Local Ecotype Seed
Approximately four percent of our nation’s original tallgrass prairie remains intact, and 95% of this prairie is in Kansas. Whether in vast acreages in the Flint Hills or small roadside remnants in the Glaciated Region, Kansans have an extraordinary opportunity to conserve these vestiges of our natural heritage. Remnant prairies conserve ecological diversity and provide habitat for increasingly rare species. They are also valuable blueprints for future prairie restoration efforts.
Importance of Using Native Seed and Local Ecotypes in Restorations
Aside from the obvious threats of development and degrading forces of over-grazing, and invasion of woody plants and exotic species, the gene pools of remnant prairies may also be altered genetically by the invasion of species thought to be native. Instead, they are actually genetically adapted to conditions that exist hundreds of miles away. Such intrusions may occur from nearby planted CRP lands, linear facilities such as roadsides, transmission lines and pipelines, or from restored home landscapes, and may be detrimental to the genetic populations of local remnants. These intrusions cause genetic weaknesses such as reduced vigor and competitive ability due to poor adaptation to local climates and soils (Linhart 1995 and Whisenant 1999). Conversely, genetic diversity of seed from within a local origin can help play an important role in determining both immediate planting success, and plant community adaptability to variable weather conditions.
Seed Sources With Local Ecotypes in Kansas
Nurseries with native seed are uncommon in Kansas, and few carry stock from local ecotypes. When purchasing native plant species, be sure to inquire about the sources of plant material. Plants or seeds identified as native may have originated from an area where the climate, soil, and/or moisture conditions are dramatically different from where you live. Cultivars with a long history of propagation in nurseries also may be identified as native. Some of these cultivars may be poorly adapted for local conditions.
In spite of the limited number of Kansas vendors with native local ecotype seeds or plants these organizations can provide information about vendors that offer native plant materials in the central United States
Promote the Sale and Propagation of Native Plants
One way to increase the availability of native plant resources is to ask vendors to carry more native plants from local ecotypes, and support vendors who make such efforts. Another option is to collect and propagate your own seed. This highly educational and rewarding activity encourages familiarity with the native plant communities and serves as one way to help conserve these native communities. The handbook Growing Native Wildflowers (Platt and Harder 1997) is an extremely useful guide for propagating prairie plants.
Once your native plant materials have been acquired, create a diverse native wildflower bed on your landscape that is visually attractive year-round, low maintenance, and beneficial to birds and butterflies. Be willing to share your tips and success with others. Creating native landscapes can be contagious.
Program guidelines are as follows
- Take no more than 50% of the seed from a healthy perennial (10% from a rare or conservative species) or 10% of the seed from an annual.
- For rare or conservative species, take only what you are prepared to plant in an appropriate and protected location. Do not collect seed from a federally protected species unless you have appropriate authorization.
- Provide collection data including location (at least to county), collection date, habitat type, associate species, and soil type whenever possible. Always keep collection data with the seed.
- When collecting from re-located plants, landscaped areas, re-constructed prairies, etc., know the original source location before distributing seed.
- Avoid collecting from non-native plants or horticultural cultivars.
- Maintain local gene pools. Suggested maximum collection distances (i.e. distance between the collection site and the site where seed will be planted) include 100 miles in latitude (north-south distance) and 200 miles in longitude (east-west distance) (Packard and Mutel 1997). When enhancing remnant populations, use smaller maximum distances (e.g., 50 miles in latitude and 100 miles in longitude).
- Avoid collecting from plants in captivity (e.g., in a garden) that are generations removed from the wild. Wild traits that allow plants to be competitive may diminish with successive generations in non-competitive growing conditions.
- Clean and package seed whenever possible. Once seed is dry, small, breathable paper bags or plastic containers are preferred for seed storage. Seed viability can be extended for many species by storing seed in cool, dry, pest-free environments.
- Linhart, Y.B. 1995. Restoration, revegetation and the importance of genetic and evolutionary perspectives. Pp. 271-287 in B.A. Roundy, E.D. McArthur, J.S. Haley, and D.K. Mann, editors. Wildland Shrub and Arid Land Restoration Symposium. 1993, October 19-21. INT-GTR-315. Las Vegas, Nevada: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station.
- Packard, S. and C.F. Mutel. 1997. The tallgrass restoration handbook for prairies, savannas, and woodlands. Island Press. Washington, D.C. 463 pp.
- Platt, D., and L. Harder. 1997. Growing Native Wildflowers. Kansas Wildflower Society. Topeka, Kansas.
- Whisenant, S.G. 1999. Repairing damaged wildlands: a process-oriented, landscape-scale approach. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. 312 pp.