Gardening: Green future saved by seed

By Meg Liptrot

April is prime seed-gathering time, writes Meg Liptrot

Flax at Piha, on Auckland's west coast. Seeds from these are ripe for seed saving. Photo / Meg Liptrot
Flax at Piha, on Auckland's west coast. Seeds from these are ripe for seed saving. Photo / Meg Liptrot

Saving seed and propagating your own plants are cost-effective ways to see more native greenery in our neighbourhoods and farms. There's nothing like collecting your own seeds, whether it is from a favourite vegetable or flower, or from a native plant, then seeing your efforts come to fruition. April is a prime time to collect native seeds; many species are ripening now and ready to go.

Sharing seeds and seedlings with neighbours, friends and family or the local school or park encourages urban greening, and increases a "green corridor" through your neighbourhood for the benefit of birds and wildlife. As our cities expand, we need more trees planted to take up CO2 emissions and help offset the pollution that comes with large populations. This is a way to offset your own carbon emissions, to green your household and community.

Some people go to great lengths to collect seed. As a student I spent some time visiting Waipoua Forest Trust in Northland. We were hosted by founding trustee Stephen King, a well-known botanist and barefoot activist.

King was one of the few people local iwi approved to abseil up forest giant Tane Mahuta to collect ripe cones. The trust is a joint partnership between Te Roroa, guardians of Waipoua, and the Native Forest Restoration Trust. We helped collect winged seed from harvested kauri cones, which would later be sown in their nursery.

This trust restores native plantings quickly and simply, on a grand scale. They have bought large tracts of previously logged land on the boundary of Waipoua Forest.

Some of this land has been ploughed and sown with seeds from pioneer species such as manuka.

Branches laden with ripe seed pods were dried and the seeds collected, or laid out directly on the freshly tilled soil, so the seeds would drop out of the pods and germinate in situ.

Sowing pioneer species first will create shelter for other shade-loving or tender forest species to grow. In time, birds from the adjacent forest will fly over, depositing seeds in their droppings, thereby establishing more forest plants.

Plenty of farms out there that have steep parts of their property not well suited to stock would benefit from native revegetation to reduce erosion.

Contacting groups such as the trust for advice is a great way to get started.

King could be considered New Zealand's answer to the character from Dr Seuss' conservation story The Lorax. In the 1970s, he, Shirley Guildford and other concerned citizens staged a sit-in high on platforms in the last stand of tall totara trees in Pureora Forest in the central North Island, protecting it from being bulldozed.

The protest paid off. Pureora Forest Park is now protected, ensuring a safe home for kokako, with its blue wattles and beautiful, haunting song. One of the first actions of the new group, Native Forest Action Trust, was to collect seeds to regenerate the forest.

In Auckland, a new grassroots group is just beginning. Avondale resident Hone Pene, of Tainui, Ngati Haua and Ngapuhi descent, has opened a small community nursery, from where he plans to help local iwi revegetate inner-city greenspaces and stream boundaries.

I helped him harvest flax, kumerahou and kowhai seeds from our Waitakere eco-sourced native garden at our environment centre in New Lynn. In March this year, he was honoured as Keep NZ Beautiful's volunteer of the month.

Pene also works with Ngati Haua Mahi Trust and Matamata-Piako District Council to teach Waikato youth to revegetate streams and tributaries in the Ngati Awa area. They plan to start work on the eastern bank of the Waikato River next year.

As a group, they eco-source seeds from local forests to ensure the plant genetics are correct for their region.
He has also worked with Waitakere's Project Twin Streams. This engages with the community to adopt and restore local stream banks. Started in 2003, and having planted more than 800,000 trees and shrubs planted to date, it is going strong.

Kauri dieback alert: When seed-collecting, stick to the track. Boots should be disinfected before and after visiting forests.

Parts of Waipoua Forest and the Waitakere Ranges may be closed to the public to prevent further spread of this fungal disease.


Tips for native seed-saving

• Collect seeds on a dry day. Keep ripe seed pods in a paper bag until they split and the seeds drop out. Fleshy seeds need to soak in water until the pulp falls off. Rub sticky seeds in sand to remove the glue.

• Fresh is best, sow native seeds soon after harvest. Keep potting mix damp, rather than wet.

• Eco-source appropriate seeds for your locale.

• Keep to the track and collect only a little at a time from different plants to get a good genetic mix. Avoid damaging the plant, leave plenty of seed behind.

• Seed-saving on land managed by DoC requires a permit. Likewise, contact your council if you're interested in planting local street verges or parks.

• Be patient. Some native seeds take a long time to
germinate. For more info see nznfrt.org.nz; conservationvolunteers.org.nz; projecttwinstreams.com.

For a native seed-ripening calendar and info, go to: doc.govt.nz (search "native seeds").


For info on vege seed-saving sign up for the workshop Introduction to Seed Saving at the Sustainable Living Centre, New Lynn, next Saturday, April 20. Ph (09) 826 4276.

- Herald on Sunday

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