Seeds Of Change
By: Kirsten Kampmeier
Photos by: Edgar Ramirez
At 8 o’clock each morning, I walk the same half-mile trail that I walked the day before. After sweeping the pathways and scanning for trash, I try to leave myself enough time to experience the ever-changing landscape before my workday starts. On this particular morning, I note the flowering Mealy Blue Sage, whose stems have just started to droop under the weight of their new blooms, and the explosion of lime-green aliens emerging from the tips of the Prickly Pear cacti. For a moment, I let myself get lost within the abundance of growth that unfolds each spring at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, a research facility that hosts over 900 native Texas plant species. I want to know each individual flower in the golden clusters of Damianita, I want to brush against the feathery green stalks of the towering Standing Cypress, I want to cusp the perfect little orb of white flowers that makes up a blossoming Antelope Horns Milkweed. But as I come back to reality, I try to remember that the gorgeous blooms and new growth are not the whole story.
Amidst the fields of stunning color, some of the plants are fading as we head closer to summer. Most notably, the bluebonnets (our state flower here in Texas) are looking rather pale in the leaves, and the purplish petals are dropping to the ground. Though the plant is declining in appearance, the glorious floral display allowed the plant to be fertilized and produce a ladder of bumpy seed pods that seem to crawl up the stem in replacement of the indigo flowers. The seed pods are not much to look at, but the little seeds inside represent all the bluebonnets that could come in seasons to follow. While a field of blue blooms is a breathtaking sight, recently I find myself more awestruck by the vast number of seeds that are produced after the burst of flowers.
Seed collection is not a practice that many individuals engage with. It can be time consuming, each plant has specific harvesting and storage techniques, and the benefits can take years to observe. But as human-induced climate change and industrial development threaten our beloved spaces and species, it is clear there are no simple fixes to the damage we are causing. If we are going to become a society that embraces rather than abuses our planet, we must embrace the complexity and continuity of the systems at work within the natural world. Through seed collection, storage and dispersal, we can follow the life cycle of a plant beyond its bloom and into the following season. A flowering plant becomes valuable for more than just its singular beauty, it becomes valuable for its potential and its interaction with the environment. Collecting seeds may feel small in terms of becoming a more sustainable people, but it provides an opportunity to intimately connect with nature, and I believe these intimate connections are the only path to lasting, positive change.
Native plants hold a particular fascination for me because of their innate adaptations to regional climate and soil conditions, but not everyone has access to native plants for harvesting seeds. A great way to start engaging with seed collection is in your veggie garden. For example, instead of harvesting your lettuce when it forms a perfect head, allow one of the healthy plants to bolt (shoot up a central stalk and begin to flower). The transformation that lettuce goes through as it sets seed is truly fun to watch; the plant becomes almost unrecognizable as one of your household vegetables. It can vary how long your lettuce will take to set seed depending on weather conditions, but once the flowers have begun to dry and you see dandelion-esque puffballs in place of the blooms, it is time to collect the seeds. All you need is a paper bag, a towel, and an envelope!
• Pinch off the flower heads (the dried out flower with the dandelion-esque puffs)
• Place the seed heads in a paper bag and bring the bag inside
• Gently break the flower heads apart with your fingers and the lettuce seeds will separate from the head and the fluff (the seeds can vary in color, ranging from white to brown)
• Discard the flower heads and extra plant material (if little bits remain, this will not negatively affect your seed storage)
• Place the small seeds on a plate or towel in a cool/shaded spot so they can fully dry out overnight
• Store your seeds in an envelope in a cool, dry, shaded space until you are ready to plant (this could be later in the same season or next year)!
By collecting, storing, and dispersing your own seed, your connection with your plants and garden can become more complete. Purchasing seeds from a supplier is rarely an expensive endeavour. A thousand organic lettuce seeds will only put you out ten dollars. But after helping a plant through its entire life cycle, ordering seeds rather than collecting your own may leave you feeling a bit disenchanted. As crazy as it sounds, you may miss watching your lettuce reach to the sky, feeling the weight of a handful of smooth seeds, and having a weird assortment of dusty envelopes hiding in your pantry. By fragmenting our interactions with food, plants, and the environment at large, we not only damage nature’s continuous cycles, but we also take away experiences that can make us feel whole.