Finally, a much-needed seed recommendation selection tool has been published by the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute (CKWRI) at Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK).
This seed selection tool represents more than 20 years of native plant and native seed research from the statewide collaborative effort, the Texas Native Seeds Project (TNS). TNS has shifted the plant materials development model away from cultivars to a germplasm. For many reasons, creating a germplasm release is efficient, economical, and shows greater utility than cultivars, which can take up to a decade or longer to place on the market.
TNS is the only statewide, non-federal native plant materials research program in Texas that has the support of landowners, the commercial seed trade, and various state land management agencies, including Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). The recommendations in the native seed selection tool represent the best seed currently commercially available to consumers in the state. Additionally, new germaplasm releases have replaced some of the older cultivar varieties on the recommendations for each country, representing a vast improvement in seed to site placement compared to past recommendations.
Zoom to your respective county, click, wait for the pop-up, and from there you will select either sandy or clay soil as appropriate for the ecological region in which your site is located.
A new natural gas pipeline, the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, is being built across Far West Texas. This pipeline will deliver much-needed natural gas to the community of Presidio, TX (they’ve long used propane and other less clean-burning fuels), and will continue as a transnational pipeline into the United Mexican States.
Many landowners are worried about landscape damages after construction has finished. Although the pipeline cannot be ignored (the world runs on gas and petroleum for the foreseeable future), the best way to mitigate post-construction damages is to NOT plant exotic grasses like Lehmann’s Lovegrass, Weeping Lovegrass or Buffelgrass.
The seed for those invasive species may be cheap, but cheap seed always creates multiple problems decades after re-seeding; not the least of which are damages to wildlife habitat and native plant communities, and further spread and permanent establishment of invasive species. High quality, certified native seed may cost more per pound than exotic species, but those comparisons are moot, and the resulting plantings created by certified native seed will be better and management problems will be significantly less daunting down the road.
The commercial seed market in Texas has undergone major changes over the past decade, and currently offers plenty of native seed options (with more in the future) for landowners in Far West Texas to utilize to protect their land and wildlife habitat during re-seeding activities.
Before purchasing seed, it is helpful to beware of native seed sources that are listed as”Native” or “Native ecotype” or “Local ecotype” (as part of the varietal designation), or even promoted as “wild harvests” that are not source-identified per state agriculture regulations. These sources of seed pose cleanliness concerns (weed seed contamination), as well as unproven plant performance and unproven restoration uses.
Additionally, “Native” and “Local ecotype” are not legally recognized varieties. In fact, many native seed cultivars (i.e. ‘Haskell’ Sideoats Grama, ‘Lovington’ Blue Grama, ‘Kaw’ Big Bluestem, etc.) are bought and repackaged by some seed dealers and commonly sold as part of native “wild harvests”. While such a practice is deceptive, it goes to show how much more reliable commercial cultivars are.
After the photo set below, is a list of what should be planted in Far West Texas. These recommendations are based on seed varieties which have been tested for use by the South Texas Natives and Texas Native Seeds Projects at multiple sites across Texas in common garden studies. These germplasms are currently the best options on the market for landowners to use. There are no substitutes (except as noted).
Be firm about what you want and don’t want to plant — it’s your land!
The following photos illustrate important points with regards to native plant seeds.
Above: A pipeline right-of-way re-seeded with two different seed mixes: An appropriate certified native seed mix (from South Texas Natives) on the left; an inappropriate seed mix on the right. Note the greater plant coverage on the left with the use of named varieties of certified native seed.
The use of inappropriate seed mixes, wastes seed, money and time, and only serves as encouragement for exotic species infiltration and establishment due to weak perennial gaps in the planting.
Above: A comparison of two Blue Grama populations in a common garden study in Far West Texas. “VNS” (variety not specified) on the left, “Hachita” Blue Grama on the right. The difference in plant performance is proof of concept of why it is risky to purchase VNS (or even “wild harvest”) seed for use in re-seeding hyperdegraded sites like pipeline right-of-ways. Commercial cultivars and selected native germplasms have been developed since the post-Dust Bowl years for the native seed industry for this very reason.
Important points to remember when planning for re-seeding and purchasing native seed
Purchase named varieties only
Do not buy “Variety Not Specified” (VNS) or “wild harvest” seed types
Beware of seed listed as “Native” or “Local ecotype” as a varietal designation
ALWAYS purchase seed on a Pure Live Seed (PLS) basis, not a “bulk pound”
Finally, remember the basic rule of seed mixes: the more species, the better the planting. Don’t settle for a three or 5 species mix!
OK Select Germplasm little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). A multi-population, selected native germplasm (non-cultivar) release from Knox City Plant Materials Center (Knox City, TX). This germplasm is appropriate for use in rangeland re-seeding, prairie restoration, backyard “pocket prairies”, and roadside re-vegetation work.
