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Plant Materials Center in Aberdeen provides beginning seeds

By By Chris Cole
Published On: Sep 13 2013 07:53:12 PM CDT

When it comes to reseeding efforts across Idaho's fire-ravaged areas, many wonder where it starts.

ABERDEEN, Idaho -

When it comes to reseeding efforts across Idaho's fire-ravaged areas, many wonder where it starts. The answer? Aberdeen's Plant Materials Center.

Here's how the seeds begin and end up throughout the Western United States. First, Loren St. John and his small team at the Plant Materials Center go out in the field and collect seed samples. Then they study the samples for various properties, like fire resistance, amount of water needed and germination period.

"We bring them back here to the Plant Materials Center and grow them out in trials to find the one that performs the best," St. John said.

He says reseeding affects more than just the plants. The sage grouse population, for example, has the potential of being listed as endangered.

"A lot of their decline in numbers has to do with destruction of their habitat," St. John explained. "These large areas of sagebrush they've evolved with are disappearing because of wildfires."

So they find the best possible plants and grow them in fields. The center has more than 160 acres used to help reseeding efforts, and St. John says they've released at least 40 different plants.

Workers at the center then harvest the plants in the field and take them to a nearby location, where a machine shakes away the dirt and debris. They clean the seeds and dry them, and then the seeds are stored in bins or bags until they're ready to be shipped out.

The field they most recently harvested was filled with Apar blue flax seeds. They grow about knee-high, and are a vivid deep blue. But those seeds aren't going to be used to reseed. Instead, the Plant Materials Center sends them to other seed growers, and then those seeds can be found all over the Western United States.

In fact, St. John's team has helped with the Charlotte Fire area. He said they work with some groups who modify some plants to last better in rough Idaho weather, but overall they like to use natural, native plants.

"A lot of the grasses have been pretty well studied,” said St. John. “There's a lot of grass plant releases out on the seed market today, but the big emphasis is with native wildflowers."

The seeds are bought by various farming companies, and places like the Federal Bureau of Land Management. The Aberdeen Plant Materials Center is part of the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

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