Ever since I was a little kid, I have always loved the adventure of finding, collecting and cleaning seed, especially from plants in the wild. When I was very young, my mom elected to stay at home for several years to raise me and my siblings in our more formative years. As a way to earn some extra cash, she would contract seed-collect for Princeton Nurseries, exploring the local forests and windbreaks to gather hard-to-find seed for woody trees and shrubs that had to be grown from seed or needed seed-grown understock for grafting. Collecting Sassafras was always my favorite because of the combination of the wonderful fragrance and the beauty of the fleshy drupe that was dark blue with a yellow dot on the tip.
In recent years, I’ve taken to collecting seed from native woodies and perennials (as well as some urban stress-adapted non-natives) for use in the Gowanus Canal Conservancy’s nursery and plant propagation program. This Fall, I spent considerable time building new seed-drying trays and collecting a small range of seeds that I found in Brooklyn, New Jersey and Vermont during my travels.
I will experiment this Winter with sowing the seeds in plug-trays at Pleasant Run Nursery to see which ones have good germination. Hopefully I can practice and learn a few things about how to perform this complicated process successfully. Lots of seeds have varying requirements in order to maximize germination rates. Actions like stratifying the seed in moist cold-storage to mimic a winter cycle, or modification of the seed coat through abrasion or acid bath in order to mimic the actions of a bird’s gizzard and gut can be necessary steps in coaxing a seed to germinate.
If I get any successful germination, I’ll use some of the seed for horticultural experiments and guerrilla projects in Philadelphia and share the rest with he Gowanus Canal Conservancy for their own propagation programs in Brooklyn.