Breaking the Bottleneck of Native Seed Supply

Photos: Growing California Native Seeds to Double Our Pace of Restoration with Heritage Growers

There’s no way around it: If we’re going to restore California at the pace and scale required to boost imperiled wildlife on the edge of extinction and buffer communities from the worst impacts of climate change, we’re going to need native seeds. A whole lot of them.

From California poppies to bunchgrasses, restoration-quality native seeds and plants aren’t always widely available, especially when they need to be regionally adapted and offered in landscape-scale quantities.

As River Partners aims to double our pace of restoration statewide this decade, Heritage Growers, a new native seed and plant supply venture of River Partners, will ensure we won’t run out of materials to plant.

Blooming fields of native wildflowers, grasses and forbs for seed production at Heritage Growers’ farm in Yolo County. River Partners will use seed from these fields to restore thousands of acres in California. Photo: John Brennan

We’re not the only ones who dream about fields of native wildflowers and purple waving grasses. California’s Natural Resources Agency’s ambitious “30×30” goal to restore 30% of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030 is a call to action to grow acres and acres of native plants.

This spring, the team at Heritage Growers is in their first season of growing out native seed for restoration projects at scale. Operations Manager Michele Ranieri notes one of the challenges has been knowing when seeds are ripe and when to harvest. Since native plants have adapted creative ways to survive, they don’t all ripen at the same time, unlike most commercially grown crops.

“Farming native seeds is a tiny niche,” says Ranieri. “There’s not a lot of people with this specific knowledge. You have to crack the code, and there’s a million factors at play.”

Heritage Growers Operations Manager Michele Ranieri looks at seed pods of Lasthenia Fremonteii, a species of goldfields adapted to vernal pools and seasonal wetlands, to determine ripeness.

To assist the steep learning curve, the team at Heritage Growers is carefully documenting every step of the process from seeding and germination to flowering and setting seed. By recording data and taking photographs of the plants’ stages, they’re creating a manual that can help guide the process for future harvests.

General Manager Pat Reynolds notes, “There’s incredible value in documenting the process and learning. It means we will be able scale up production and habitat restoration with native plants that are healthy and strong.”

Documentation of California poppy seed pod and flowers to determine seed ripeness and best time for harvest.

Joan Bosque, Native Seed Production Assistant, photographs plants’ progress when surveying fields using her smartphone and the back of her clipboard (see more of Bosque’s photos below). She loves seeing pollinators attracted to the fields.

“Seeds don’t happen without pollinators,” Bosque says.

Her photography is also how she shares her love of plants and seeds. “To protect something, you have to understand it and love it. And part of that protection is sharing that love. That’s how we’re going to make sure places are protected and foster land restoration to regrow our amazing natural resources.”

Heritage Growers not only supplies the highest-quality native seeds and plants, but they bring unparalleled passion and expertise to make restoration projects thrive. To partner with them for locally adapted native seeds and plants, contract grows, custom seed mixes, and more, contact Heritage Growers today.

Keep scrolling to check out what’s growing this spring at Heritage Growers’ farm in Yolo County.

Growing Native Seeds for Vibrant Landscapes

Lasthenia glabrata. Common Name: “goldfields.” Stage: Seed head (deconstructed) and flower (with native syrphid fly pollinator). Classic California native flower great for initial seeding in restoration projects for a reliable show of flowers. Excellent pollinator species.
Eschscholzia californica. Common Name: “California poppy.” Stage: Seedling and flower. Prolific and excellent choice for restoration projects due to being easy to establish and a great pollinator species. Grows in most regions of California.
Collinsia heterophylla. Common Name: “Chinese houses.” Stage: Unripe seed and flower stalk. Not commonly available for restoration, unlike more common native wildflowers such as California poppy.
Lupinus microcarpus (var. Microcarpus) Common Name: “chick lupine.” Stage: Seedling and seed stalk. There are over 100 varieties of lupine in California. They are a great pollinator species and chick lupine in particular is “super adorable,” according to Bosque. It grows about knee height.
Lupinus succulentus. Common Name: “arroyo lupine.” Stage: Seed pod and flower stalk. Stunning flowers, and one of the taller lupines at about four feet tall. Lupines are nitrogen fixers and help build soil health. Their hollow stems provide breeding habitat for a variety of insects.
Plagiobothrys stipitatus var. micranthus. Common Name: “popcorn flower.” Stage: Ripe seed and flower stalk. Great for vernal pool and seasonal wetland restoration.
Plantago erecta. Common Name: “California plantain.” Stage: Seedling and flower stalk. Great for nutrient-poor soils.
Amsinkia menziesii. Common Name: “fiddleneck.” Stage: Flower stalk. Grows on disturbed sites, flowers early. Birds love it.