Growing Oregon: A photo essay of native seed production

By Ian Silvernail

June 2018

In the fall of 2016, the Institute for Applied Ecology (IAE) leapt into the world of native seed production in an attempt to help fill some of the requests for the seed that is so integral to effective habitat restoration. Tremaine and Gail Arkley are allowing us to put their Malabon silty-clay loam soil in Buena Vista, Oregon, to good use in support of habitat restoration throughout the Willamette Valley and Oregon coast.  In the process, many organizations and agencies have had us grow seed for their restoration projects, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Center for Natural Lands Management, and the Willamette Valley Native Plant Materials Partnership, a group of dozens of organizations and agencies engaged in native prairie and oak ecosystem restoration. IAE has a unique role in native prairie restoration as a nonprofit organization that grows out both threatened and endangered species and pollinator resource species, and then plants them in restoration sites throughout northwest Oregon. This reintroduction of diverse native plants into prairies is a crucial step for restoring healthy habitats that support our pollinators and wildlife.

As the photo above demonstrates, this spring brought our first use of the plot combine! Here we are harvesting western buttercup seed. Plant Materials Technician Emily Wittkop manages the harvested material at the back end of the combine. IAE grows several species endemic to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest that support nectar resources of Fender's blue butterfly, Oregon silverspot butterfly, and other unique pollinators. The following photos show this spring's adventures growing Kinkaid's lupine (Lupinus oreganus), winecup clarkia (Clarkia amoena var. caurina), western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis), seablush (Plectritis congesta), and Oregon geranium (Geranium oreganum). Some seed will be used in restoration projects throughout the Willamette Valley and across Oregon by IAE's own Habitat Restoration program, some will be distributed to dozens of groups that are engaged in prairie restoration. Volunteers have spent many hours weeding fields and cleaning seed these past two years, which has contributed greatly to our success!

Thanks to all of our partners for the support!  We have many new species planned for 2019.  You’re welcome to join us and volunteer in the fields!

A bucolic spring day in the seablush (Plectritis congesta) field. The species is being grown to support restoration in middle-elevation prairies in the foothills on the edges of the Willamette Valley. Seablush is a very reliable restoration species that germinates and grows quickly and provides excellent cover and resources for pollinators.

A quarter-acre field of Western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis) in peak bloom in early May. This field is being supported by funds from the Willamette Valley Native Plant Materials Partnership. Seed will be distributed to dozens of groups throughout the valley that are engaged in prairie restoration.

Several species we grow shatter their seed over a period of weeks. Growing them on weed cloth allows us to collect as much seed as possible by vacuuming it off the ground. Here, Western buttercup seeds litter the weed fabric prior to harvest.

When you're trying to grow 12,000 of the same plant and nothing else (there are probably a few weeds in there!), you get to see a lot of variety within species. Here Western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis) shows an unexpectedly common malformation of the flowering stem.

Tyler Ross (right), Biological Science Technician at the Natural Resource Conservation Service Plant Materials Center gives author Ian Silvernail some pointers on operating our new Wintersteiger plot combine. This machine is a total game changer for us in our ability to efficiently and effectively harvest seed from many of the species we grow.

A field of winecup clarkia (Clarkia amoena var. caurina), grown from seed collected on Oregon’s Central Coast. This seed will be used to help restore Oregon silverspot butterfly habitat, a rare butterfly of our coastal prairies. In the wild these plants are usually closer to a foot tall and each have a small handful of blooms. These plants in this production field clearly love the fertilizer and extra care!

A bumblebee enjoying Oregon geranium (Geranium oreganum) blooms. These plants will be restored to enhance nectar resources for pollinators, including Fender’s blue butterfly, in mid-elevation prairies in the foothills on the edges of the Willamette Valley.

IAE Habitat Restoration program staff discuss methods for Kincaid’s lupine reintroduction while checking out some of the plants in cultivation. In addition to seed for restoration efforts, the farm is providing us with opportunities to watch plants grow, and make observations that will help inform our approach to native ecosystem restoration. From left to right: IAE Restoration Ecologists Andrew Esterson, Jessica Celis, and Andy Neill; author Ian Silvernail, Restoration Biologist and helper son Rye, and Habitat Restoration Program Director Rebecca Currin.

A bed of first-year Kincaid’s lupine (Lupinus oreganus) being grown to support Fender’s blue butterfly habitat restoration in the Eugene West Recovery Zone. Kincaid’s lupine can sometimes resist our best efforts at cultivation, so we’re happy to see a bed that is establishing well. This bed (one of 6 full of this species) should produce seed for many years.

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