'Tis the Season for Seeds

Fall can be a full-time pursuit up here in north Idaho.  There's hunting and meat processing, crop harvesting and putting up, wood cutting and splitting, soccer and football practice, and of course... seed saving.

The glory of spring and summer flowers is fading in the valleys, but the bounty that they bring is ripening, both on our gardens and in the wild.  All around, there are seed heads - papery, nobbly, spiky, frilly, fruity, and fluffy.  If you go on a walk in the woods, you might notice the fluff peeking out from purple fireweed pods, delicate brown umbrellas of seed towering over cow parsnip leaves, or shocks of red false Solomon's seal berries sprinkling the forest floor.

Each kind of plant is unique in when it blooms, how long its seeds take to ripen, and how those seeds get spread.  Getting to know how and when to collect and store these seeds is like making a new friend each time.

Take our starry false Solomon's seal.  It is one of our earliest blooming forest plants, and its berries arrive early in the Summer.  But they take months to reach maturity.  Not until Fall will you find the brown-striped green berries transformed to glowing red orbs - if you find them at all!  Many creatures like to eat the berries and often only one or two may remain on a plant.  The small tan seeds themselves need to be removed from the crimson pulp quickly if they are to be stored, or the fruit will begin to degrade the seeds' protective coating.  And it's best to store them in moist sand, protected from light, at the back of your refrigerator until you can plant them.  They're quite the divas, those starry false Solomon's seals.

Fireweed seeds are a different story.  They bloom later in the summer, and their long thin pods mature relatively quickly and stick around for quite a while.  You could still be collecting fireweed seed in December if you wanted.  When the slender pods open, an impossible amount of fluff bursts forth, each strand tipped by an impossibly tiny seed.  It is like you've released millions of rollicking magic sprites as they catch the tiniest of drafts and speed away, even in a still indoor room.  To bring a fireweed pod home is to welcome its seeds into your house for life.  But these seeds don't need much for care.  You can cram them as forcefully as possible into a jar, like getting a gazillion genies back into a bottle, slap the lid on, put them on a shelf and they'll be happy for years, cozy together in their fluffy bed.  For all their grand splendor, fireweed are pretty self-sufficient.

So, take some time this fall to get to make some new friends!  And if you want to know more about how to collect seeds to contribute to the Bees to Bears Climate Adaptation Project and our work restoring native plants for wildlife on the Boundary-Smith Creek Wildlife Management Area, check out our Seed Collection Manual and contact Citizen Science Coordinator Kristina Boyd.

  • imianthemum stellatum with berry
    Licensing: 
    Creative Commons Licence
    Attribution: 
    Kristina Boyd
  • solidago canadensis in seed
    Licensing: 
    Creative Commons Licence
    Attribution: 
    Kristina Boyd
  • anaphalis margaritacea ready to seed
    Licensing: 
    Creative Commons Licence
    Attribution: 
    Kristina Boyd
  • img_7577_cropheracleum maximum in seed
    Licensing: 
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    Attribution: 
    Kristina Boyd
  • mahonia aquifolium with berries
    Licensing: 
    Creative Commons Licence
    Attribution: 
    Kristina Boyd
  • eurybia conspicua in seed
    Licensing: 
    Creative Commons Licence
    Attribution: 
    Kristina Boyd
  • chamerion angustifolium in seed
    Licensing: 
    Creative Commons Licence
    Attribution: 
    Kristina Boyd