Crow’s Nest: Seed collection partnership with Mt. Cuba Center

December 7, 2023

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

Dr. Élan Alford from Mt. Cuba Center in a field of goldenrod at Crow's Nest Preserve.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

We spent a couple days in the field at Crow’s Nest participating in a seed collecting partnership with staff from the Mt. Cuba Center. Located in Hockessin, Delaware, Mt. Cuba Center is a botanic garden committed to the conservation of native plants and their habitats, and they approached Natural Lands about collecting some seed of a native species they would like to promote: Solidago gigantea, otherwise known as giant goldenrod. It’s not particularly giant, but it is distinct from the much more common Canada goldenrod found in many meadows. Staff at Mt. Cuba Center would like to use the species in a planting a meadow on their lands, and they would like to see it enter the nursery trade so others can plant it.

Élan Alford, PhD heads up the project and contacted Natural Lands early this year. Above, she gathers Solidago gigantea in a meadow at Crow’s Nest. Mt. Cuba Center and Natural Lands signed Memorandum of Understanding in 2016 to partner in the propagation of native, sometime rare, species found on Natural Lands preserves.

Crow's Nest and Mt. Cuba staff in a November meadow with paper bags of wildflower seed being collected.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

At Crow’s Nest Preserve we have a comprehensive botanical inventory prepared by consulting botanist Claudia Steckel, so it was easy to know where to look for giant goldenrod, even though it wasn’t a species that was particularly familiar to me. We spent a day in September scouting populations and determined that there were three meadows here that were good candidates for collecting seed.

We followed the Seeds of Success protocol, the national native seed collection program led by the Bureau of Land Management. The protocol ensures that existing native populations are protected, necessary data about the seed is gathered, and seed collections meet target restoration objectives. For us this meant that we collected less than 20% of the mature seed we found, and for Élan there was specific documentation to fill out and maintain. Above, our group collects inflorescences (the flowering stalks) of giant goldenrod and puts it in paper shopping bags.

Mt. Cuba Center will prepare the seed and accession it, just like a museum does, so that the plants that germinate from it can be tracked. Then it will be handed off to Pinelands Nursery in Columbus, New Jersey for growing. In a couple years these plants will make their way back to Mt. Cuba and elsewhere.

Below, the crew poses in a meadow with the task accomplished: L-R: Claire Zuidervliet – Conservation Propagator at Mt. Cuba Center, Steve Knezick – Field Manager for Pinelands Nursery, Cody Hudgens – Assistant Manager at Crow’s Nest Preserve, Devon Funt – Intern at Crow’s Nest Preserve, and Élan Alford – Plant Conservation Scientist at Mt. Cuba Center.

Crow's Nest and Mt. Cuba staff posing in a field.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

We are pleased to be a part of this partnership and grateful to be a steward of this resource.