Growing careers and the native seed supply in the Southwest with Seeds of Success

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) prides itself on a “can-do” approach to work, but how many of us could tough it out with field work in daily 119-degree heat in the desert Southwest?

Meet the two-woman Seeds of Success (SOS) Team from the BLM California El Centro Field Office in Imperial Valley, California! Analí Cine and Jocelyn Moreles are Chicago Botanic Garden contractors who collected seed for restoration in the blistering hot summer of 2023.

A young woman, smiling, wearing a sun hat and snake gaiters, stands next a large cactus that is the same height as her. She is surrounded by green shrubs with a gray mountain in the background.
Analí Cine is ready for seed collection in a sun hat and snake gaiters!

Collecting seed in the Sonoran Desert often meant starting work at 4 a.m. and wrapping up by noon. By the time the sky was turning pink, Cine and Moreles were ready to drop fluffy seeds of rush milkweed (Asclepias subulata) and woody pods of screwbean mesquite (Prosopis pubescens) into their collection bags. By noon, they retreated to the office to prepare voucher specimens, enter data, and prepare the seed for cold storage before it is needed for local habitat restoration or wildfire rehabilitation.

“Successful restoration of our California native plant communities hinges on using locally collected native seed. By providing the opportunity for recent college graduates to join SOS teams, we are growing the next generation of plant conservationists and public land stewards,” said BLM California State Botanist Christina Lund.

 Desert agave: Close-up of a green plant with spiky, pointy leaves.
Desert agave (Agave deserti) is one of the plants that the crew collected seeds from. When the plant with spiky leaves is ready to flower, it rapidly sends up a flower stalk that can grow up to a foot a day.
Close-up of Rush milkweed seed: brown and yellow seed with fluffy white hairs next to a yellow measuring stick.
Rush milkweed (Asclepias subulata) seed displays its fluffy parachute allowing it to disperse on windy days.

The El Centro crew had their eyes opened to the diversity and beauty of the Sonoran Desert plant community. Showy plants like barrel cactus and coyote melon were surprises that Cine did not expect. She had assumed that the desert around her home was barren, dry, and lifeless. The crew collected at higher elevations as the temperatures soared, giving them the opportunity to identify plants across a range of plant community types.

Landscape of the desert Southwest: Green shrubbery growing out of brown dirt with gray mountains in the background.
The El Centro Crew collected seed across the elevation gradient from valley floor to mountain slopes.

The team’s end of the year report highlighted the impact SOS can have in local communities. The report reads: “Having both been born and raised in the Imperial Valley region, we were inspired to continue learning and connecting with the ecosystems we live in. This experience allowed us to visit the public lands around us for the very first time. It’s important to recognize how valuable programs like Seeds of Success are for marginalized communities like the Imperial Valley. At the end of our assignment, we gave a presentation where we touched on the importance of environmental outreach and education programs. In our presentation we suggested more BLM early education opportunities like school field trips to public lands, class activities in scientific method, Leave No Trace, and citizen science.”

Tall windmills surrounded by green shrubbery with gray mountains in the distance.
Renewable energy projects such as this one often result in soil disturbance that requires restoration. Locally collected seed from SOS efforts provides locally adapted plant material for restoration at these types of projects in the El Centro Field Office in California.

The SOS program is part of Justice40, a program that provides employment in rural, underserved communities such as the Imperial Valley while growing the capacity to restore the local plant communities with site-adapted native plant material.

Established in 2000, the SOS Program is the national native seed collection program coordinated by the BLM. To date, the SOS program has made over 27,000 collections. For more information about Seeds of Success and the program, see the Plant Conservation & Restoration Program Story Map here.

Holly Hovis, Botanical Communications Manager, Plant Conservation & Restoration Program. Photos by Anali Cine, Seeds of Success Team Member.

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