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Wild Elderberry Seed: The Need to Grow Our Supply

Posted by Catie Morse on

     Last year Dr. Appleseed partnered with the California Native Seed Project to begin the process of harvesting wild blue elderberry seeds to grow native seed supply for use in conservation efforts. If you’ve been following our Earth Initiatives then you know about the CA 30x30 initiative, if not you can learn more at this link. This conservation effort is currently limited by availability of ethically harvested seed, and we’re looking to do something about that!

Nicole from California Native Seed Project

     Native plants create spaces that feed the widest diversity of wildlife, are proven to be climate resilient, increase biodiversity, and literally define healthy ecosystems. The loss of native plants and biodiversity has been well documented in other publications. Below is an excerpt specifically looking at blue elderberry:

“Riparian forests have been reduced to fragmented, discontinuous patches because of human intervention. For example, estimates are that 70 - 90 percent of the natural riparian ecosystems in the U.S. have been lost to human activities. Regional losses in these ecosystems have been estimated to exceed 98% in the Sacramento Valley in California. Many factors have contributed to these resource losses, including the following: natural resource use; urbanization; alteration of stream flows through dam construction and ground-water withdrawal; modification of biotic conditions through grazing, agriculture, introduction of non-native species; and alteration within watersheds.” USDA NRCS - United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services Plant Guide - BLUE ELDERBERRY Sambucus nigra L. ssp. caerulea  

Wild Blue Elderberry in Riparian Habitat


What are we doing about it?

     We’re working on the development of educational materials and direct action! We’re developing and documenting best practices for growing these plants from seed for the general public. In the process, we’ve grown and donated over 780 elderberry trees to small farms, restoration projects, and individual gardeners with the California Native Seed Project!

     There is an interesting challenge here. Specifically, there simply aren’t enough wild plants for collecting seed without further damaging their diminished environments. To increase the genetic diversity, clones simply will not do.  First generation seeds, those we harvest directly from the wild, must be carefully collected by knowledgeable, mindful stewards and grown into more plants. The seeds collected from that second stock of growth are called second generation seeds. These can be harvested in much greater abundance and made available to the public via native plant nurseries, with the goal being the production of an even larger number of plants in the third generation.

     From wild elderberry seed harvested in 2022, we will have seeds to gather in 2024-2025 from the first generation of wild elderberry and then to the second generation.

 Dr. Catie and Nicole with Blue Elderberry Plants

Our vision for 2024 and beyond: growing native seed sources:
For 2024 and beyond, we plan to collect seeds from our wild seed collection and germination project. By donating 780 plants to small farms, restoration projects and individual gardeners, we are creating first generation elderberry plants that can add to our needs for growing seed supply. Seeds harvested from these plants can be supplied to conservation efforts, native plant nurseries, and even home growers to germinate second generation native elderberry bushes.

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