species invasions and other pressures.

“They are giving life to the trees that will become our streamside forests and filter runoff entering our rivers,” says Deanna Tricarico, program coordinator at the Potomac Conservancy, which manages the Growing Native seed-collection program. In 2009, 9,253 volunteers in the mid-Atlantic region collected 21,312 pounds of seed on behalf of the Maryland-based nonprofit.

“It’s amazing to see so many people of all ages participating,” says Tricarico, listing scout troops, school groups and families among the volunteers. “Almost 90 percent of people in the D.C. area get their drinking water from the Potomac River, and it’s important for kids to know that they can help protect it.”

Right in Your Own Backyard

Oftentimes desired species can be harvested right in your own backyard—which is also a great place to sow native seeds. Once mature, the trees will provide not only shelter for wildlife but food in the form of blossoms, fruits and nuts. The trees will also help clean the air.

How to Help with the Harvest

If you live in one of the mid-Atlantic states, visit the Growing Native website for a list of volunteer opportunities and collection sites, as well as useful tips for identifying and collecting mature seeds. Growing Native also offers a free education guide filled with more than 100 lessons on forests, water quality and other topics.

If you live in another part of the country, contact your state’s department of natural resources, forestry department or extension service to learn what seeds are being sought in your region and whether sites have been established for their collection.

Ash Trees Disappearing

Due to the devastating invasion of the emerald ash borer, an introduced pest, ash trees in the United States are declining at an alarming rate. Millions have already been destroyed. Because loss of all the nation’s ash trees is real possibility, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a long-term effort is underway to gather seed from populations of native ash species nationwide for genetic preservation. If you live in an area where these trees grow, you can lend a helping hand. For more information, including collection forms and tree identification aids, visit the National Ash Tree Seed Collection Initiative website.

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