Seed stalkers: Volunteers sought to help restock native plant nursery

Even natives can use a little help.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking volunteers to collect seeds from native plants Saturday at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

Seed Collection Saturday will be used to propagate native plants at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Native Plant Nursery, which annually produces 80,000 herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees for habitat restoration in the Rio Grande Valley.

“What I’m trying to do with this Saturday, and more Saturdays to come, depends on the response from volunteers as well as what we have seed availability-wise,” said Kim Wahl, a plant biologist with Fish and Wildlife.

“But it’s really to teach people what we do, how they can be involved in the restoration work, what to look for when collecting seeds,” she added, “and eventually long-term, what I’d like to do is create this seed-collection army that is always going out and collecting and assisting in our restoration program.”

Seeds propagated at the nursery south of Alamo have been planted on hundreds of acres in South Texas to return at least some of the acreage in the Valley back to its native, Tamaulipan thorn-scrub state.

The nursery has coolers and a freezer which hold thousands of processed seeds, which have been cleaned of outer pulpy berries and sun-dried. Other non-berry seeds are sun-dried and either placed in gallon plastic bags or are vacuum-sealed, with some then going into freezers.

“Ultimately, when you take it down to the simplest aspect of the program, it all starts with the seeds, and if we don’t have the seeds, we can’t do anything,” Wahl said.

The seed collection effort at Santa Ana is the first of a series of similar Saturday events. Future collection efforts will be held at locations up and down the Valley, like Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, La Sal del Rey in northeast Hidalgo County and elsewhere.

“We’ll try to go around to different places based on the species, what condition they’re in, if they’re ready to be collected,” Wahl said.

“This Saturday we’ll be looking at lotebush and blue boneset, those are the two species we’re really going to be focusing on,” she added. “And then if we go up to La Sal del Rey next Saturday, we have potentially some ebony that may be ready. We have some elbow bush that’s just finishing up so hopefully there’s still some of that, and possibly some guajillo.”

Weather, of course, may be a factor Saturday. If so, Wahl says she is prepared to give a presentation to volunteers and give them a tour of the seed storage facilities at the nearby native plant nursery.

“Either way, rain or shine, I’m going to do it,” she said. “It’s just that if it’s pouring down rain we may not be able to have the volunteers go out to collect the seeds.”

For more information on dates and times of future Seed Collection Saturday events, email Wahl at Kimberly_Wahl@fws.gov

If you go

WHAT — Native plant seed collection

WHERE — Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

WHEN — Saturday, 8 a.m. to noon

MEET — Santa Ana NWR visitors’ center

BRING — Wear long pants and hiking shoes, bring hat, gloves, bug spray, sunscreen, water