Crop Information at the Malheur Experiment Station
Oregon State University Malheur Experiment Station is cooperating with the Great Basin Native Plant Project, seeking to help provide information for the successful production of native wildflower seed for restoration efforts in the great basin. There are many cooperators on this project.
Following fire, non-native species tend to invade many burned areas. In the past many burned areas have been reseeded largely with grass species. There is increasing interest by the public, BLM, and the US Forest Service to reseed burned areas with mixtures of grass, wildflowers, and shrubs. Although native forbs (wildflowers) are components of most native communities, their use in re-vegetation has been limited, largely due to inadequate seed supplies. Seed production practices and seeding technology are essential for the use of these species. Commercial supplies of seed are not always available. Information is scarce on how to produce seed. Growers need to know how to plant, control weeds and pests, irrigate if necessary, harvest, and clean seed. Current research at the Malheur Experiment Station and elsewhere seeks to help develop seed production technology. Efforts at the Malheur Experiment Station are focused on weed control and irrigation. We are also mechanizing harvest when possible.
Beardtongue (Penstemon), biscuitroot (Lomatium), buckwheat (Eriogonum), hawksbeard (Crepis), globemallow (Sphaeralcea), milkvetch (Astragalus) and prairie clover (Dalea) species are widely distributed across the Great Basin, increasing biodiversity, improving habitat for many organisms (including sage-grouse), and adding to the aesthetics of western wild lands.
Sulfur buckwheat (Eriogonum umbellatum, Buckwheat family) occurs in all western states at elevations from 1,650-10,000 ft. on a variety of moderate to well-drained soils. Pollinators include bees, wasps, and flies. Seed ripens uniformly and is easily harvested and cleaned to 90+% purity. There are 120,000-150,000 seeds/lb. Seed quality and insect predators can be problematic. This species remains green through the summer, reseeds readily, establishes well on adapted sites, and it is a good soil stabilizer.
Sand penstemon (Penstemon acuminatus, Snapdragon family) grows only on sandy soils at elevations from 2,150-10,150 ft. It flowers early in the season and is a short-lived perennial. Capsules open soon after ripening and seeds are rapidly dispersed. There are 550,000 seeds/lb. Seed is easily harvested and cleaned to 90% purity. Moist chilling of the seed is required to release dormancy and permit germination. The cold treatment can be satisfied by planting the seed in fall. Emergence occurs in late winter or early spring. The species can be used for restoring sandy areas within its range in the northern Great Basin. Hotrock Penstemon
Hotrock penstemon (Penstemon deustus, Snapdragon family) occurs in most western states at elevations from 2,600-8,200 ft. There are two varieties. Hotrock penstemon has wide ecological amplitude, but often grows in rocky areas. Seed capsules remain closed at maturity, facilitating harvest. Seeds are very small at 2,900,000 seeds/lb. The seed requires 8-12 weeks of moist chilling to relieve dormancy and permit germination. Hotrock penstemon provides soil stabilization and can be broadcast seeded over rough and rocky areas within its range. It is an attractive plant for roadsides, including steep, rocky road-cut slopes.
Showy penstemon, Sagebrush penstemon (Penstemon speciosus, Snapdragon family) is widespread in the northern Great Basin on loamy soils at elevations from 3,900 to 10,800 ft. It has very showy blue flowers. Seed capsules retain their seed for several weeks after reaching maturity. There are 508,000 seeds/lb. Seed requires an 8-12 week moist chilling to relieve dormancy. Sagebrush penstemon grows in big sagebrush and may occur as scattered plants or as fairly dense stands. It is an excellent species for adding diversity in sagebrush community restoration.
Fernleaf biscuitroot (Lomatium dissectum, Parsley family) grows on a variety of soils at elevations from 2,300-8,500 ft. in all western states. It is a robust plant with a large, thickened woody taproot. The large seed ripen uniformly and are easily harvested and cleaned. There are 30,000-40,000 seeds/lb. Seed requires 3-4 months of moist chilling to relieve dormancy and permit germination. Plants require well-drained soil. This plant grows very early in the spring so it should have a short irrigation season. Hybridization of fernleaf biscuitroot with other biscuitroot species is uncommon. Biscuit roots are among the earliest forbs to begin growth in spring.
Grey's Lomatium, Gray's biscuitroot (Lomatium grayi, Parsley family) occurs in most western states on moderately heavy soils from at elevations from 2,300-9,200 ft. The plant has highly dissected leaves and a strong, parsley-like odor. Flowers appear in March-April and are pollinated by flies. The large, uniformly ripening seeds are easily harvested and cleaned. There are 30,000-50,000 seeds/lb. Seeds requires a 3-months moist chilling to relieve dormancy. Good seed production can be achieved in the second growing season. The plant initiates growth very early in spring and becomes dormant by early summer, thus its irrigation requirements are low. Biscuitroot are among the earliest forbs to begin growth in spring.
Nine-leaf desert parsley (Lomatium triternatum, Parsley family) occurs on variable soils from 2,000 to 8,850 ft. in all Great Basin states. It has a slightly thickened taproot and leaves with minimal dissection. The large seeds ripen evenly and are easily harvested and cleaned. There are 40,000-50,000 seeds/lb. Seed requires a 10-week moist chilling to germinate. Good seed production can be achieved in the second growing season. Nine-leaf desert parsley begins growth very early in spring and enters dormancy by early summer, so it should have a short irrigation season. Biscuit roots are among the earliest forbs to begin growth in spring.
Thread Stalk Milk Vetch, Basalt milkvetch (Astragalus filipes, Pea family) occurs on silty to loamy soils at moderate elevations in the northern Great Basin. It is a tall, erect perennial with pale yellow to creamy white flowers. The pods mature in early to mid-summer. The pods do not ripen uniformly; mature pods and tend to easily fall to the ground. Seed predation by insects is often a problem. Basalt milkvetch is a nitrogen-fixing member of the Pea family. Seed scarification enhances seed germination.
Western Prairie Clover, Western prairie clover (Dalea ornata, Pea family) and Searls' prairie clover (Dalea searlsiae, Pea family) are showy, perennial, pink-flowered plants in the pea family. Western prairie clover tends to occur in the northern portion of the Great Basin, while Searls’ prairie clover tends to occur in the southern portion of the Basin. Western prairie clover is a nitrogen-fixing member of the Pea family.
Tapertip hawksbeard (Crepis acuminata, Sunflower family) occurs in most western states on variable soils and at over a wide range of elevations. Its yellow flowers bloom in spring and early summer. Seed maturation is several weeks later. Insect predation can be a factor for this species. Inconveniences are indeterminate seed maturation and very fluffy, wind borne seed. Tapertip hawksbeard is an important food source for sage- grouse.
Globemallow (Sphaeralcea spp., Mallow family) includes several species across the Great Basin on variable soils and from low to moderate elevations. Bright orange to salmon colored flowers appear in spring and summer. Seed ripening is indeterminate. There are approximately 500,000 seeds per lb. Globemallows are particularly important for drier sagebrush and salt desert communities where few native forb species occur. Seed production research is taking place at the Malheur Experiment Station on Sphaeralcea grossulariifolia, Sphaeralcea coccinea, and Sphaeralcea parvifolia.
For more resources for growers, follow the links below.