Since most of the plants growing around the Gowanus Canal are invasive exotics, one of our Conservancy projects for environmental health is repopulating the canal area with native species.  We’ve started gathering our own collection of native seeds to plant, so we decided to take a field trip to Staten Island and learn more about it from the pros!

Heather Liljengren and Judith Van Bers led our seed collecting tour–they manage the seed collection at the Greenbelt Native Plant Center in Staten Island.  Heather will also be speaking at our upcoming Urban Ecology lecture on October 17.

We started our tour at the beautiful Conference House Park at the southern tip of Staten Island.

We learned about identifying different species of plants native to the New York metro area, including gorgeous giant sunflowers and purple lovegrass.

Once we collected seeds, we headed back to the lab at the Greenbelt Center.  Collected seeds, like seeds in the wild, need to go through several processing stages before they can grow into new plants.  First, the seeds need to be dried out.  Some species cure well laid out on newspaper or a tarp.

Other species, like milkweed, are slower to dry… so a screened box with air flow on all sides is a useful contraption to have on hand.

Once the seeds are cured, we need to separate the seeds from the “chaff” (seed casings).

If you’re doing a whole lot of seed collection, one of these heavy-duty seed cleaning machines might come in handy!

After being cured and cleaned, seeds go into the cold stratification chamber–this chamber is the seed lab’s version of a cold winter, when a seed usually lies dormant.  Seeds need this period to prepare for spring growth.

Once the seeds leave the cold chamber, they’re packed up and stored until it’s time for planting!

Our seed collection field trip was a great learning experience, and we’re excited to try out some techniques on a small scale right here in Gowanus! If you’re interested in learning more about seed planting, join us at the Salt Lot (2 Second Ave) this Sunday, October 14, where we’ll be cultivating native seeds.  And don’t forget, Heather Liljengren will be speaking more about native plants at the BuildItGreen! Gowanus Warehouse on October 17 as part of our Urban Ecology Lecture series.