The Need for Seed: IAE’S Seed Procurement and Mixing Process

By Morgan Franke, Plant Materials Coordinator

March 2023

The need for native seed is ever increasing. In the wake of environmental disasters like wildfires, droughts, and increased flooding, native seeds are needed to restore sensitive habitats on-the-ground. But before ecologists can sow the seeds to heal the land, they need access to the right seed mix. That’s where we come in.

The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently released their Final Report: An Assessment of Native Seed Needs and the Capacity for Their Supply, and a recent article by Christine Peterson in High Country News did an excellent job of highlighting our country’s seed needs and barriers to meeting the restoration demand. While IAE is always on the lookout for more native plant producers, our region is lucky to host multiple knowledgeable seed producers who work to meet restoration demands—including our own IAE seed farm, based in Corvallis, Oregon.

Last fall, the Northwest Plant Materials Program at IAE distributed almost 1,800 pounds of seed of 50 different species that were destined to be sown at 25 different restoration sites throughout the Willamette Valley and Oregon Coast.  This is no small task, and all members of the Northwest Plant Materials Program chipped in to help accomplish this. The seed procurement process begins in the summer, when I work closely with Restoration Program ecologists to determine what species they would like to use in their upcoming restoration projects—and how much seed they expect to need for each site. Then comes the task of finding native seed suppliers with genetically appropriate native seed to meet restoration needs.

Multiple species of seed are often needed for a single restoration site. Pictured here—before mixing—to display the diversity of seed used.

Once we have ordered and picked up all of the seed, we bring it to our warehouse to organize—and weigh out the specific amounts needed for each seed mix. The timing for each of these phases is crucial. The needs of each restoration site vary, and Plant Materials Program staff work hard to ensure the our restoration ecologists have all of their seed in time to spread onsite—before it’s too rainy or cold and the seeding windows close! If you enjoy figuring out puzzles, working with diverse seed, and collaborating actively with restoration ecologists and native plant producers alike, you would love the seed procurement and mixing process!

Examples of Species from 2022 Seed Mixes

Spring Gold
Lomatium utriculatum
Plant features: flowering plant species of the carrot family. Grows in many habitats including chaparral, and in the Sierra Nevada. Native to the Pacific Northwest, drought-resistant.

Blue Wildrye
Elymus glaucus
Plant features: often used for streambank restoration as well as reseeding burned or disturbed areas in oak woodland or forest habitats. Fire-tolerant, with little downward transfer of heat.

Kincaid’s lupine
Lupinus oreganus
Plant features: threatened flowering plant species of the legume family. Native to Oregon and Washington, and in particular the Willamette Valley. Pair-species of the threatened Fender’s blue butterfly.

Showy milkweed
Asclepias speciosa
Plant features: a milky-sapped perennial plant in the dogbane family found in the western half of North America. Its large, thick leaves can sustain monarch caterpillars. Is a nectar source for many pollinators, and a host plant for Monarch butterflies.

Achillea millefolium
Plant features: native to North America, yarrow is resistant to pests and drought. Known for its ruggedness. Other common names include old man’s pepper, devil’s nettle, soldier’s woundwort, and thousand seal.

Spanish clover
Acmispon americanus
Plant features: species of legume native to western North America from western Canada to northern Mexico. Grows well in dry, sandy soils.

Giant Blue-eyed Mary
Collinsia grandiflora
Plant features: native to the Pacific Northwest, drought-tolerant. Grows well in dry rocky sites and upland prairie. Known for its delicate blue “snapdragon” shaped flowers.

Lanceleaf selfheal
Prunella vulgaris var. lanceolata
Plant features: native species of the Mint family. Grows well in moist soils in prairies, woodland borders, and roadsides.

Western buttercup
Ranunculs occidentalis
Plant features: flowering plant native to Alaska, western Washington, California, and Oregon at elevations ranging from sea level to subalpine. Requires cold weather to get started in the Pacific Northwest.

Please visit our Informational Guide and FAQs page if you are interested in growing native plants in your own yard—especially if you are based in the Willamette Valley of Oregon.

We could not have accomplished this work in 2022 without funding from our wonderful partners: the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. We also could not have accomplished the restoration work that we take on each year without the native seed from many of our amazing Willamette Valley native seed collectors and producers, which include Friends of Buford Park & Mt. Pisgah, Heritage Seedlings & Liners, Inc., Jonny Native Seed, Kenagy Family Farm, River Refuge Seed, Silver Falls Seed Company, Pacific NW Natives, and the Willamette Valley Native Plant Partnership.