Collecting Tree Seeds Can Be Rewarding Way to Preserve Local Adaptations

Help promote biodiversity by collecting tree nuts for planting

September 2, 2022, 10:41 am | Patrick O'Malley

AMES, Iowa – Tree seeds serve as a sometimes inconvenient fact of life during the fall. However, collecting these seeds is an excellent way to promote native biodiversity and even make extra cash. As Iowa State University Extension and Outreach commercial horticulture specialist Patrick O’Malley explains, locally collected tree seeds can be replanted, donated or even sold.

While native trees growing locally may still be the same species as the saplings available commercially, many native trees are locally adapted, meaning that they have acquired traits that make them highly likely to succeed in a very particular climate.

“It sort of depends on the species, but generally, a tree is going to be more successful when it is planted in its home state,” O’Malley explained. “A classic example is Redbud Trees, which can grow in the southeast part of the country or even as far north as Minnesota. If you get a redbud seed sourced in Tennessee, it’s probably going to die in Iowa over the winter.”

When trees are planted further from their seed source, they are more susceptible to damage or early death.

Since locally adapted trees are more likely to survive and thrive when grown in their home state, growing from seed can be an easy, cost-effective way to add trees to a landscape while preserving unique genetic differences. While the process can be fun and educational, it also requires a great deal of time and patience. For more information on growing trees from seed, read “Growing Tree Seedlings from Seed” and “Start a Legacy this Autumn,” written by ISU Extension and Outreach forestry specialist Billy Beck.

Another excellent way to help preserve the unique genetic diversity of Iowa native trees is by donating or selling collected tree nuts to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources State Forest Nursery.

As Iowa DNR’s Patrick Griffin explained, “Some species we need are white oak, red oak, swamp white oak, chinkapin oak, shellbark hickory, shagbark hickory, wild plum, hazelnut, Kentucky coffeetree and black walnut.”

Seeds can be collected to be donated or purchased from Stephens State Forest located in Chariton, Yellow River State Forest in Harpers Ferry, Shimek State Forest in Farmington and Loess Hills State Forest in Pisgah. For more information, visit the State Forest Nursery Website.

Collecting native tree nuts is a fun, educational and potentially profitable way to preserve native tree species in Iowa and promote biodiversity this fall.


Photo credits: 1. Walnut seedling, by mironovm/ 2. Walnut, roots and stalk on a white background, by irishasel/


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