National Native Seed Conference 2017

The 2017 National Native Seed Conference location and dates have been announced.

Next year’s conference will be held in Washington, D.C., February 13-16. This biennial conference covers all aspects of research regarding that use of native plant materials (seed), especially restoration use and updates from the commercial seed trade.

Please see the website here for more information. Further details regarding the conference will be added as they become available.

Trans-Pecos Pipeline: Seeding Recommendations for Landowners

A new natural gas pipeline, the Trans-Pecos Pipeline, is being built across Far West Texas. This pipeline will deliver much-needed natural gas to the community of Presidio, TX (they’ve long used propane and other less clean-burning fuels), and will continue as a transnational pipeline into the United Mexican States.

Trans-Pecos Pipeline route map. Map from
Trans-Pecos Pipeline route map. Map from–low-res-.pdf

Many landowners are worried about landscape damages after construction has finished. Although the pipeline cannot be ignored (the world runs on gas and petroleum for the foreseeable future), the best way to mitigate post-construction damages is to NOT plant exotic grasses like Lehmann’s Lovegrass, Weeping Lovegrass or Buffelgrass.

The seed for those invasive species may be cheap, but cheap seed always creates multiple problems decades after re-seeding; not the least of which are damages to wildlife habitat and native plant communities, and further spread and permanent establishment of invasive species. High quality, certified native seed may cost more per pound than exotic species, but those comparisons are moot, and the resulting plantings created by certified native seed will be better and management problems will be significantly less daunting down the road.

The commercial seed market in Texas has undergone major changes over the past decade, and currently offers plenty of native seed options (with more in the future) for landowners in Far West Texas to utilize to protect their land and wildlife habitat during re-seeding activities.

Before purchasing seed, it is helpful to beware of native seed sources that are listed as”Native” or “Native ecotype” or “Local ecotype” (as part of the varietal designation), or even promoted as “wild harvests” that are not source-identified per state agriculture regulations.  These sources of seed pose cleanliness concerns (weed seed contamination), as well as unproven plant performance and unproven restoration uses.

Additionally, “Native” and “Local ecotype” are not legally recognized varieties. In fact, many native seed cultivars (i.e. ‘Haskell’ Sideoats Grama, ‘Lovington’ Blue Grama, ‘Kaw’ Big Bluestem, etc.) are bought and repackaged by some seed dealers and commonly sold as part of native “wild harvests”.  While such a practice is deceptive, it goes to show how much more reliable commercial cultivars are.

After the photo set below, is a list of what should be planted in Far West Texas. These recommendations are based on seed varieties which have been tested for use by the South Texas Natives and Texas Native Seeds Projects at multiple sites across Texas in common garden studies. These germplasms are currently the best options on the market for landowners to use. There are no substitutes (except as noted).

Be firm about what you want and don’t want to plant — it’s your land!

The following photos illustrate important points with regards to native plant seeds.


Above: A pipeline right-of-way re-seeded with two different seed mixes: An appropriate certified native seed mix (from South Texas Natives) on the left; an inappropriate seed mix on the right. Note the greater plant coverage on the left with the use of named varieties of certified native seed.

The use of inappropriate seed mixes, wastes seed, money and time, and only serves as encouragement for exotic species infiltration and establishment due to weak perennial gaps in the planting.


Above: A comparison of two Blue Grama populations in a common garden study in Far West Texas. “VNS” (variety not specified) on the left, “Hachita” Blue Grama on the right. The difference in plant performance is proof of concept of why it is risky to purchase VNS (or even “wild harvest”) seed for use in re-seeding hyperdegraded sites like pipeline right-of-ways. Commercial cultivars and selected native germplasms have been developed since the post-Dust Bowl years for the native seed industry for this very reason.

