What’s in a Seed?

What’s in a seed? Endosperm. Embryo. Cotyledon. Radicle. Etcetera… The mysterious potential for new life. As our seed collection season slows in Santa Fe, I ponder our intimate connection to the vital rhythms of the natural world. Of course we are all intimately connected to the natural world in one way or another, but handling so many seeds has uniquely intensified my connection to the natural world. My appreciation for and understanding of seeds has grown tremendously. Beyond this appreciation and understanding, I have been forced to question our role in relation to the potential life embedded in the small seeds we handle each day.

Upon explaining the work and vision of Seeds of Success and related plant conservation strategies to a local ecologist, I was inundated with thought provoking questions. What does “local” mean and how does our potential misunderstanding of “local” impact the notion of local adaptation? Can we deny the relativity and subjectivity of this notion? What chance is there that “weed seeds” will get into desired seed? What is a “weed” in our changing world? Are there potential hazards that we may be introducing in our attempts to conserve or restore the environment? Are we a help or a hinderance in our conservation attempts? On a more spiritual level, what are the implications of removing native seeds from their natural habitats? Does the notion of belonging transcend ecology? Where does our instinct to interfere come from? How do we approach environmental conservation properly; is there a proper way to conserve? How can we make informed, adaptive conservation decisions when each ecosystem we are approaching is wholly unique; how can we come to conclusions when truly understanding a place takes decades of deep ecological integration.

These questions have been running through my mind, like a cascading waterfall that I am perpetually coming up against. I am working for what I believe in, while constantly questioning the roots of these beliefs. Through careful attention and criticism even my most deep-rooted beliefs become dynamic and take on an aura of complexity. I encourage all of us to engage in conversations around these issues to understand our perspectives related to the work we do, and the potential implications of those perspectives.

Delicacy and Majesty


The night air is cool in the desert. Leaves rustle, the sky darkens, and thunder rumbles quietly in the distance as this evening’s storm gathers. The field season has continued to progress well, presenting inevitable challenges and unexpected delights along the way. Countless conservationists have crossed our paths, each leaving a significant impact on my ecological outlook. Everyday experiences with this landscape have been similarly impactful. Recently I encountered my first endangered species, Ipomopsis sancti-spiritus (holy ghost ipomopsis), in the Pecos National Forest. I appreciate the balance of the inexplicable delicacy of this endangered species with the incredible majesty of the night sky in the wilderness. Weekend adventures intensify my connection to this landscape- climbing through slot canyons, trudging through gloriously lit sand dunes, and exploring the hidden mysteries of ancient cave dwellings. I am looking forward to seeing what the fall brings!

work camping

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Ella Samuel

Santa Fe, NM BLM

Adjusting to the Desert

Pressing SpecimensHello from Santa Fe! This past month has been challenging but also very insightful. Our crew’s many adventures have ranged across diverse terrain in the Southwest. We have had the pleasure of scouting, collecting, and camping in the Santa Fe National Forest, Cibola National Forest, Carson National Forest, and countless other places. As we become more familiar with New Mexico, we also become more comfortable with its flora. It is exciting to be able to start recognizing and appreciating each of the species that seemed so foreign just a month ago. This place still feels indisputably unfamiliar but recognizing the small things makes it feel more like home. Laura and I set up a vegetable garden in our backyard a couple weeks ago, which was a satisfying way to secure some roots. In addition to learning the plants and protocols here, we are opening our eyes to different reptiles and insects that cross our paths in the field. We are applying different lenses to the surrounding landscape to better understand this place. The other day I learned that bees have separate sets of eyes for perceiving light and color and that only female bees collect pollen and have the ability to sting. The monsoons are finally upon us and I am excited to see which new plants will emerge!El MalpaisElla Samuel

Santa Fe, NM

Igneous to Sedimentary

Almost a month ago I began my journey from the coast of Maine to my new home, Santa Fe, New Mexico, leaving behind the pink granite mountains I had come to know so well and moving towards the mysterious, warm hues of sedimentary mesas. My last hike in Acadia National Park, where I worked this spring, was on Sargent Mountain, one of my favorite places in the park and a mountaintop home to snowy owls in the winter and smooth green snakes in the warmer months. As I ascended Acadia’s mountains, the granite would scrape my palms, whereas the sandstone of the desert crumbles in my hands, leaving behind a rusty red dust.
Sargent Mountain, Bar Harbor, Maine
I spent my first week of work at the CLM workshop in Chicago and have subsequently been exploring the southwest. Our first week of work here included training and getting to know our new crew. Our crew headed to the Valles Caldera National Preserve for botanical training with southwest botanist, Steve Buckley. At Valles we saw coyotes running through grasslands following elk herds, prairie dogs on the alert, short horned lizards, and countless new and exciting native plants. On our way to and from Valles we encountered dramatic, expansive, red landscapes.
Sandstone Adventures II
Sandstone adventures during work
Botany training trip at the Valles Caldera National Preserve
Our first week of work also included our first couple of collections: baby aster and squirrel tail. The seeds of each species felt uniquely singular in my hands.
Baby Aster: first collection
This week we met with a few other BLM botanists and restoration ecologists and did some collecting and scouting. We worked in several different areas including the Perea Nature Trail, La Cieneguilla Petroglyphs, and the Santa Fe National Forest. Each place presented new and exciting learning opportunities due to my unfamiliarity with the ecology of this place. New Mexico also has very rich cultural and artistic undertones. Petroglyphs, murals, and art museums present opportunities to perceive New Mexico through the eyes of other artists, I am feeling inspired!
Petroglyphs at La Cieneguilla
Echinocereus triglochidiatus: one of my new plant friends in New Mexico.
This beautiful claret cup cactus, Echinocereus triglochidiatus, is one of my new favorite plants here in New Mexico.

That’s all for now.
Ella Samuel
BLM, Santa Fe, NM