Growing Native Has Grown!

by Jim McGlone, Urban Forest Conservationist, Virginia Department of Forestry

(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District)

When growing native wildflowers it is said first they sleep, then they creep, then they leap. This refers to their habit of spending the first few years growing roots before they grow shoots. The Growing Native program has followed this pattern of growth as well.

Growing Native is a program of the Potomac Conservancy. The main purpose of Growing Native is to engage volunteer effort to collect tree seeds for state nurseries and others to grow into new trees—trees that will improve and protect water quality in the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay.

Growing Native started in 2001 and collected about 26,000 pounds of seed in the first two years throughout the Potomac River watershed. By 2006, the collection had almost doubled—to 23,000 pounds per year.

Two children show off acorns they've collected for Growing NativeIn Fairfax County, seed collection during the first few years was in the hundreds of pounds. In 2006, volunteers collected 1,000 pounds of seed; the program, like wildflowers, was beginning to creep. In 2007, seed collection leaped to over 5,000 pounds, which will translate into nearly 400,000 trees.

Originally, all seeds collected by the Growing Native program were transferred to the Virginia and Maryland State nurseries, but in recent years schools and other cooperators have received seed to grow and plant locally.

Group poses in front of a Growing Native drop-off kioskGrowing Native is a fun group conservation project, and now is the time to start planning for your participation next year. Go to the program web site to find out which species’ seeds are being collected, and start scouting for seed trees. Growing Native requires that each collection bag contains only one type of seed, so the best seed trees grow in the open by themselves where the seeds won’t get mixed. If you don’t own the tree, you will have to get permission from the owner to collect the seed even on public land. Do not collect in National Parks or natural areas.

Be careful about the bags you use to store your seed. Tree seeds have water in them and they sweat. If they are sealed in plastic bags, the seeds will get wet and mold and be ruined. Even plastic grocery bags can ruin seeds. Growing Native provides bags at its drop-off stations, but sometimes you must improvise. The best bags are the open weave bags that onions and potatoes come in or burlap. If you plan on using your own bags, start saving them now so you’ll have plenty when you start collecting seeds.

For more information about Growing Native, the value of trees in the environment or ideas for service projects, visit the program web site or contact your local Virginia Department of Forestry office. In Fairfax and Arlington, call Jim McGlone at 703-324-1489, TTY 711.

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