Faith In A Seed: Prairie Restorationists at Work Collecting Seed

Seed-based restoration is one of several methods used to establish or enhance restorations.  This method is widely used in prairie restorations in the midwestern United States, and in grasslands world wide.  Seed-based restoration is especially popular with organizations that place an emphasis on local ecotype origin, and diversity.  Seed-based restoration also requires good organization and large numbers of volunteers to collect, clean, and sow the seeds.


Seed collecting at The Prairie Enthusiasts Mounds View Grassland.  Recruiting volunteers for fall seed collecting is easy, especially on glorious, crisp fall days like the ones pictured here from a couple of years ago.  Photo by Steve Glass.

“Collecting seed from remnants near the restoration site has several advantages, the most significant one being that the origin of the seeds is known.  Given the proximity to the restoration site, the plants and their seeds are likely to be of a local ecotype that is adapted to the site conditions.” (Howell, Harrington, and Glass. 2012).    The use of seed  does have drawbacks, including the time required for germination and establishment, as well as often high rates of loss due to predation.


Tall grass prairie. Photo by Steve Glass

Other disadvantages of the seed-based approach include scarcity of high quality remnant sites from which to collect all of the target species.  Seed availability may also be low due to weather conditions that impact flowering and seed production.  For example, either drought or wet years can influence seed production of different species in different ways.


Showy goldenrod, one of the collecting target species and ready for the picking.  Photo by Steve Glass.

There are other disadvantages to collecting seed from remnants.  It may be difficult to collect any (or enough) seed because: 1)the species of interest may be widely scattered across a large landscape; 2) of a low or hidden stature; or 3) have explosive seeds that disperse before the collector arrives.  These facts of prairie life may sometimes make collection of adequate quantities difficult or impossible.


Multi-tasking.  Photo by Steve Glass.

To overcome these constraints some organizations that plant hundreds of acres at a time supplement wild collected seed with that collected from plants grown under controlled and tended conditions in nursery settings.  This approach gives them a fighting chance to produce adequate quantities of seed to meet their restoration targets.



Collecting still gentian.  Photo by Steve Glass.

Although collecting native seed from remnants is enjoyable and easy to learn, it does require guidance and knowledgeable help from local experts (above) who can identify the species, know the location of local ecotypes, determine if the seeds are ripe enough to collect, and ensure that the local population are not over-collected.


Harvesting in bulk for prairie restoration projects; good work for one season.  But next comes the cleaning, sorting, and weighing.  Photo by Steve Glass.



Black, M.R., E.J. Judziewicz,  2009.  Wildflowers of Wisconsin and The Great Lakes Region.  University of Wisconsin Press.  Madison, WI

Howell, E.A., J.A. Harrington, and S.B. Glass.  2012. Introduction to Restoration Ecology. Island Press. Washington, D.C.

Rock, H.W. 1974. Prairie Propagation Handbook.  Boerner Botanical Gardens, Whitnall Park.  Milwaukee County Park System.




About Steve Glass

The blogger is a restoration ecologist, Certified Ecological Restoration Practitioner (#0093 SER) and writer living in the Midwestern United States.
This entry was posted in Prairie restoration, Restoration ecology and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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