Processing seeds, processing thoughts

Our very first packet of processed seeds!

It finally snowed here in Marlinton, and all of the plant species on our list have officially gone to seed. We spent the past month driving north to collect from the tundra-esque Dolly Sods Wilderness and Spruce Knob, the highest points in the state. As we neared the end of October, our seed collection days shifted quickly from sunburnt, humid adventures to snowy and frigid races to the finish line. Last week at Dolly Sods, we alternated between collecting berries in sleet and jumping into the truck to blast heat on our wet-gloved hands. Collecting seed in cold weather at these higher elevations is an exhilarating experience and reminds me of late July in northern Alaska. The wind smells the same – of encroaching frost and decomposing leaves. There is overlap in foliage as well – caribou moss, stunted, leaning spruce trees and lots of lichen on bare rock. It’s quite amazing how the ecotone at high elevation bogs in West Virginia can bear resemblance to latitudes as far north as the tree line on the edge of the Arctic Circle.

Blending southern mountain cranberries before sifting out their tiny seeds

Between collection days, we clean our latest seedstock. It has been an honor to work with Morgan of Appalachian Headwaters, who has been teaching us proper technique for cleaning and storing specific seed types. We have been lucky enough to have access to the cleaning tools and facilities at Appalachian Headwaters, and we are ordering some more equipment for making the same use of our own miniature processing plant here in Marlinton.

I was surprised to find that seed cleaning is mostly intuitive and simply demands everyday resourcefulness. How do you remove cranberry seeds from all that berry pulp? Put electrical tape on the blades of an ordinary blender and chop it up, then filter it out through multiple sieves. How do you remove the outer layer of film from alternate-leafed dogwood? Rub it furiously on a screen and then pick it off with your nails. The whole process of cleaning is unexpectedly familiar, like working soil in a garden. With all that repeated movement, it’s easy to get in the zone and process your thoughts alongside the seeds as you pick seeds apart and wash away the pulp.

By the end of November, we will have finished up seed collection and will continue to process the seeds we’ve collected. Until next time!

Germination is Possible: an update from the JTGP CLM team

Happy late October from Southern Nevada. The JTGP team is basking in balmy fall weather here and working away in the USGS greenhouse, pampering our Joshua trees. You read right: pampering. Who would have thought these magnificent plants of the Mojave would be so fussy!

You see, it turns out that some of the seeds are quite particular and have decided to fight germination with stark determination. Tucking them into nice damp soil, regulating their day and night temperature in the greenhouse, and diligently watering them makes not a difference.

They simply weren’t having it.

But, little did they know, the same thing could be said for us: we were not having their complete lack of germination.

So, we decided to treat these most persnickety seeds like the royalty that they are: laying them out on a damp filter paper in a Petri dish and setting them in a temperature regulated growth chamber to imbibe in warm darkness. We visited them twice daily to alter the chambers day-time and night-time temperatures, gently cleaned them if mold popped up, kept each filter paper nice and damp, and crossed our fingers.

And what do you know-it was just what they preferred! In no time we had lots of happy germinates.

Petri dishes chock full and ready to roll 🙂

Now, every day more and more germinates appear in the Petri dishes and we scramble to transplant them into their respective plant bands (tall, bottomless cardboard ‘pots’ that allow the Joshua tree’s roots to grow long). And our success hasn’t stopped there. These Joshua trees are (finally) pleased enough to send up bright green hypocotyls and cotyledons. Up next are primary leaves and more, each plant growing as much as possible before its final transplant into the Common Garden sites at the end of the year!

And now we know: despite initial struggles, germination is indeed possible. So grow on Joshua trees, grow on.

This germinate was a crazy surprise-check out the TWO radicles emerging! When your dealing with 3,000 seeds your bound to see some interesting growth patterns.