Collecting Sagebrush Seeds

Article and photos by Gretchen Graber, Sagebrush Grower Contractor at the Institute for Applied Ecology

Seed collectors pose with their seed collection bags.

As part of the Great Basin Sagebrush partnership, we collected sagebrush seed twice this November. The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) Coyote Ridge off-site inmate technician crew collected first at Swanson Lake Wildlife Refuge, and then in the Saddle Mountains on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property. Both properties are part of Washington State’s sagebrush steppe landscape.

Seed collectors take turns viewing sagebrush seeds through a scope.

For the Saddle Mountain collection, many local native plant society members volunteered, and we were joined by a Juvenile Justice Center work crew. For both collections we had great weather. We enjoyed being outside learning about partnership efforts to restore shrub-steppe habitat for the continued existence of the imperiled greater-sage grouse.

We gathered seed from a subspecies of big sagebrush, called Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis). The seeds will be shipped and cleaned at the Seeds of Success seed cleaning facility in Bend, Oregon. Then it will sent back to Washington State to be used to grow next year’s crop of 60,000 Wyoming big sagebrush plugs in Coyote Ridge’s Sagebrush Nursery. We collected enough seed to create a reserve supply for the program, and share with other programs for research and conservation purposes.

Seed collectors smile from the field, surrounded by mature sagebrush.

Seeds of Success intern Shawna Kelley supported both collections, along with BLM botanist Molly Boyter. Seeds of Success supports BLM’s Native Plant Materials Development Program whose mission is to increase the quality and quantity of native plant materials available for restoring resilient ecosystems. The Wyoming sagebrush plugs will be planted onto fire damaged lands occupied by the greater-sage grouse. The entire seed collection and sharing process ensures the availability of genetically-appropriate seed for the recovery of the greater-sage grouse in Washington State. Funding for the program is provided by BLM in Washington D.C., the Institute for Applied Ecology coordinates programs regionally, and Sustainability in Prisons Project runs the Washington State program.

During seed collection, they discovered a dead lizard atop a spiny hopsage plant; it was probably intended for later eating by a loggerhead shrike (the Cornell laboratory describes the species as “a songbird with a raptor’s habits”).

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