Sunny Saroa, Project Manager in the Plant Material Development program, helps facilitate the production of native plants and seeds for IRC’s restoration and enhancement projects by overseeing seed production at IRC’s Native Seed Farm, container plant production at our nurseries, coordinating wild seed collection, and maintaining an inventory of container plant and seed. Together, Sunny and the Plant Material Development team work to keep a robust inventory of native plants and seeds on hand at the Native Seed Farm to cultivate enough plant material to support major restoration projects. The Native Seed Farm currently has around 40 different plant species in production.
When embarking on a new project, IRC’s Restoration and Enhancement team puts together a list of plants they plan on using, then the Plant Material Development team reviews the current available inventory and determines what they need to produce to complete the project. The Plant Material Development team then locates naturally occurring populations of the plants, observes and documents their condition for future reference, and make plans to revisit the site later in the year to gather seed or other plant materials, like cuttings. Once the seeds are collected from the wild, they are cleaned, processed, and placed into inventory. The seeds are then sown, typically in November just before the first big rain event and begin growing in the cooler and wetter winter weather.
The plant bulking process varies depending on if the plants are annual or perennial. Our annual plants generally grow from winter to spring, set seed and die off, whereas our perennial plants grow again the following year. Annual plant seeds are collected, processed, and placed into inventory in our humidity and temperature-controlled refrigerated containers. These seeds will be grown again for two more generations at maximum to preserve genetic diversity and prevent the plants from adapting to farm conditions over time. Seed from perennial plants are collected, processed, and stored year after year, contributing a continuous supply of seed available for projects.
A great example of this process can be found in the long-term butterfly habitat enhancement project in Limestone Canyon. The Restoration and Enhancement team identified several plants that play host to butterfly larvae and caterpillars, like the Common Lacepod preferred by Sara Orangetip butterflies. They also identified plants that provide a nectar source for butterflies, like California buckwheat, pincushions, and golden yarrow. The Plant Materials Development team then collected seed from these plants on the Landmarks and bulked out the seed at the Native Seed Farm. The seed was then sown at the enhancement plots, which can be seen all along Limestone Canyon Road in OC Parks' Limestone Canyon.
The process of cultivating seeds is a year-round project that requires the support of several teams and community volunteers. To follow the butterfly habitat enhancement project and learn how to get involved at the Native Seed Farm, visit IRConservancy.org, LetsGoOutside.org or follow the Landmarks on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.