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End of Summer Newsletter

(EcoSource’s end of season celebration cake from Annie’s Bakery.)

EcoSource Native Seeds and Restoration’s 2021 field season has been all about overcoming the challenge of drought. Imagine you are a desirable native plant, like Elymus elymoides (Bottlebrush squirreltail), and are trying to grow big and strong, but you just can’t get enough water to produce much more than you need simply to survive. Your roots are parched from the lack of rain this spring and having the energy to produce seeds is hard to generate. On top of the lack of available water, the sun’s usual nourishing UV light has turned into an oppressive heatwave, smothering normal levels of glucose production. Simply put, the productive balance of energy is not available for plants to produce significant amounts of seed. 

(Garrett Goss-Bodily monitoring Bottlebrush squirreltail in the field.)

In such harsh conditions the seeds that are produced are ephemeral and while EcoSource field crews have managed to collect some, Mother Nature beat us to it in other cases. Especially during a low yield field season, practicing ethical collection with respect to wild populations is of utmost importance. This is why national standards like the Bureau of Land Management’s Seeds of Success protocol are so important. We do not want to deplete our wild native grasses and forbs populations’ limited seed supply to an extent that the wild population we collect from can’t sustain itself in future generations. So even when our field crews have limited seeds available to collect, we limit ourselves to only 20% of the available seed in order to preserve future generations. 

(Scarified Indian ricegrass seeds under a microscope.)

As this historic heat wave sweeps over the Pacific Northwest, EcoSource field crews seek refuge in the warehouse during the afternoon scarifying Achnatherum hymenoides (Indian ricegrass) seeds. Indian ricegrass seeds can be difficult to germinate due to their thick hull for long periods of dormancy, which is an adaptation for natural disasters or simply weather variability. Some seeds can take up to five years to be viable, but this staggering germination period prevents a population from being wiped out in a catastrophic manner. 

 (Last year’s Indian ricegrass seed supply.)

However, for our purposes we want the Indian ricegrass seeds we sow to germinate sooner in order to grow out a population. So EcoSource has corresponded with Utah State University and The Institute for Applied Ecology in order to learn more about the scarification process. Scarifying the tough Indian ricegrass seed’s hull with abrasive materials can decrease the amount of time it may take to germinate. The EcoSource field crew has been using a cement mixer while testing out different materials for various lengths of time, then taking their seeds to The Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center’s lab to inspect their scarification under a microscope. It is very important that the tiny seed’s hull is only fractured in order to give it the best chances of expeditious germination. 

(Recent Burns High grads, Garrett Goss-Bodily and Tom Boyd manage uncleaned seed through a machine that cleans chaff.)

In addition to scarifying Indian ricegrass seeds the EcoSource Collection Crew became a Seed Cleaning Crew. They helped troubleshoot and get each new machine up and running. They also cleaned many, many seeds the old fashioned way, with their bare hands and fingernails. Most of the EcoSource crew returned to school this month, so we threw them a party for all their hard work on their last day.

(EcoSource field crew’s last day pictured with their native seed collection specialist.)

This season of intense heat and drought only reinforces The Northern Great Basin’s need for EcoSource Native Seeds and Restoration. As wildfires continue to ravage the region, it becomes all the more critical to collect genetically appropriate native seeds that will help restore the land, conserve water and reduce the growth of highly flammable invasive species like Bromus tectorum (Cheatgrass). We are looking to stay ahead of the game next season having a better understanding of native seed supply and their timelines for dropping during drought conditions as we must be prepared to continue to work with this challenge in upcoming years.

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