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The seed process explained

We now know that 12.6 million hectares of the Australian landscape were burnt during the devastating Black Summer bushfires. The restoration task ahead is vast and so the need for native seed is equally great, and too much to achieve in a sustainable manner via small, localised seed hubs. There is a need for national native seed strategy.

An initial $5 million investment from the Federal Government will see Greening Australia lead the development of a strategic program, Project Phoenix, to secure native seed and plant supply for landscape restoration, recovery and resilience in bushfire impacted areas and other vulnerable landscapes.

But how does it all work?

Seed collection

How do you acquire the seed?

While the seed collection process is a cycle, a logical place to start is with the plant. Wild seed is collected from plants that produce flowers, when these plants blossom (with the benefit of pollination and under the right climactic conditions) we can collect the seed.

Seed collectors must wait until seed is fully formed and ripe before harvesting. If the seed is picked too early it may not have fully formed and will not germinate to produce new plants. Wait too long though and the seed may drop to the ground and not be collectible. Most species will only flower once a year, or once in multiple years!

Seedbanks

What do you do with the seed once it’s collected?

We take it to the seedbank. A native seedbank is where we store seed that has been collected for future use in restoration. They typically include temperature and sometimes humidity-controlled storage facilities and an associated database to record all the seed batches.

Labeling is crucial

In Australia, we have two main types of seedbanks; conservation and restoration. Conservation seedbanks are focused on rare and threatened species – some batches in these banks might consist of just a few grams of seed! These facilities are often located in Botanic gardens throughout the country and can store seed for decades under very controlled conditions.

The second type is a restoration seedbank which is typical of the types of seedbank managed by Greening Australia and other ecological restoration practitioners. Typically these facilities have a high number of species, larger seed-lots (measured in kg or larger) and stored for less time (1-15 years)

What’s a seed-lot? A batch of seed of the same species.

Seed sorting and storage process

What happens to the seed when it arrives at the seedbank?

Drying the seed

Initially we lay the seed out on a mat, this is to dry it out and also to allow insects that have been collected with the seed to move on. At this stage, maintaining labeling on batches is critical so that all the collected information stays with the seed-lot including species, date, collector, collection location, population size and number of individuals collected from.

Once the material is dried, any excess chaff (dry, protective casing of seeds) weed seed or non-target species is cleaned out of the batch to produce the best quality seed possible. Seed cleaning can be done at small scale using metal sieves and fans but at larger scale, specialised equipment is required. Once the seed is dried and cleaned, they are bagged and weighed, then labelled and recorded in the database with all the collection details.

Temperature controlled seed storage

Finally, the seedlots are stored in temperature controlled vermin proof storage facilities. Ideally, seed is also tested as it is added to the database. This may include germination, viability and or purity testing. This step provides quality assurance for the seedlot and is essential to ensure the best use of that collected seed.

Seed production areas

What if we can’t acquire the seed in the wild?

Seed production area – Sydney

Sometimes the seed is not available in the wild, or so little is available that collecting it would threaten the species’ survival. For instance, in some areas of Australia like Western Sydney, native vegetation has been significantly impacted by clearing and fragmentation. The areas that are left are called remnants and while these are the source of wild seed, collecting from an area that is already stressed will have further negative impacts – potentially pushing that species into extinction.

A seed production system takes very small amounts of seed from a range of local remnants, produces plants, grows them until they produce seed, the seed is harvested, and this final seed product is then available to go back into the landscape.

For more information about our Native Seed services or our bushfire recovery work, follow the links below.

Greening Australia's Native Seed Services

Read more about Project Phoenix