March 2021 – National Seed Strategy: 2015-2020 Progress Report – Preliminary results are in! 

The Plant Conservation Alliance is pleased to announce the release of a Fact Sheet showing the initial results of the progress made since 2015 to implement the National Seed Strategy for Rehabilitation and Restoration. Check back this summer for the full report!

2020 NASEM-An Assessment of the Need for Native Seeds and the Capacity for their Supply 

The study will plan and implement an assessment of federal, state, tribal, and private sector seed needs and capacity to meet those needs. Public meetings are held to better inform the committee on the issues surrounding the seed needs and capacities. Read more and subscribe for updates. 

As the first phase of the nationwide analysis of the full scope of needs for native plant seeds, this interim report describes the participants in the native plant seed supply chain, makes preliminary observations, and proposes an information-gathering plan for the second phase of the assessment. Read the interim report here

In the second phase, the committee will oversee the data and information-gathering process, analyze the information obtained, and prepare a final report summarizing the committee’s findings and conclusions. The final report also will provide recommendations for improving the reliability, predictability, and performance of the native seed supply. 

December 2020 - Preparing for the Need for a Supply of Native Seed

In mid-September 2020, millions of hectares in the western U.S. were on fire and the year’s second wave of seasonal hurricanes and tropical storms were queueing up to batter the states along the Gulf of Mexico. Members of a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine committee tasked with assessing the need for and supply of native seed in the Western United States and other regions of the country viewed the unfolding natural disasters as an appropriate, if troubling, backdrop for their work. The assessment of the seed supply was requested by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which uses native seed on a continuing basis for restoration projects on the public lands it manages, and in large quantities after major wildland fires and disasters. Like other federal agencies, BLM turned to the independent, Congressionally chartered National Academies in search of impartial scientific advice. Ultimately, the committee will recommend steps that could help to expand the quantity and diversity of native plant seeds available from commercial seed markets. Read the full article here

October 2020 – Native Plant Materials Use and Commercial Availability in the Eastern United States. Tangren and Toth.

Executive Summary: In 2018, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Seed Bank (MARSB) and the University of Maryland Extension conducted an internet survey of the native plant and seed user community throughout the Eastern United States. The authors developed an extensive list of native plant users. The survey was sent to names on that list, and those receiving the survey were encouraged to send it on to other users for their input. We asked questions about the commercial availability of native plants and seeds (referred to as native plant materials or NPMs). We also asked about definitions, preferences, uses, and respondents’ professional needs for technical information and continuing education. We received 760 responses. All states (Fig. 1) and all EPA Level III ecoregions (Fig. 2) in the survey area were represented. This survey is preceded by nine others. This is the first to cover the entirety of the Eastern U.S. (Table 2). The majority of respondent organizations use NPMs for habitat restoration, creation, and pollinator support. Many other types of environmental and landscape uses are also popular (Fig. 6). Respondents express an overwhelming preference for local ecotypes (74%), and almost no interest in cultivars (0.3%, Fig. 4). Respondents identify commercial availability as the greatest barrier to their use of the local ecotypes they prefer (Fig. 7). This is the tenth consecutive survey to document a commercial shortage of NPMs (Table 2), suggesting that the shortage is both chronic and nationwide. Respondents rated the commercial availability for ecotype seeds at 2.1 on a scale of 0=never to 5=always, and ecotype plants at 2.8 (Fig. 9). Lead times are insufficient for contract growing (Fig. 7, 8). Eighty-three percent would be willing to pay a premium to obtain the local ecotype NPMs they want. Ninety-two percent of respondents use native seeds. Respondents who prefer local ecotype seeds have to buy outside what they consider to be the “local” area (Fig. 3). Those who use a 50- mile definition, on average use vendors 415 miles away. Those who prefer a 100-mile definition use vendors 375 miles away. Those who think of local as being in the same state buy out-of-state 85% of the time. The average distance between respondents and their native seed vendors is 418 miles. The second-most popular native seed vendor has an average customer distance of 805 miles (Table 4). Potential solutions to the commercial shortage of NPMs include creating an online marketplace, increasing project lead times, improving procurement policies, charging premiums for local ecotypes, conducting needed research, providing technical support, supporting the ongoing production efforts, and a rapid, dramatic increase in available georeferenced seed for NPM production by developing a network of active seed banks. Seventy-five percent of respondents expect their organization’s demand for NPMs to increase over the next 10 years (Fig. 12), highlighting the importance of addressing these issues now. Read the full article here. 