Important points to remember when planning for re-seeding and purchasing native seed

  • Purchase named varieties only
  • Do not buy “Variety Not Specified” (VNS) or “wild harvest” seed types
  • Beware of seed listed as “Native” or “Local ecotype” as a varietal designation
  • ALWAYS purchase seed on a Pure Live Seed (PLS) basis, not a “bulk pound”


Finally, remember the basic rule of seed mixes: the more species, the better the planting. Don’t settle for a three or 5 species mix!

Below is the seeding recommendations list. If it does not load, a copy can be seen here.


Then and Now: Grassland Changes

Change rules the world, sets the course, and turns the page. It is the universal constant, at the atomic level to the continental level, and all aspects in between.

One of the most widely studied changes in the natural resource world are those of plant communities. The causes of such changes are multivariate and share common denominators: anthropogenic, climatic, and biological, and a near infinite combination thereof. One of the best ways to document such changes is through the use of photo points. For example, a photo is taken in 1912, its location is explicitly documented, and decades later, a photo is taken again from the same vantage point. Many changes are not surprising; others are.

A unique aspect of the Desert Southwest is that even though the plant community changes within various landscapes have been great, there is still an expansive landscape through which to view, monitor and study such changes, unlike other areas of the U.S., such as the Midwest, where nearly all native plant systems have been exhaustively converted to intensively-managed agricultural systems.

Brandon Bestelmeyer, a research ecologist with the Jornada Experiment Station in New Mexico posted such photos on his blog. Have a look here: Back to the Future

A preview:



OK Select Germplasm Little Bluestem

OK Select Germplasm little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium). A multi-population, selected native germplasm (non-cultivar) release from Knox City Plant Materials Center (Knox City, TX). This germplasm is appropriate for use in rangeland re-seeding, prairie restoration, backyard “pocket prairies”, and roadside re-vegetation work.

The original seed collection was made from native populations in Caddo, Grady, Stephens, and Washita Counties in southwestern Oklahoma, giving the release a broad genetic base. One visible expression in commercial germplasms that are comprised of broad genetic bases is the variation in height between plants, as can be seen in the photo below of OK Select. Multi-population germplasms generally outperform germplasms with origins from a single population or even a single plant. During the evaluation period of the populations that now comprise OK Select, no breeding or rigorous selections were made, other than selections (choosing of populations) for plant performance values. More information can be read in the release document, available here:…/FS…/publications/txpmcrb11370.pdf

This germplasm is currently on TxDOT’s seeding specifications list for about 30% of its work areas, as it is currently the only commercial germplasm available on the market that is suitably adapted to the aforementioned region, and has shown far better planting performance and persistence than other little bluestem germplasms used in the past; especially those listed as “VNS” and “wild harvest”, or with genetic origins too far from planting sites (i.e. “Aldous”). “VNS” and “wild harvest” germplasms have shown little promise for large-scale restoration plantings or roadside re-seeding work in Texas. Such seed types generally accelerate planting failure within 2 years by creating weak population gaps in which exotics are able to infiltrate and gain footholds. 

This release performs well in the North Central Texas area, broadly delineated as along and west of US Hwy. 81, along and north of US Hwy. 180, along and east of TX State Hwy. 70, and along and south of I-40, as well as the Southwestern Oklahoma counties previously listed (see map below).

Other little bluestem germplasms are currently being evaluated against OK Select for use in North Central and Central (Hill Country) Texas by the Texas Native Seeds project of the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute. A future little bluestem release with genetics from within the state of Texas is forthcoming, pending final evaluations.

Per the Native Seed Network (, OK Select is currently being grown by Bamert Seed Company.

Help create increased demand for ‘OK Select’ by requesting this germplasm at the above-mentioned seed dealer or your favorite seed dealer!

OK Select Germplasm little bluestem breeder seed field. Knox City Plant Materials Center, Knox City, TX.
map caption: A general outline of the area in which OK Select can be expected to perform well. Future plant releases will share overlap with the boundaries.
A general outline of the area in which OK Select can be expected to perform well. Future plant releases will share overlap with these boundaries.

Why Seed Origin Matters: Any Seed Will Do?

