Building a Stronger Coast — One Seed at a Time

Seeds of Success Interns at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

Seeds of Success, a native seed collection program led by the Bureau of Land Management, is helping to restore and strengthen coastal areas vulnerable to intense storms and sea-level rise predicted with a changing climate.

Seeds of Success: Bureau of Land Management Intern in North Carolina Field

Seeds of Success: A Bureau of Land Management intern on the lookout for native seeds in a North Carolina field. Credit: Amanda Faucette, Conservation Botanist, North Carolina Botanical Garden

Seeds of Success (SOS) collects wildland native seed for research, development, germplasm conservation and ecosystem restoration. The ultimate goal is to ensure the availability of genetically rich, regionally adapted native plant materials to restore, rehabilitate and stabilize lands in the United States through the multi-stage process of native plant material development (NPMD).  NPMD begins with these wildland seed collections being utilized for plant production and seed increases.  In this way, when environmental restoration projects need native species to plant in a given region, they are able to source genetically and ecologically appropriate materials, which ultimately supports the goal of allowing native plant communities to flourish and fish and wildlife habitats to thrive.

Seeds of Success: Michael Piantedosi

Michael Piantedosi, NEPCop/Seed Bank Coordinator of New England Wild Flower Society collects Asclepias syriaca at Great Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Newington, New Hampshire. Credit: James Lucas, Seeds of Success Intern, New England Wild Flower Society

Since being established in 2001, SOS has added more than two dozen agencies to its list of collaborators and project partners — including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The program recently launched the first large-scale, coordinated seed banking effort in the eastern United States as part of the $360 million in federal Hurricane Sandy mitigation funding the Department of the Interior is using to restore and rebuild national parks, national wildlife refuges, and other federal assets on the Atlantic coast. SOS East targets 30-50 foundation species found in habitats most impacted by Hurricane Sandy, designed to increase the capacity of coastal habitats and infrastructure to better withstand storms.

Under the SOS East program, the New England Wild Flower Society, North Carolina Botanical Garden, Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (part of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation), Chicago Botanic Garden, and the Cape May Plant Materials Center, are collaborating to provide seed from native, locally adapted plants for restoration of sub-tidal habitats and dunes, wetlands, salt marshes, near-coastal freshwater habits, coastal forests, and inland rivers and streams. Much of the vegetation in these habitats was inundated by salt water, smothered sand, or washed out to sea during Hurricane Sandy.

Bureau of Land Management Intern collecting Pluchea odorata (Sweetscent) at Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Galloway, NJ

BLM Intern collecting Pluchea odorata (Sweetscent) at Edwin Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, Galloway, New Jersey. Credit: Clara Holmes, Seed Collection Coordinator, Mid Atlantic Regional Seed Bank

During the next two years, SOS East will work directly with the Service, providing native seeds to supplement Hurricane Sandy habitat resiliency projects.  In its first collection season, teams have made over 700 wild seed collections. Currently 28 federally funded Service Hurricane Sandy restoration projects from Maine to Virginia are using native plant materials gathered through SOS. Among these is the Hyde Pond Dam Removal on Whitford Brook in Mystic, Connecticut.

“Following dam removal, project partners will sow these seeds collected from local, native plants on bare soil to help hold the soils in place, preempt colonization by invasive, non-native plants, and provide habitat for pollinator insects, birds, and other wildlife,” says Service fish and wildlife biologist Lori Benoit.

Benoit says the New England Wild Flower Society will make a significant contribution to restoring the wetlands and forest surrounding the Hyde Pond Dam site.

Another Service project reaping the benefits of the SOS East project is salt marsh restoration and enhancement at Seatuck and Wertheim National Wildlife Refuges, and Lido Beach Wildlife Management Area in Long Island, N.Y. Collaborating with the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (MARSB), project partners will sow native low and high salt marsh plant species.

Seeds of Success Interns at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

Seeds of Success interns harvesting marsh grass seeds at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware. Credit: Susan Guiteras/USFWS

In addition to benefiting coastal natural resources, SOS partners provide opportunities for recent college graduates to get involved in the program by hiring interns, through Chicago Botanic Garden’s Conservation Land Management Program, to help out with seed collection. These interns get the opportunity to venture out into the field in search for seed, often accessing remote coastal areas. A team of SOS interns in Delaware spent time collecting native seeds for many plants, including those that will be planted at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge as part of tidal marsh restoration. This is one example of intern participation in an SOS partner project, collecting native seeds that will help to ensure that the restoration plantings include local ecotypes, which can be important for plant survival and success.

“Using locally-collected seeds will give the new plants the best chance for success, as they will be well-adapted for local growing conditions,” says Bart Wilson, the Service’s marsh restoration coordinator at Prime Hook.

To date, SOS has accumulated more than 16,000 native seed collections in its national collection. Each seed has played its own role in bringing native species back to life in areas where their populations have been depleted. Acting as thousands of little building blocks, these seeds and the people who collect, distribute, and nourish them into living species are working together to impact ecosystems effected by Sandy as well as habitats all over the country.

To learn more about this program, visit:
Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank

Bureau of Land Management Seeds of Success Program 

New England Wild Flower Society: Seed Collection for Coastal Restoration Projects after Hurricane Sandy

North Carolina Botanical Garden news release: Seeds of Success Grow in the Eastern U.S. (pdf)

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