The original seed collection was made from native populations in Caddo, Grady, Stephens, and Washita Counties in southwestern Oklahoma, giving the release a broad genetic base. One visible expression in commercial germplasms that are comprised of broad genetic bases is the variation in height between plants, as can be seen in the photo below of OK Select. Multi-population germplasms generally outperform germplasms with origins from a single population or even a single plant. During the evaluation period of the populations that now comprise OK Select, no breeding or rigorous selections were made, other than selections (choosing of populations) for plant performance values. More information can be read in the release document, available here: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/…/FS…/publications/txpmcrb11370.pdf
This germplasm is currently on TxDOT’s seeding specifications list for about 30% of its work areas, as it is currently the only commercial germplasm available on the market that is suitably adapted to the aforementioned region, and has shown far better planting performance and persistence than other little bluestem germplasms used in the past; especially those listed as “VNS” and “wild harvest”, or with genetic origins too far from planting sites (i.e. “Aldous”). “VNS” and “wild harvest” germplasms have shown little promise for large-scale restoration plantings or roadside re-seeding work in Texas. Such seed types generally accelerate planting failure within 2 years by creating weak population gaps in which exotics are able to infiltrate and gain footholds.
This release performs well in the North Central Texas area, broadly delineated as along and west of US Hwy. 81, along and north of US Hwy. 180, along and east of TX State Hwy. 70, and along and south of I-40, as well as the Southwestern Oklahoma counties previously listed (see map below).
Other little bluestem germplasms are currently being evaluated against OK Select for use in North Central and Central (Hill Country) Texas by the Texas Native Seeds project of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute. A future little bluestem release with genetics from within the state of Texas is forthcoming, pending final evaluations.
Per the Native Seed Network (nativeseednetwork.org), OK Select is currently being grown by Bamert Seed Company.
Help create increased demand for ‘OK Select’ by requesting this germplasm at the above-mentioned seed dealer or your favorite seed dealer!
In the summer of this year, Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea stoebe), for the first time ever, has become the latest exotic member of the flora of Texas. Its seeds arrived as a contaminant of a wild harvest originating in the Central or Northern Great Plains, which was purchased by a Texas-based seed dealer. This introduction has many negative ecological implications for the state as a whole, and highlights the many risks and flaws that are inherent and eternal to the wild harvest model (WHM). The initial discovery was made at the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge in Travis County.
Because almost all of the native prairies in Texas have been plowed up and converted to “improved” pastures full of exotic species (species that are noxious weeds, regardless of legal listings), and all remnant (unplowed) prairies have been invaded by exotic plant species, some seed dealers elect to supplement their seed stocks by purchasing bulk “wild harvests” from northern seed growers. This is done in addition to harvesting their own locally grown seed stocks. However, those wild harvests are within the distribution ranges of many northern exotic species like Spotted Knapweed (C. stoebe), Dame’s Rocket (Hesperis matronalis), and Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis), and once exotic seed is in the harvest mix there is no getting it all out. A handful of exotic seed is all it takes to start an invasion. This is but one example of many why the WHM has no future in Texas. That model carries too much ecological risk, namely in facilitating exotic plant invasions via non-certified seed. Unfortunately, there are companies who do wild harvests in Texas and sell that seed, which carries equal risk of noxious weed seed contamination, especially the exotic grasses KR Bluestem, Johnsongrass, and Buffelgrass.
Grassland restoration in Texas is largely implemented using the select native germplasm model (SNG), first used by the Soil Conservation Service in 1935, now the NRCS Plant Materials Program. The SNG model is being further developed and used with great success by South Texas Natives and Texas Native Seeds (Central and West Texas), modeled after the highly successful Iowa Ecotype Project (now the Natural Selections Program) at the Tallgrass Prairie Center of the University of Northern Iowa. South Texas Natives (STN), a part of Texas Native Seeds (TNS), is a partnership led by the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute (CKWRI) of Texas A&M-Kingsville, working on developing certified ecotypic native seed sources, and advancing restoration research and implementation. Texas Native Seeds operates their research and development in South, West, and Central Texas at this time. Certified native seed is the fundamental aspect of their initiative and model.
With their model, STN has ensured seed for restoration through 25 ecotypically-appropriate plant releases. Presently, certified seed to re-seed about 30,000 acres annually is available to restoration consumers through cooperating commercial seed companies. Aside from the fact that such seeds are a far better choice simply because of certification standards and a very high quality of cleanliness and germination, the wild harvest model will never match that capacity year in and year out. Nature and land fragmentation work against the WHM — drought and lack of quality harvest sites being the major limiting factors — forcing WHM companies to supplement seed stocks with commercial varieties of native seed.
A major economical positive of the SNG model is the lower price point for consumers and a higher profit margin for the producers. More seed per species per acre can be grown using selected germplasms than can be harvested using the WHM. Non-selected germplasms (considered maladapted ecotypes until proven otherwise) generally have a much lower germination rate than selected germplasms, which have consistently higher germination rates and higher genetic purity — which can be readily maintained for best ecotypic use — than the wild harvested seeds, whose genetic purity cannot be maintained (or even known), simply as a fundamental flaw of the WHM. Often, wild harvested seeds are of lower genetic diversity than SNG seeds because most wild harvests in Texas come from a few small, locally isolated stands. By contrast, most SNG seeds are comprised of multiple populations (multiple genetics), with the hope of making the seed products adaptable across a larger region and across multiple soil types.