Those of you who are purchasing or planning to purchase native plant seed for upcoming fall and dormant season plantings and spring season plantings, it is important to buy seed containing genetic origins from the ecoregion or adjacent ecoregion(s) in which you will be planting. The use of seed with unknown origins (i.e. non-cultivar seed, non-certified seed) often results in poor planting success.  Some government agencies like the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) have abandoned the specification and use of non-cultivar seed within their work regions due to past planting failures.  For example, in South Texas due to such planting deficiencies and concerns about highly invasive Old World Bluestems (Bothriochloa spp., Dicanthium spp.) and Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare), TxDOT seeding specifications exclusively specify the use of certified native seed sold under the South Texas Natives name.

Current TxDOT Roadside Seeding Specs can be found here:

While some exotics still remain on the planting list, that is simply a limitation of the native seed market (i.e. lack of certified, ecotypically appropriate seed sources, demand exceeding supply, etc.).  Additionally, as an organization partially funded by the federal government, TxDOT is bound to the Clean Water Act.  Elaborating, Smith (2010) states, “As a result of federal Clean Water Act provisions designed to prevent soil erosion, the giant buyer of the grass seed market, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), is forced to plant exotics at the completion of a highway project if native seed is not immediately available in the necessary quantities”.  In Texas, demand for native plant seed exceeds annual production capacities, and TxDOT is a large driver of native seed demand.  Commercial seed market limitations aside, private consumers can help to turn the tide of seed demand in favor of certified native seed, simply by not asking for or using any exotic seed, thereby increasing production of native species.  Just because seed is cheap does not mean you should use it.  Cheap seed is junk and often results in poor planting performance.

Some native seed on the market is listed as “Variety Not Specified”, or “VNS” (also listed as “Common”).  These types of seed are often of unknown origin(s) and therefore have not been proven for successful use in restoration or reclamation seeding work. For example, though “VNS” Blue Grama may be the cheapest seed of that species available to you from your favorite seed dealer, it is highly advisable to not buy it for several reasons, as listed below.

  1. “VNS” seed is non-certified, meaning certain amounts of weed seed are permitted by law to be included in the bag of any “VNS” seed you buy (permissible levels vary from state to state).  In Texas, permissible weed seed is listed as “Other” or “Other crop seed”, and generally such seed is KR Bluestem (Bothriochloa ischaemum) or other exotics.  To avoid this pitfall, ALWAYS purchase certified seed or carefully collect your own.
  2. “VNS” seed has unknown origin(s). This presents many problems when used in plantings. The most glaring problem is planting failure within 1-3 years, due to poor plant performance (i.e., rapid establishment, vigor, and flowering and seed production).  The money spent on VNS seed is wasted.
  3. “VNS” seed is often sold, traded, or otherwise has changed hands many times and across many locations within the commercial seed trade. Its genetic origin(s) and genetic purity are lost as a result.  In the end, “VNS” is junk seed, regardless of species nativity.

On a related note, beware of native seed sources that are listed as”Native” or “Native ecotype” or “Local ecotype”, or even promoted as “wild harvests” that are not source-identified per state agriculture regulations.  These sources of seed pose the same cleanliness concerns as uncertified seed, as well as unproven performance and unproven restoration uses.  Additionally, “Native” and “Local ecotype” are not legally recognized varieties. In fact, many native seed cultivars (i.e. ‘Haskell’ Sideoats Grama, ‘Lovington’ Blue Grama, ‘Kaw’ Big Bluestem, etc.) are bought and repackaged by some seed dealers and sold as part of native “wild harvests”!  While such a practice is unscrupulous, it goes to show how much more reliable commercial cultivars are, and how limited in practicality and scope the wild harvest model is beyond the scale of backyard hobbyist plantings.

