Seed Collecting -- An Interesting Fall Activity
Published November 4, 2023 in the McAllen Monitor
Story and photos by Anita Westervelt, Texas Master Naturalist
Fall and winter don’t have to be a sad ending story for your beautiful garden. Instead, consider it a beginning – as flowers die and turn to seed, collect seeds for next year or share with friends or coordinate a seed exchange.
A good rule of thumb for when to know if seeds are ripe is when the stem of a seedpod is brown and no longer providing nourishment for the seeds.
There is competition for ripe seeds. If you can’t check often and don’t want those seeds to get away, tie small organza-like drawstring bags over seedpods and seed clusters. Ants, ground beetles, crickets, snails, slugs, earwigs, mice, birds and other critters eat seeds either from the ground, or directly from the plants.
Store seeds in non-airtight containers, so they don’t mildew. Most local native plant seeds can be sown now through February for spring germination. Many popular native nectar plants are good candidates for seed collecting.
Plants with seedhead clusters like cowpen daisy, Verbesina encelioides, and frostweed, Verbesina microptera, turn beige or brown when the seeds are ready. Hold dry flowers between your fingers and flick them with your thumb to release the seeds.
Colorful Mexican hat, Ratibida columnifera, seeds can be collected from mature cones that are dry and brown; rub the cone with your fingers to separate seeds. Mix seeds together from several Mexican hat plants to increase the color spectrum.
Passionflower, Passiflora foetida, seed pods are green balls about one inch in diameter that turn pale as they ripen. Mesh bags work well with these because pods that fall to the ground quickly disappear. Tie bags around the balls while they are still on the vine. The seeds within the seed ball are in a gelatinous substance and must be cleaned and dried to store. However, ripe pods can be broken open and the mucus seed mixture can be direct-sown. For a seed exchange, collect bagged ripe pods close to when you intend to share and encourage recipients to plant fairly soon upon receipt.
Milkweed seed pods are bulbous. Climbing milkweed, Funastrum cynanchoides, pods are thinner and more elongated than the milkweed plant, zizotes, Asclepias oenortheroides. Peak seed availability is in October and November. Capture seeds just as a pod begins to split. Mesh bags on whole pods work well here, otherwise, milkweed seeds, which are attached to sticky silk floss, will be caught by the wind and randomly disbursed.
Sacred datura, Datura wrightii, pods are pale green pendulous, flat-topped balls covered in soft spines and grow to the size of a ping pong ball. Pods turn brown and spines sharpen when seeds mature. Secure mesh bags while pods are still soft. When ready, the fruit sections curl open at the bottom and seeds spill out.
Yellow sophora (necklacepod), Sophora tomentosa, develops eight-inch-long strings of beads, like a necklace. Pods turn from pale green to yellow to dark brown and can remain on the plant for two years. Seeds are ready when the dark pods crush when gently pressed between your fingertips.