Native Plant Seeds

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Are Native Plant Seeds from the WILD Center Right for Me? 

Wild Ones members recently received information about native plant seeds available in exchange for a freewill donation. The national office and local volunteers collected these seeds to generate funds to cover operating expenses such as copier paper, stamps, and electricity. Our goal is to help the national office be more self-sufficient so more of Wild Ones’ general funds can be used to promote our mission and educate people on the importance of native plants in any sized landscape. 

Step 1 in the decision process—are they native to your area? In deciding if you want seeds, please remember the first step is to determine which of the native plant seeds are truly native to your area. Most likely, not all species we offer are native to your area! To help determine which plants are native to your area, The National Wildlife Federation has a free Native Plant Finder tool. Just enter your ZIP code at the “Set Your Location” button at the top of the page, and you’re ready to go. Click the “Find Native Plants” to see which plants are native to your area. The plants are ranked by the number of butterfly and moth species that use them as host plants, which is a nice bonus if you want to ensure you’re using your garden space as effectively as possible. Another great site is the US Department of Agriculture’s page. It has links to information on a wide variety of plant topics.

Wild Ones’ “Guidelines for Selecting Native Plants – Local Ecotype Guidelines” may help. It states, “A native plant species is one that occurs naturally in a particular region, ecosystem and/or habitat and was present prior to European settlement. With this definition in mind, Wild Ones advocates the selection of plants and seeds derived, insofar as is possible, from local or regional sources at sites having the same or similar environmental conditions as the site of planting. Such plant material is often termed the local ecotype.”

The easiest way to determine which ecoregion applies to your location is to view a great ecoregion map. Ideally, you should use seed gathered from your ecoregion whenever possible.

To help you determine if your location is appropriate for sowing the WILD Center seeds, all of the seeds we have available were gathered from northeast Wisconsin. Most of the seeds were harvested from the WILD Center grounds, which is located in Region 222.

Step 2 is seed source. Our native plant seed offering has opened the door to a candid conversation about the importance of provenance. As you likely know, another important factor in selecting seeds is their source, or provenance. Because of genetics, environmental and other conditions, seed from a specific plant gathered from one area will not be exactly the same as seed from the same species of plant gathered from another area. For details, there is a great article, “Why Locally-Sourced, Locally-Grown Native Plants Matter.” 

Step 3 is the original plant source. The location from which the seeds were gathered does not tell the whole story. Another factor to consider is the source of the WILD Center plants growing on our site, the ancestors of the seed.  

In the case of the WILD Center, we know that many of its original plants and seeds were sourced regionally—from southern, central, and northeastern Wisconsin. However, some may have come from southeast Minnesota or eastern Iowa, depending on the supplier and the year the original seeds or plants went in the ground. Thus, although the seeds we have available to share were collected in northeast Wisconsin, their “roots” may have originated regionally, across Wisconsin, Minnesota, or Iowa. (Regretfully, we do not have detailed seed and plant source records for when the WILD Center prairie was installed.)

Seed collection done correctly: Note that we followed proper seed collection guidelines to ensure the continued health of the original site. For this project, seeds were collected from several of each type of plant to ensure genetic variation, and about half the seeds were left on each plant so nature could continue its planting process.

Seed quality: While seed purchased from professional native seed sources is usually “pure live seed” and of a guaranteed germination rate, the seed from the WILD Center was harvested, cleaned and packaged by volunteers, not professionals. Thus, the WILD Center seed will adhere to a different standard than seed from a professional seed supply businesses. Our seeds may not always be perfect and may not be perfectly clean, but we hope the quantity provided with each order will more than make up for any seeds that do not germinate. Remember – this program is not intended to compete with professional seed suppliers, but rather to serve as a “thank you” for donations and help get more native plants in the ground.

The bottom line: it’s up to individuals to determine which plants or seeds are appropriate for their landscape. It’s important to research which plants are indeed native, but that is just a starting point and is not necessarily the only factor to consider in your planting plan.

These seeds not right for you? If you determine that seeds from the WILD Center aren’t right for you, consider making the donation and asking that seeds be sown on a local site near here where the owner has volunteered to allow us to spread native plant seeds. This option lets you share your favorite native species with others, and helps provide future pollinator habitat!

Whatever you decide, thank you for your support of Wild Ones and native plants! 

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