Red oak acorns

Seed saving

The Nature of PEI | by Gary Schneider

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Individuals sometimes think that they don’t have a role to play in major environmental issues. Can we really tackle climate change? What about the endangered right whales dying across the region? And how can one person improve biodiversity?

The first two are areas where clearly making your voice heard allows governments—as we recently witnessed first hand—to set progressive carbon targets and to further reduce shipping speeds and increase monitoring in regional waterways.  Those wouldn’t have happened without public awareness and support.

Biodiversity is an issue that needs the same kind of awareness and support, but it is also one where you can make a real difference all on your own.

On Prince Edward Island, we have many native species that are quite rare due to land-clearing and subsequent farming by European settlers. Even species such as the red oak, our provincial tree, is listed by the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre as “S4”, meaning the species is “Apparently Secure—Uncommon but not rare; some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.” It is a tree that I rarely see in Island forests.

Throughout the year, I spend time looking for seeds. It starts early with American fly honeysuckle and even continues over the winter when collecting seaside goldenrod and American mountain ash.

My daughter and I have spent countless hours in Royalty Oaks, a red oak stand in East Royalty, collecting acorns. Over the years, many of these have indeed grown into mighty oaks (though not as mighty as they will one day become). It is exciting to see these oaks flourish and start to spread seed around their new homes. This is really an example of giving natural restoration processes a bit of a head start, and then stepping out of the way.

And every little bit helps. If you have a garden and can grow a small area of native plants to use in landscaping or forest restoration, that is a wonderful investment in time. Many people now grow their own swamp milkweed, for example, using seeds from plants they have purchased or collected from places where they have permission harvest. As I mentioned in my last column on trilliums, you want to make sure that you are only taking a small amount of seed from any area.

Collecting seed is a good way of keeping in touch with nature. Children love to collect things, and they generally take great joy in squishing fruit. To take an elderberry and crush the fruit between your fingers and rescue the seeds is a tactile educational experience that always makes me smile. There are great lessons there as well, thinking about birds eating the fruit for nutrients but not being able to digest the seeds. This is how seeds get spread across an area when they have no way of moving themselves.

Another way to go about it is to mimic nature. I have seen the result of a person planting acorns throughout his Stratford woods over decades and it is quite remarkable. And he is not alone. There is a growing interest in helping bring back diversity throughout the province. The watershed groups have really helped spark an interest in native plants and restoration.

The beautiful alternate-leaf dogwood, the American beech tree free of cankers, the healthy hobblebush or witch hazel growing in the woods—these can all be easily propagated by collecting seeds and growing them out in a nursery bed. Or in the case of red oak, just doing your best Johnny Appleseed impersonation and planting them throughout a forest. Enjoy.

Gary SchneiderThe Nature of PEI
Gary Schneider

Gary began writing for The Buzz in the May 2018 issue. He co-chairs ECO-PEI and started the Macphail Woods Ecological Forestry Project in 1991. The project demonstrates ecologically-sound forest management, with a focus on environmental education, conservation of rare plants, and the restoration of PEI’s native forest. He is an avid birder and lives in Tea Hill.