Native Plant Nurseries and River Partners – a Winning Team
(Above) Native plants being grown out at Sierra Horticulture Services.
The core of our business will always be riparian restoration using native plants. In our 16 years we have planted over one and a half million trees and shrubs, as well as several tons of native grass and forb seed. In 2014 alone, we planted over 65,000 native woody plants. To accomplish this impressive feat, we need great partnerships with native plant nurseries. These nurseries not only need to be able to deliver tens of thousands of plants on time and within specifications, but they also have to understand the genetic and watershed requirements of an organization whose work spans the entire state of California and beyond. We are lucky that we have developed long-standing relationships with native plant nurseries that help us achieve our goal of restoring habitat for the benefit of wildlife and people.
Since our inception, we have worked with Floral Native Nursery located in Chico. When we began work on the San Joaquin National Wildlife Refuge in the early 2000s, we expanded to Sierra Horticulture Services, located in Gridley, to help accommodate our increased needs. When we ventured into San Diego in the late 2000s, one of our first goals was to figure out which nursery could deliver high quality plants for our projects. We have now developed a partnership with RECON Native Plants, Inc. in San Diego, a nursery that has helped us restore over 200 acres using many plant species unique to the area. Together these three nurseries maintain a rolling stock of natives that sometime approaches 100,000 plants, so that we are ready to implement shovel-ready projects to meet our clients’ needs.
Part of what makes River Partners unique is our ability to successfully plan and implement large-scale restoration projects – an achievement that requires ready access to a high volume of native plants.
(Above) Native plants being grown out at Floral Native Nursery.
The native plant nursery business all starts with seed collection. Some seed is collected by River Partners’ hardworking biologists and field staff, and some by our nurseries, but we need hundreds of pounds each year from genetic material found in multiple watersheds throughout the state. It is challenging to predict exactly when native plant seeds will be ready to collect since so much depends on weather and other factors, so we pay close attention to field conditions when we collect seed. Our goal is to collect as much viable seed as we can, but we always leave some behind so that new plants can grow. We also collect seed from as many individual plants as possible in order to maximize the genetic variation we can incorporate into our restoration projects.
Once the seed is collected, the nurseries take over: they germinate the seeds based on the specific conditions required by the different native plant species. Once the seed germinates, nursery staff will grow the plants into one-gallon containers - a process that can take more than six months. Then we will place a call and a few days later, nursery staff will show up anywhere in the state with trailer loads of young native plants ready to go into the ground.
The wildlife might not know where their habitat is coming from, but the next time you visit one of our projects you can imagine that 50-foot tall sycamore, or that patch of native blackberry, starting as a seed in one of our partners’ greenhouses.
The above article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of the River Partners Journal.