August 2020 - Vascular plant extinction in the continental United States and Canada. Knapp et al. 

Abstract: Extinction rates are expected to increase during the Anthropocene. Current extinction rates of plants and many animals remain unknown. We quantified extinctions among the vascular flora of the continental United States and Canada since European settlement. We compiled data on apparently extinct species by querying plant conservation databases, searching the literature, and vetting the resulting list with botanical experts. Because taxonomic opinion varies widely, we developed an index of taxonomic uncertainty (ITU). The ITU ranges from A to F, with A indicating unanimous taxonomic recognition and F indicating taxonomic recognition by only a single author. The ITU allowed us to rigorously evaluate extinction rates. Our data suggest that 51 species and 14 infraspecific taxa, representing 33 families and 49 genera of vascular plants, have become extinct in our study area since European settlement. Seven of these taxa exist in cultivation but are extinct in the wild. Most extinctions occurred in the west, but this outcome may reflect the timing of botanical exploration relative to settlement. Sixty‐four percent of extinct plants were single‐site endemics, and many occurred outside recognized biodiversity hotspots. Given the paucity of plant surveys in many areas, particularly prior to European settlement, the actual extinction rate of vascular plants is undoubtedly much higher than indicated here. Read the full article here. 

March 2018 - Restoring species diversity: assessing capacity in the U.S. native plant industry. White et al.  

Abstract: Large quantities of diverse and appropriately adapted native plant germplasm are required to facilitate restoration globally, yet shortages can prevent restorations from attaining desired species diversity and structure. An extensive native plant industry has developed in the United States to help meet these demands, yet very little is known about its capacity to support germplasm needs. To better understand current capacity and germplasm availability, we report results of the first comprehensive and quantitative assessment of the native plant industry in the United States, which includes at least 841 vendors nationwide and the species they make available for restoration. We synthesized lists of commercially available species from native plant vendors across the United States and identified gaps in species availability to inform germplasm research, development, and production. Of the approximately 25,000 vascular plant taxa native to the United States, 26% are sold commercially, with growth form, conservation status, distribution, and taxonomy significantly predicting availability. In contrast, only 0.07% of approximately 3,000 native nonvascular taxa are sold commercially. We also investigated how demand for germplasm to support high‐quality restoration efforts is met by vendors in the Midwestern tallgrass prairie region, which has been targeted extensively by restoration efforts for decades. In this well‐developed native plant market, 74% of more than 1,000 target species are commercially available, often from vendors that advertise genetically diverse, locally sourced germplasm. We make recommendations to build on the successes of regional markets like the tallgrass prairie region, and to fill identified gaps, including investing in research to support production, ensuring more consistent and clear demand, and fostering regional collaboration. Read the full article here 

2018 National Seed Strategy Report

The Plant Conservation Alliance is pleased to announce the release of the first Progress Report on The National Seed Strategy, Making Progress. One hundred and sixty accomplishments have been reported toward the National Seed Strategy since 2015. Find out more in this one pager, or in the full report.

Overcoming the Effects of Plant Awareness Disparity with Education and Engagement

A session at the 2017 National Native Seed Conference focused on plant awareness disparity (PAD), or the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs. The effects of plant awareness disparity on the botanical community and its efforts to conserve, restore, and sustainably use plants are wide-ranging. Yet research also shows that plant awareness disparity is not inevitable. This session included four speakers covering: 1) the causes of plant awareness disparity, 2) how plant awareness disparity may be impacting you and the work you do to conserve and manage native plants, and 3) tools you can use to help overcome plant awareness disparity through education and outreach. PDFs of their presentations are available here:

1) Seventeen years of plant blindness: Is our vision improving? The tendency for people not to notice plants in their everyday lives has been termed “plant awareness disparity.” Beth Schussler from the University of Tennessee reviewed the root causes of plant awareness disparity and the research plant educators have done over the last seventeen years to determine whether there may be hope for a cure.

2) Visibility of plants under the Endangered Species Act: Causes and Implications Plants are the most listed taxon under the Endangered Species Act, but receive less funding. Vivian Negrón-Ortiz from the USFWS discussed the causes of underestimating the value of plants and its implications for recovery, Fish and Wildlife Service resources for plant conservation, and current initiatives to overcome these limitations.

3) Influencing the Federal Budget Process: How to Advocate for Conservation Funding An overview of the federal budget and appropriations process, focusing on conservation funding. Cameron Witten (The Wilderness Society) discussed opportunities for engagement throughout the annual budget and appropriations cycle, key committees and targets, and how to advocate for increased conservation funding.

