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Native seed program moves forward

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Thursday, October 04, 2018 2018 - Thursday, October 04, 2018 Storyline - Thursday, October 04, 2018

The Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC) has embarked on an exciting project that aims to provide locally-sourced native seed for large-scale ecological restoration and conservation throughout the state.

The Arkansas Native Seed Program, a partnership between the ANHC and the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Arkansas Department of Transportation, Audubon Arkansas, The Nature Conservancy, Ozark Ecological Restoration, Inc., the Illinois River Watershed Partnership, and Beaver Watershed Alliance, strives to fill a critical need for locally-sourced native seed that is currently not being met by developing a native seed industry in Arkansas.

The program took an important step toward filling this need last month with the hiring of a coordinator who will organize efforts of the partners and write a plan that will provide a strategy and structure for guiding this program into the future. This position is supported through a grant from the AGFC with additional funds provided by the ANHC.

 

Why is it important to use locally-sourced native plants for habitat restoration? Native plants are the backbone of healthy ecosystems, providing beneficial food and habitat for wildlife, some of which have declined due to habitat loss. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus), for example, require nectar from native plants to sustain them during their arduous migration across North America, and native milkweed (Asclepias spp.) plants to provide nurseries for their growing young. Native plants provide shelter and food for birds, such as the northern bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), another species that has experienced a sharp population decline in recent years. Additionally, locally-sourced natives are more successful and require fewer extra resources such as fertilizer and supplemental water than non-natives, as they are well-adapted to the environmental conditions found in our region.

The Arkansas Native Seed Program is statewide in scope and will require coordinated collaboration and research to be successful. Using the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration as a guide, this program engages a network of volunteers to collect native seed in each ecoregion of the state, farmers to grow the seed, nurseries and storage facilities to make the seed available on a large scale, and ecologists who know how, where, and when to use the seed for restoration projects. Following the BLM’s motto, the Arkansas Native Seed Program will provide “the right seed in the right place at the right time.”

(Photos, top: A field of prairie blazingstar growing at a farm in eastern Arkansas. The seed used to grow these plants was collected from native populations in the same ecoregion of the state. Photo credit: Audubon Arkansas; middle: A common eastern bumblebee foraging on purple coneflower. Native plants provide nectar and pollen for pollinators and seeds for birds and mammals. Photo credit: Eric Hunt, Arkansas Native Plant Society; bottom: Butterfly milkweed, a host plant for monarch caterpillars and a nectar source for many other insects. Photo credit: Eric Hunt, Arkansas Native Plant Society.)