Dillon Field Office Gathers (and sows) the “Seeds of Success”

Kelly Savage, Rangeland Management Specialist, Dillon Field Office

Seeds of Success (SOS) is a national native seed collection program, led by the BLM in partnership with other federal agencies and non-federal organizations. It was established to collect, conserve, and develop native plant materials for stabilizing, rehabilitating, and restoring lands in the United States. 

A person lifts arrowleaf balsamroot seeds from a bag.
Native seed collection of Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza
sagittata). Photo by Kelly Savage

The Dillon Field Office has played an important role in the SOS program since 2013. To date the Dillon FO has made 83 wildland native seed collections consisting of more than 830,000 seeds. Rangeland Management Specialist Kelly Savage has led the program from the beginning.

Native plants are the key to healthy, resilient landscapes. They also possess many important medicinal uses for humans and animals. The term “native plant” generally refers to plants indigenous to a particular geographic region. Over time those plants have adapted to local environmental and social influences such as soil types and hydrology, micro-climates, and human influences.

Native plants are also extremely important to all grazing animals for good quality feed as well as for countless pollinators and bird species. Native plant conservation and restoration is critical to the mission of the BLM and native seed collection is an important part of this mission.

Once collected, seeds are sent to the National Collection to be used for research such as germination trials, common garden studies and growing protocol establishment. Additionally, these seeds can be used to grow out plants for projects such as endangered species habitat restoration, mining reclamation, and emergency stabilization and rehabilitation. Portions of each collection are also held in long-term storage facilities for conservation and possible future use in the case of catastrophic environmental events such as large, soil-sterilizing wildfires.

The Dillon FO manages nearly a million acres of public lands encompassing unique landscapes ranging from desert-type ecosystems with less than eight inches of annual precipitation to high elevations with more than 40 inches of annual precipitation. These varying landscapes make for some extremely diverse native plant populations.

The goal is to collect seeds of native plant populations from all these different eco-sites. The Dillon FO focuses on seeds for native plants that are preferred by sage grouse, have a high importance to pollinators, and/or are culturally significant.

This summer, the Dillon FO made collections from large populations of culturally significant plants such as white sage (Artemisia ludoviciana), camas (Camassia quamash), and yampah (Perideridia gairdneri). Members from the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes joined us in the field to help collect both white sage and yampah seeds.

Collectors found a large population of showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) along the Beaverhead River this summer and completed a seed collection there in August. During one of the site visits, they found and photographed a Monarch butterfly caterpillar. Showy milkweed is an extremely important food source and the sole ‘host plant’ for the Monarch butterfly. It is the only food source for the monarch caterpillar and the only plant where an adult monarch will lay her eggs.

Dried plant mounted on paper with parts labeled.
Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata), one
of many Dillon Field Office herbarium specimens
collected and mounted from Seeds of Success
collections. Photo by Kelly Savage

The seed is only one important part of the SOS collections. Also collected are photographs of the plant in its environment and a photo of the actual seeds, the field data about the site, and three live specimens of each plant. These live specimens are collected in the field during flowering and are placed into a plant press. When ready, one specimen is shipped to the Smithsonian Institute Herbarium in Washington, D.C., another to the Montana State University herbarium, and one is incorporated into our local herbarium in the Dillon FO.

The Dillon FO herbarium has hundreds of specimens, some dating back to the 1950s. Many new specimens are added each year through the SOS program. This valuable herbarium collection will continue to grow and serve as an educational library of local plants.

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