One of my favorite tasks in propagating native plants is being able to go into the hills and along the rivers to collect seeds, often by simply walking out my door. And, being a relatively small nursery, I not only focus on species that grow in North Central Washington but also emphasize that the plants I grow and sell, being from right here, are best adapted to our particular growing conditions.
The largest species that I collect seeds for are Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. As mature trees in Chelan County they can be expected to reach 100′ tall and more. The Doug fir cones I can generally pick from the tree (pictured above), sometimes with the aid of a pruning pole. The Ponderosa pines are more of a challenge as the seeds are released from the cones before they fall, and the cones are well beyond reach. However, our native Douglas squirrels have proven to be very helpful, if unwilling, assistants for cone collection. They move around a pine tree in the fall and cut off the cones, dropping them to the ground and then gathering them up and cacheing them for later dining. I help myself to some of their harvest; as compensation, I put up with the mess they make when they nest in my garage!
Drying Ponderosa pine cones; they will open and release the seeds
We sow the seeds of both species in January; by mid to late March the new seedling have emerged. I rarely use this word to describe plants but Ponderosa pine seedlings are cute!
“Bird cage” stage for pine seedlings
There are forestry nurseries that grow many millions of conifer seedlings each year and produce large, healthy plants. Our production is more limited but those that we grow are, again, from right here. Our Doug fir seeds are collected on the hill behind my house (1200′-1500′ in elevation) and we do two collections of Ponderosa pine, both in Derby Canyon, one from 1200′-1500′ and the second from 2400′-2800′.
Douglas fir seedlings