Seed Gathering Season is entering its twentieth anniversary and this year it is taking place between Sunday 23rd September and Tuesday 23rd October. As much as seed gathering is important for conserving our natural environment, it is also educational and great fun for everyone who takes part, so, make sure to venture outdoors and have a go!
Why collect seeds?
Seed Gathering Season is a brilliant campaign run by the Tree Council, that encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to go outside and collect seeds, fruits and nuts.
Collecting and growing seeds from healthy trees in the UK is the best way to ensure that local trees can flourish and gaps can be restored with native species.
This is especially important at a time when trees and native plants are under attack from imported pests and diseases.
Getting communities together to gather seeds will help to encourage new generations of people who are enthusiastic about protecting their local environment.
Seeds can be collected from many different types of plant and tree. This includes shrubs, vegetables, herbs, annuals, perennials and biennials, bulbous plants, ornamental grasses, alpines and even aquatic plants. The strongest seeds come from healthy and well established plants.
What are seeds?
Seeds are the embryos of plants, encased in a protective coat. They are formed after a plant has been fertilised through pollination and are later released in the hope that they can grow to form new plants and trees.
Many types of seeds can be collected and will remain dormant until the right conditions arise. One of the oldest seeds to grow into a plant was over 2,000 years old when it was found near the Dead Sea in 1963.
It was planted in 2005 and has successfully grown into a date palm that is 3 metres high!
Seeds come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with some like orchid seeds, being almost microscopic and others, like the seed of a palm tree, being around 12 inches long and weighing 18kg.
Some seeds are grown inside fruits, like apples, peppers and berries. Others are found in the form of nuts, pine cones, pods, winged seeds and capsules.
All of these examples can be collected and sown to grow into new plants.
How to gather seeds
The best time to gather seeds is when the weather is relatively dry and when the seed heads are ripe, making them easier to collect. Ripe capsules and pods will have changed from green to brown, indicating that they are ready to release their seeds. If left for too long, the seeds will be dispersed by the plant and you will be unable to collect them!
Before starting, make sure you know what you are picking and remember to avoid collecting seeds from private land without permission or from near busy roads and industrial sites. Always supervise kids and try to avoid damaging plants and trees in the process.
Seedheads, such as poppy, sedum and thistles, can be picked individually, or in stalks, which should then be laid out somewhere warm to dry.
Once they have dried out, it should be easy to open by hand or by gently crushing them to extract the seeds.
Fruits and berries
With soft fruits and berries, such as holly, blackberries and apples, you can extract the seeds by mashing them into a sieve and rinsing away the pulp, leaving the seeds behind.
These should then be allowed to dry out for a few days on a paper towel.
Nuts and fruits
Nuts, fruits and most other types of seed, such as damsons, conkers and chestnuts, that come from trees can be collected when they fall naturally, or picked from the tree when ripe.
One of the best ways to do this is by laying a sheet beneath the tree and shake to cause any loose nuts or fruits to drop onto the sheet, where they can be easily collected.
Storing the seeds you have gathered is the next most important step. Seed storage needs to be carried out with care, so that the seeds are safe and will be protected until they are ready to be used.
Seed banks have been established around the world to conserve the different plant species that exist on Earth. The largest seed bank is the Millienium Seed Bank in West Sussex, which holds a staggering 300 million different seeds and plant species.
Another seed bank is the Svalbard Seed Vault on a remote island in Norway. The vault was constructed deep into a sandstone mountain and reinforced with concrete in order to survive earthquakes, storms and bombings. It has a storage capacity of 4.5 million samples and was designed to retain seed samples in the event of a global crisis.
Fortunately, you don’t need a secret underground bunker to successfully store seeds in your own home. For most seeds, all you need to do is place them in a labelled paper packet, envelope or airtight container.
Some seeds, like magnolias, walnuts and oaks, cannot be allowed to dry out or they will not be able to germinate. These seeds must be stored in a sealed bag of moist sand or vermiculite. Other seeds, like hellebore, will need to be sown immediately.
Seeds can be stored in cool, dry locations, such as a refrigerator or dark cupboard.
For more on how to get involved or about the different seeds that can be collected, visit the Tree Council website. For more information about gathering and storing seeds, see the RHS article on collecting and storing seeds.
Good luck and happy gathering!
David Domoney is a Chartered Horticulturalist, Broadcaster, and Author. David has worked with a number of the UK’s leading garden retailers as a plant buyer and strategic consultant. With more than 30 years experience, in horticulture, David is as passionate about plants now as he was when he bought his first plant at a village fete.
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