4) Federal policies and funding for plants Learn the specifics of how federal policies and funding for plant-based research, restoration, and conservation programs work and how decisions are made. Rob Bradner (Holland & Knight) discussed recent proposed federal legislation that hopes remedy some of the impacts of plant blindness on these processes.

National Seed Strategy for Landscape Scale Rehabilitation and Restoration

On August 17, 2015, the final National Seed Strategy document was released by the Department of Interior. You can find more information on the strategy here, download the final Strategy here, and see the August 17th press release here.

Native plants and pollinators: On June 20, 2014, the White House issued a Presidential Memorandum on Creating a Federal Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.  Native plants or vegetation are mentioned in Section 2 (iv) and Section 3(s) of the Memorandum:

“Sec. 2. Mission and Function of the Task Force. Within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, the Task Force shall develop a National Pollinator Health Strategy (Strategy), which shall include explicit goals, milestones, and metrics to measure progress. The Strategy shall include the following components:

(iv) strategies for developing affordable seed mixes, including native pollinator-friendly plants, for maintenance of honey bees and other pollinators, and guidelines for and evaluations of the effectiveness of using pollinator-friendly seed mixes for restoration and reclamation projects;

Sec. 3. Increasing and Improving Pollinator Habitat. Unless otherwise specified, within 180 days of the date of this memorandum:

(a) Task Force member agencies shall develop and provide to the Task Force plans to enhance pollinator habitat, and subsequently implement, as appropriate, such plans on their managed lands and facilities, consistent with their missions and public safety. These plans may include: facility landscaping, including easements; land management; policies with respect to road and other rights-of-way; educational gardens; use of integrated vegetation and pest management; increased native vegetation; and application of pollinator-friendly best management practices and seed mixes. Task Force member agencies shall also review any new or renewing land management contracts and grants for the opportunity to include requirements for enhancing pollinator habitat.

(f) The Departments of Agriculture and the Interior shall establish a reserve of native seed mixes, including pollinator-friendly plants, for use on post-fire rehabilitation projects and other restoration activities."

Pattern of expenditures for plant conservation under the Endangered Species Act (journal article in Biological Conservation written by Vivian Negrón-Ortiz).  An estimated 31% of the native plant species in the United States are considered at risk of extinction, and 11% receive protection under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA). But with current and projected threats, many at risk non-listed plant species will need protection under the ESA. Recovery priority guidelines based on a ranking system exist to help identify the most cost-effective use of limited resources to recover listed species. I analyzed how expenditures on listed plants from 2007 to 2011 corresponded to this system, the species’ status, and the year first listed. While the majority of species listed under the ESA are plants, they received <5% of the funding for species recovery from federal and state agencies; thus they have the lowest per-species funding. Among plants, spending per species was greater for threatened than for endangered species and positively associated with recentness of listing date. Expenditure allocation was consistent with the ranking system, as higher priority species received more spending. Recovery progress could be significantly increased if more resources are allocated according to this system. In addition, I recommend: avoidance of biases that support specific projects or a few charismatic species; augmentation of the ESA budget to finance projects for the species in conflict with development and growth; cost-benefit analyses of increasing recovery funds for plants (since the cost estimated to recover a plant species average much less than a vertebrate species); and a broadened plant conservation message at local, regional and global scales.

The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation was published in 2012 by Botanic Gardens Conservation International. It provides strategies and goals for preventing loss of plant species diversity. A companion publication, the North American Botanic Garden Strategy For Plant Conservation, details how the strategy can be used by conservation organizations in North America.

Botanical Capacity Assessment Project (BCAP): completed in 2010, this project assessed current and future botanical capacity in the United States with the goal of understanding the resources we currently have to conserve and manage native plant species and habitat, identifying gaps in capacity, and highlighting opportunities to fill gaps in the future.  Learn more and download a free final report at the BCAP website. 

Seeds of Success Program (SOS): Seeds of Success (SOS): Seeds of Success is the national native seed collection program, led by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in partnership with a variety of federal agencies and non-federal organizations, including many PCA Non-Federal Cooperators. SOS’s mission is to collect wildland native seed for research, development, germplasm conservation, and ecosystem restoration. The long-term conservation outcome of the SOS program is to support BLM's Native Plant Materials Development Program, whose mission is to increase the quality and quantity of native plant materials available for restoring and supporting resilient ecosystems. Learn more at the SOS website.