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Wild Seed Project: Returning native plants to the Maine landscape

About Wild Seed Project

Native plants are species of trees, shrubs, vines, wild flowers, grasses and ferns that grew in eastern North America prior to Colonial times and coevolved, over millennia, with the region’s animals, insects, amphibians, bacteria and fungi. Many of these native species depend on one another for survival, and their interrelationships help sustain ecosystems.

The naturally occurring form of a native plant is called a native species, also referred to as a “true native” or “wild-type.” Most plants reproduce by seed in the wild, with seeds developing when flowers are pollinated, mixing genes from multiple individuals. This genetic diversity leads to variations in how individual plants respond to conditions such as heat, drought, excessive rain, cold and pollution, helping the species as a whole cope with environmental change.

A selected form of a native plant (chosen for ornamental traits such as double flowers, novel color or short stature) is labeled as a cultivar and often given a commercial name in quotes, such as Aster ‘Purple Dome.’ Cultivars may result from a natural or artificial mutation or from hybridizing two species. They are then reproduced by cloning and lack the genetic diversity (and resulting resilience) of seed-grown native species. Increasingly, cultivars are patented and may not be propagated by individuals or nurseries. Recent research confirms that many cultivars do not support the needs of pollinators and other wildlife as well as true natives do.

A wild plant, whether native or exotic to a particular region, grows and reproduces without human assistance. A domesticated plant depends on humans to reproduce and grow.

Wild Seed Project offers walks, talks, and workshops to audiences of all sizes – from small nature walks or garden club meetings to more formal lectures and presentations. Interested in hosting us at your event or gathering? Contact us.

Wild Seed Project does not have a physical storefront, but you can purchase our seeds, magazines, or merchandise through our online store. We also sell many of our products at our in-person events.

You can be a part of the solution by joining Wild Seed Project as a member. Your membership immediately turns into action to support raising awareness about the importance of native plants and teaching a wide range of citizens to sow native seeds. Plus, Wild Seed Project members receive a 20% discount on all seed orders and a copy of Wild Seed, our annual magazine. Learn more about membership.

Know someone else who might dig Wild Seed Project (no pun intended)? We have gift memberships, too!

Already a member? Consider a donation to Wild Seed Project.

Thank you for your support!

The most simple way to get involved is to stay informed! Sign up for our enewsletter or follow us on Facebook to keep current. Share our information with others who may be interested in our organization. Help us build our membership so we can expand our work!

We are always looking for volunteers for events, magazine distribution, office support, and seed cleaning and packaging. Learn more about our volunteer opportunities.

Sowing and Growing

Seeds can be sown in pots or a prepared seedbed and placed outside in a shady location. Read below for detailed instructions:

In nature, seeds are dispersed in this random way, but typically less than 1% of the seeds a plant produces germinate and grow to maturity. This is because the seed may be eaten, washed away in a heavy rain, etc. By sowing native seeds in pots or in a prepared seedbed, you’ll be much more likely to experience germination success.

Fall, winter, and early spring are the best times to sow native seeds. In Maine, the yearly cycle for seed ripening and germination is different from common vegetable and garden seeds, many of which originated in tropical or Mediterranean climates. With our native species, many seeds need to have a winter period of cold, moist temperatures to break dormancy and germinate. Read below for more information:

For beginners, aster, beardtongue, bee-balm, bellflower, coneflower, milkweed, ironweed, mountain-mint, and wild strawberry are good seeds to begin with. In our online store, these species have germination codes A or B.

Our website offers great resources for picking species to suit your site:

All native species support bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects as sources of food and habitat. Pollinators forage on the nectar and pollen from these plants, and the stems and foliage serve as important sites for egg-laying and caterpillar growth – something that non-native plants cannot provide. Cultivars of native species with double flowers or other distortions like red foliage, for example, also do not support pollinators, as they usually have no nectar or pollen, and may be unpalatable to foraging caterpillars.

It doesn’t take a large plot of land to help pollinator populations. Planting patches of native species in suburban and urban areas along sidewalks, parking lots, and roadways creates an important connective corridor for pollinators.

For more information please refer to the following:

No backyard or garden? No problem! You can still help pollinators with pots on your front steps, porch, or in a window box. Read more in our blog post on balcony gardens.

In Maine, Eurasian grasses often dominate meadows, especially if mowing has been frequent. These exotic grasses grow differently than our native species – exotic grasses spread from their roots to make tight mats whereas native species form in clumps, leaving room for wildflowers in the spaces between. The mat-forming habit of Eurasian grasses makes it difficult for native wildflowers to fit in. Therefore, it is important to choose tougher native wildflowers to reestablish in these areas. Here are some species to try:

Black-eyed coneflower, blue vervain, foxglove beardtongue, goldenrods, ironweed, milkweeds, mountain-mint, New England aster, smooth blue aster, tall white aster, wild strawberry

These species can be planted into an existing meadow as small plants, or may be successfully established by seed if an abundance of seed is sown.

For detailed information, check out the following resources:

Yes, we do. There are many native species that are edible or medicinal. Here are a few that are easy to grow and make great garden and landscape plants (linked species are available through our online store):

Black elderberry, blueberry, blue cohosh, boneset, bunchberry, butternut, hazelnut, hickory, large-leaved wood aster, nodding onion, Northern red oak, ostrich fern, purple flowering raspberry, ramps, shadbush, spicebush, sugar maple, wild cherry, wild strawberry, witch-hazel

Ferns are ancient plants that evolved before flowering plants and reproduce by spores rather than seeds. In nature, fern spores often germinate in moss, in rotting logs, or in damp exposed soil in shady locations such as by a stream. Fern spores can be propagated indoors under lights or in a greenhouse.

For more information, see Growing Ferns from Spores under How to Grow Natives From Seed.

To purchase seeds, please visit our online seed sale. Wild Seed Project members receive a 20% discount on everything in our online store.

Anyone can purchase seeds, whether or not they are not a member. We do encourage membership for a 20% discount on all Wild Seed Project purchases.

For detailed information on purchasing native seedlings and plants, please check out our blog post Navigating the Nurseries: how to find native plants.