Further, “native” and “local ecotype” are relative terms, and it is incorrect to assume that a seed company selling seed advertised as such has harvested or grown it locally with respect to their physical location.  Many seed dealers don’t even grow their own seed. They purchase bulk “wild harvests” and screen and sort and package seeds under their own brand(s).  Additionally, seed that is not sold as Selected Texas Native Germplasm (green tag) or Source Identified Texas Native Germplasm (yellow tag) has not been grown in Texas (Texas Administrative Code, 2007).

To summarize, always purchase certified native seed on a pure live seed (PLS) basis. If certified seed is not available for your area, use well-known commercial cultivars.  For those  in North Central Texas, a list of appropriate commercial cultivars for use in restoration and hobby plantings is available here: Commercial seed sources for North Central TX

The more demand consumers can create for high-quality certified commercial native seed sources, the better the results restoration plantings across the state will show.  In the end, any seed will not simply do.

Below is a visual showing the differences in 2 years of growth between a Blue Grama plant of unknown origin (labeled as VNS, but the same concept applies to “wild harvest”, “local ecotype”, etc.) vs. a commercial cultivar with known origin, soil information, and ecological site data.  Both plants are growing less than 20ft. apart, on the same soil, were planted at the same time, and received the same amount of irrigation during the establishment period.


Smith, F.S. 2010. Texas today: A sea of the wrong grasses. Ecological Restoration. 28(2): 112-117.

Texas Administrative Code. 2007. Title 4, Agriculture. Part 1. Texas Department of Agriculture. Chapter 10, Native Plant Materials, Sec. 10.31.

Texas Department of Transportation. [website]. URL:  Accessed 9/1/15.

The Gradual Disappearance of the Range Grasses of the West

The Gradual Disappearance of the Range Grasses of the West

By I.W. Tourney, 1894

In the early days of our great West almost the only method of travel from the Mississippi Valley to our western coast and intervening points was by caravan.  Wagons drawn by horses or cattle were several months in making this journey.  During this time the stock subsisted entirely upon the natural forage afforded by the country traversed.  For the most part, this forage was perennial grasses, which at that time were everywhere abundant.  Then the whole of the West was a great pasture, unstocked, save for the herds of buffalo, deer and antelope.  Many regions which were covered with a luxuriant growth of nutritious grasses are now entirely destitute of vegetation, if we exclude a few straggling, stunted bushes and the yearly crop of annuals which follow the summer rains.  As a more specific case, the rancher who drove the first herd of cattle into Tonto Basin, in central Arizona, found a well-watered valley, everywhere covered with grass reaching to his horse’s belly.  In passing through this region a year ago scarcely a culm of grass was to be seen from one end of the valley to the other.  This transformation has taken place in a half-score of years. Continue reading

Landscape Dysfunction in Drylands

Landscape ecology is the study of the relationships between landscape systems and their many ecological functions and processes. Landscapes can be functional or dysfunctional with respect to native* and exotic (invasive) vegetation components, the creation and expansion of novel ecosystems, and the multitude of human activities and their effects upon the landscapes. Some of the best research available on the subject, including concepts and monitoring models, is the work of John Ludwig and David Tongway. Their publications are numerous, but most useful is, “Landscape Ecology, Function and Management: Principles from Australia’s Rangelands” (1997). Continue reading

New page – Plant Labs

I have published a new page of resources – a brief listing of academic plant labs – for those wishing to expand their knowledge.  The research produced in the various labs across the world are excellent and well-worth the time taken to read the results.

The page is available here:

Plant of the Month – Allium Coryi

Note: As time allows, I will do a “Plant of the Month” feature on this blog.  Expect most plants to be photographed and described as seen in Texas.  Other possible locations will be New Mexico and Oklahoma.  Even then, other locales aren’t ruled out in the event of travel.

Yellow-flowered Onion (Allium Coryi), a wild onion species endemic to the mountains of the Trans-Pecos region of Far West Texas, is the only known yellow-flowered Allium species in the United States.  Its habitat is rocky slopes of mountains and rocky plains in between valleys at elevations of 2,500′ to 4,500′.  Yellow-flowered Onion begins flowering in April and lasts through early to mid-May. Continue reading