Native Plants from Seed
New England Wild Flower Society's native plant nursery at Nasami Farm grows native plants from sustainable collected seeds.
Why We Grow Native Plants from Seed
By Alexis Doshas, Native Plant Nursery Intern, Nasami Farm
At Nasami Farm, New England Wild Flower Society’s native plant nursery, we grow native plants from seed. It is our goal to use sustainably collected seeds harvested from local, healthy, established wild populations. “Why?” you may ask. The answer, in a nutshell, is genetic diversity. As our mission states, we conserve and promote native plants to ensure healthy and biologically diverse landscapes.
The importance of a diversity of plants in a landscape is analogous to the importance of genetic diversity within a plant’s population. Genetic diversity serves as a way for populations to adapt to a change in environment, which could be a change in climate or the introduction of a pest, parasite, or disease. Wild plant populations are genetically unique and have developed resistances to diseases and pests with which they have evolved. Genetic diversity supports a strong, resilient population less susceptible to viruses, diseases, and natural disasters. By limiting a plant’s genetic diversity through cuttings, cloning or collecting seeds from a small or cultivated population, we risk the chance of epidemics or infestations that may harm or wipe out an entire plant population. The most infamous example of this is the mid-nineteenth century’s Irish Potato Famine, which was caused by a parasite invading a large, monoculture of nearly identical potatoes.
In some limited cases we do find the need to propagate plants vegetatively. Some species may be difficult to grow from seed or may not produce much viable seed or any seed at all. Also, cultivars have their place in our landscapes and in our nursery. Many are bred for resistance to disease, size and other beneficial characteristics. One example is Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’ (double blood-root), a naturally occurring mutation of Sanguinaria canadensis (blood-root) that resulted in a plant with many additional flower petals. Unlike the straight species, double blood-root does not produce seed because the male and female parts of the plant have transformed into petals. While we continue to collect wild seed of blood-root and grow it from seed, that is not an option for double blood-root and other similar types of plants. To offer these types of plants, we may divide the plants, take cuttings, or we may purchase them from our partner nurseries which have propagated them clonally.
Although we do make exceptions, our primary focus at Nasami Farm continues to be to propagate plants grown from seed collected in the wild. Our wild seed collection program consists of a team of trained staff and volunteers actively researching and documenting local sources of healthy, wild populations of native plants. At the right time, we carefully and sustainably collect seeds for production in our greenhouses. Genetic diversity evolved in nature to ensure viability and sustainability. Our goal at Nasami Farm is to support that process in our native plants.