On the issues of the inherent and eternal flaws of the WHM, some might ask, “Why care about which model contains the most or least flaws? What does it matter?” It matters because we have Spotted Knapweed in Texas. Spotted Knapweed has never been in the state before and now it is because of the high risk of seed contamination associated with the WHM. The list below highlights many of the major faults inherent and eternal to the WHM.
The Inherent Faults and Eternal Flaws of the Wild Harvest Model
Seed production is highly variable. Some years the production and quality are the mother-lode; other years it’s a bust. Such inconsistent seed production and quality makes wild harvests unpredictable and costly, leading many wild harvest-based companies to supplement their seed stocks with commercial germplasms during years of lean seed production in “wild” stands. Consequently then, lack of supply also leads to use of exotic grasses in mandated seedings.
Origin(s) of WHM seeds are often unstated. While some companies may tell you the origins of the harvest or the seed lots, many will not. Beware of those who refuse to give out that critical information. You, as a consumer, have a right to know where the seed originated from!
Wild harvested seed is often 2-3 times more expensive than select native germplasm seed. As a straight comparison, based upon pure live seed (which is unstated for wild harvested seed), certified SNG seeds may cost as little as 1/10th the price of wild harvested seed. Your dollar goes further and covers more acreage using the SNG model.
Because the wild harvest model is limited to sites that are large enough to make it cost effective for the use of combines and labor, so too are the genetics within each site limited.
The issue of exotic species contamination is huge with the wild harvest model. The Spotted Knapweed fiasco illustrates this very clearly: because of the many inherent holes in the WHM, we have Spotted Knapweed in Texas today!
The vigor of plants in the populations from which the seeds are harvested is unknown. Plant vigor and performance is critical to restoration success and competitive ability amongst the many exotic species in the state.
Areas of adaptation of wild harvested seed is not known. They are untested and unproven in many areas. Local-only purists are often against evaluation of plant adaptations and performances because they believe that scientific aspect somehow doesn’t fit in with their narrowly-focused narrative of “true” prairie restoration. Evaluations prove potential restoration success on a species by species basis, and certification proves origin. In most SNG seed sources, great care is taken to not alter the original genetic makeup of wild populations.
Following the last point, many of the criticisms placed upon the SNG model by the local-only crowd (inappropriate genetics, potential for genetic swamping, creates larger seeds, current prairie genetics cannot be improved upon, etc.) ignore the fact that severely degraded sites require much more intervention in order to implement the restoration of the plant community that existed prior to the degradation. Simply harvesting seeds with a combine in a “wild” prairie and then scattering them on hyper-degraded sites sets up ecological bankruptcy, wasting time, money, and hard effort. Restoration today is not as simple as broadcasting unproven seed onto the ground; it requires dedicated research of extensive available literature, replicated evaluations at multiple sites, and further testing in demonstration plantings. Jones (2013a) expounds upon this when he writes, “While these arguments [that local is best] have considerable merit, they may be less applicable for seriously degraded lands. The best management practices for sustaining mostly pristine lands may differ from those for restoring novel ecosystems. This is particularly noteworthy because such ecosystems are expanding at the expense of pristine landscapes worldwide.”
When it comes to persistence amongst exotic species, SNG seeds have the upper hand in germination-competitive abilities over the unknown track record of wild harvested seed. As stated by Jones (2013b), “a failure to recognize the importance of augmented genetic variation in restoration plant materials demonstrates a lack of confidence in the reality and utility of natural selection”. Furthermore, Jones (2013b) states, “one cannot continue to rely solely on local genotypes [simply] because they are local and theoretically best adapted if experience demonstrates otherwise.”
High quality, clean seed is the key to restoration. No matter how carefully the seedbed preparation and planting is done, using wild, maladapted seed sources will usually lead to planting failure. Often, those who experience failure when using questionable seed sources do not try again with native species but instead use exotic species, which further perpetuates many of the problems grassland ecologists are dealing with. Certified native seed of selected native germplasms is the only way to go in helping to maintain native plant communities against exotic species increases and implement successful restoration plantings.
In summary, if the seed you are looking to purchase isn’t certified native seed as regimented under a state agricultural program, if no origin information is given or the seed grower won’t or “can’t” tell you the origin (listing county of origin does not in any way give up a collection source), if it’s not sold on a Pure Live Seed (PLS) basis and only on a bulk pound basis with no germination rate(s) given, then it’s a crapshoot and is anyone’s guess as to what really germinates in a planting.
And thanks to the many holes within the wild harvest model, we now have Spotted Knapweed in Texas. The use of certified seed could have prevented this!
If you have purchased non-certified native seed from a Texas-based seed dealer at any time in the last two years, you are at risk for having Spotted Knapweed in your planting(s). Many ecologists expect Spotted Knapweed to show up outside of Travis County, especially along roadsides and in private plantings where its population increases are expected to be highest, simply because private landowners are less strict in their monitoring.
Jones, T.A. 2013a. When local isn’t best. Evolutionary Applications. 6:1109-1118.