The purpose of the Florida Native Plant Society (FNPS) is to promote the preservation, conservation, and restoration of the native plants and native plant communities of Florida. This blog presents ideas and information to further the cause of Florida's native plants and ecosystems.
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Harvesting & Storing Seeds
By Steven W. Woodmansee, FNPS President
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges to growing new native
plant species is obtaining seeds and germplasm for them. Germplasm is a term
used to describe any plant material used in propagation. It could be seeds,
cuttings, air layers, or tissue (root or otherwise). By and large, the plant nursery industry often
prefers cuttings or tissue culture as they present the easiest/cheapest way to
mass produce plants, as well as preserve certain plant characteristics. Seeds
are generally the preferred method ecologically, as each seed will present a
unique set of genetic material thereby assuring genetic diversity within a
species and preventing things like artificial genetic drift (i.e. plants will
no longer be selected for survivability), disease susceptibility, inbreeding,
Not all plants are the same when it comes to harvesting,
storing, & germinating seed/fruit. First things first, when harvesting wet
or pulpy fruit, in general it is best to clean remove the flesh and have clean
seeds. If you don’t have time to clean the fruit right away, store it in a
lidless bucket with some water for less than 24 hours (Figure 1). If you need more time
place them on some netting in the sun so that the flesh may dry out. It is okay
if ants eat the flesh off the fruits for you. Then you can soak the fruit in a
bucket for 24 hours or less and clean them. You may need to cover the
bucket/netting to prevent the birds from eating all your harvest. For plants
with very small seed (e.g. Corkystem passionflower, Ficus spp., or blueberries),
one can crush them on newspaper and let it dry out over the afternoon. Once
dry, it is not necessary to painstakingly separate the seed from the dried pulp
when storing them. Some plants, such as native Crotons & Heliotropes, have
seed in fruit which is a capsule that dehisce (fancy botanical jargon for
opening up), one can collect these fruit and place them in a paper bag in a
cool dry place, under an air conditioner vent, or even in the sun (Figure 2). The capsules
will pop open and eject the seeds, so it is important to keep it tightly closed.
For some plants, such as many wildflowers, it is unnecessary to clean them, and
they can go straight into storage containers.
Once seeds are clean, store them in paper bags, paper
envelopes or glassine envelopes like the ones from the Post Office (Figure 3). If they
are in a container be sure and have it ventilated at the top by placing a hole
in the lid of the jar/can. Store all seed containers in a cool dry place that
is well ventilated. Heat, especially moist heat, is the biggest threat to seed
storage. Although there may be some exceptions such as cold storage, seeds
should never be kept in sealed containers or plastic bags of any sort or they
may have fungal issues and rot. For some species, the older the seed, the less
likely it will germinate.
Some other tips on seed storing:
• Temperate plant species generally have seed that store
well over time, and they may need a period of cold in order to germinate (e.g.
Dahoon Holly, Oaks, & blueberries).
• Tropical plant species from moist habitats (such as
hardwood hammocks) and palms generally do not have seed that store well over
time (e.g. Lignum vitae, capers, & strongbacks).
• Large seed, wildflower seed, and legume seed (members of
the pea family) often have seed that may store for many years (e.g. Jamaican
dogwood, milk peas, skyblue clustervine, & tickseed).
FNPS members John Lawson of Silent Native Nursery and Rob
Campbell of Signature Palms contributed to this article.
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