The quest for two million seeds

My fellow interns and I have been living and working in Carson City for four months now — and though that may mean we are halfway through our internship, we are definitely not halfway through our seed collections! We started off the season with trainings, noxious weed mapping, rare plant surveying, and some outreach activities, but now it’s time to buckle down to reach the almost inconceivable goal of 100 SOS collections. So far, we’re only at fifteen!

Though we attempt to harvest at least 20,000 viable seeds from each population, that can equate to very different amounts of effort based on which species we’re collecting. It almost feels like cheating to collect grasses like Elymus elymoides or Poa secunda, for which we spend a mere hour or two pulling entire stalks and stuffing them in our paper bags. Even easier is Grayia spinosa, a shrub whose papery seeds fall off the plant and into the bag by the hundreds with the slightest nudge. Other species, like Pushia tridentata, test our patience, heat tolerance, and ability to keep track of our pencils as we tally up groups of 50 seeds that we pick one by one for hours on end. Yesterday, I made the mistake of trying to peel an orange after picking Purshia for several hours, and was compelled to spit out my first bite — it’s called bitterbrush for a reason.

So far, my favorite collection has been Cercocarpus ledifolius, a mountain mahogany. I’m familiar with other species of this genus, from college classes on the Mogollon Rim of Arizona, but I never anticipated finding a species that was so tall and treelike. They grow on steep slopes and hilltops in harsh soils, and as someone who grew up in the desert, I can’t help but favor the hardiest plants that grow in the most inhospitable places. I’ve always been fascinated by Cercocarpus fruits; their long, plumose awns make the entire plant look almost fuzzy from a distance. Little did I know those awns inflict an incredibly annoying itching sensation on exposed skin. You would never guess after picking just a few fruits, but the tickle of several thousand left us all squirming awkwardly in our seats on the car ride back to the office. This species also takes awhile to collect, but it is such an awesome plant that I don’t mind that or the itching. I think it is a great candidate for a restoration species and I hope our collections can be put to good use in the future!

We have been able to start collecting in new areas as the snow has melted, including the foothills of the Sierras. I love the open landscapes of the great basin, but there’s nothing like the rocky peaks and glassy hidden lakes of the Sierra Nevada. A six hour seed collection is nothing to complain about when it’s on the edge of a lake with bald eagles circling overhead, or halfway up a craggy mountain pass. Of course, every weekend entails more trips to Lake Tahoe (only 20 minutes away!), which is rimmed by those magical mountains. Weekly activities include mountain biking, birding, hiking, and swimming — hopefully soon to be accompanied by outdoor bouldering, backpacking, and maybe even some paddleboarding!

After long uphill bike ride from Carson City up to the Tahoe Rim, I was rewarded with snowy peaks and lake views.

Frenchman Lake, nestled into the lower Sierras just an hour away from our house.

Britney, Carson City BLM

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