Collecting Native Wildflower Seed

The seedhead of this heartleaf arnica doesn’t look much like the flower did. Knowing what to look for is an important part of seed harvesting.

Sitting at my desk, chair swiveled around toward the window, I watched as a salsify seed floated up and past the window. Where it would land would be anyone’s guess. With the slight breeze and warming temperatures creating thermals, it could travel hundreds of yards or even further before coming back to ground and attempting to grow.

That seed’s future will be ruled by the vagaries of nature. If it lands on good soil, it could flourish and become a biological success. If it sticks to someone’s roof, it is game over. Occasionally, I like to interrupt the randomness of this system and collect and plant native seed myself.

Why would I want to collect wildflower seed? A lot of seed is available commercially. I recently purchased eight different species from Grimm Growers in Blackfoot, ID. They will sell wildflower seed by the ounce and compared to the tiny bags of seed you can buy at the big box stores, it is a good value, even at $10-15 per ounce. An ounce is a lot of seed. However, there are only a relative few species available that are truly native to our area. If you want to be sure your seed is from plants growing locally, you must collect the seed yourself.

Collecting wildflower seed can be challenging. The biggest drawback is that by the time the seed is ripe and ready for harvest, the plant may not look like what it did when the flowers were in bloom. I can think of a number of species where this is true: glacier lilies, camas, mountain dandelion and bitterroot to name a few. Some tend to look like others in their genus or family making it difficult if you want a specific species. You may need to look carefully or scout during the flowering season to be sure.

How the seeds disperse can make collecting more of a timing issue. Seed that is windborne doesn’t wait around once it is ripe. The first breeze that tickles the ripe seed will begin to carry it aloft and within a day or two, much of the seed can be gone.

Other plants, geranium comes to mind, actually flings its seed away from the mother plant as the seed pod dries. In order to capture this seed, you might have to tie netting around the developing seedhead and wait for it to burst. The netting will capture the seed.

While seed collecting is no different than berry picking and is allowed for private use on federal and Idaho Department of Lands properties, there are a few things to consider. First, I never harvest from a plant if it is the only one in vicinity. I prefer to harvest from large expanses and then I sample from a variety of areas within it to improve the genetic mix. Second, be sure of what you are harvesting. It would be unfortunate to harvest and plant a bunch of seed only to discover that you planted spotted knapweed or toadflax, both weeds on the state noxious weed list.

Most of this seed benefits from overwintering in the ground so a fall planting after your harvest would be perfect.  Just broadcast the seed over the desired area, rake it in and let nature do the rest.

If you want a true wildflower garden, I know of no better way than to gather your own seed and plant it.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho