6 million seeds saved for the future

Wafer ash seeds.

Wafer ash seeds.

Development, habitat destruction and climate change place native plants and the food webs that depend on them in danger. Storing seeds is a way to conserve native plants for future generations.

The Wildflower Center served as the Texas representative in the Millennium Seed Bank, a global conservation project overseen by the UK’s Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. All told, two staff conservationists, 100-plus volunteers and botany colleagues collected and stored 6 million seeds of 600 native species that form the backbone of Texas landscapes. Center conservationists continue to work with state agencies, private landowners and others to set aside seeds for what could be hundreds of years as part of the national Seeds of Success project.

With 11 ecoregions and more than 268,000 square miles in the state, seed collecting in Texas is no small feat. An emphasis is placed on high-priority species for restoration projects, with seeds collected and processed for safekeeping at a national facility in Colorado and at the Center’s own seed bank. 

Current seed collecting efforts are focusing on Texas ash trees - threatened by the invasive emerald ash borer beetle - and Texas native milkweeds that are critical for monarch butterflies.

Helped save endangered native Texas plants

The endangered star cactus ( Astrophytum asterias ) is now known only from one population in Starr County, Texas..

The endangered star cactus (Astrophytum asterias) is now known only from one population in Starr County, Texas..

Texas has 5,000 native plant species, and each has evolved to play a particular role in its ecoregion. Some plants are important food for mammals and insects, while others are critical for hummingbirds and other migrators. These plants also play important roles in ecosystems - their roots hold soil during floods or they bring nitrogen into the soil.

Not only is the Wildflower Center conserving seeds as a way to save plants, it has also helped to save endangered Texas plants, such as Tobusch fishhook cactus, star cactus and Texas poppy-mallow.

In the case of the magenta mallow, conservation staff and colleagues traveled to Ballinger, Texas, in summer 2010 to work in 90-degree plus temperatures to rescue 54 plants before a construction project began. They dug up mallows in two dawn-to-dusk days from the deep sands these plants prefer, and brought them back to the Wildflower Center for safekeeping and study. After two years, Wildflower Center conservation staff reintroduced them to an experimental population in Colorado City.

Helped rejuvenate a unique forest with 300,000 "Lost Pines"

Loblolly pine seedlings growing at the Wildflower Center.

Loblolly pine seedlings growing at the Wildflower Center.

After a devastating 2011 wildfire in Bastrop, Texas, that burned 33,000-plus acres of loblolly pines, the Wildflower Center grew more than 300,000 of these trees for restoration efforts. As of 2015, those pines loblolly pine saplings have been planted on residential properties and at a Boy Scout camp in Bastrop County as part of major restoration projects continuing in the rare Lost Pines ecosystem..

This project used Lost Pines loblolly seed that had been stored for future purposes – a reminder of the need to plan for the unexpected when it comes to keeping native landscapes alive.