Maryland bolsters next generation of native trees and shrubs with statewide seed collection

27 November 2023- The Maryland Forest Service and the John S. Ayton State Forest Tree Nursery have completed a successful seed collection to grow the next generation of native trees and shrubs in the state. 

The collection brought in thousands of pounds of seeds, berries and nuts, from white oak to witch hazel, for planting in the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ state nursery in Preston, Caroline County. The nursery grows those seeds into bare-root tree seedlings, which are then used in tree plantings across the state.

With new staff hired under Maryland’s 5 Million Trees Initiative and an effective outreach campaign, the Forest Service was able to ramp up this year’s effort to support the state nursery. The campaign inspired a considerable public response, and community volunteers were critical to the success of the project.

Frederick County Girl Scout Troop 37025 displaying the chestnut oak acorns they collected. Photo by Katie Hager.

More than 300 people across the state replied to the Forest Service when the agency put out a request for seed. That includes 50 replies during one windy day when Tropical Storm Ophelia blew debris—and a lot of acorns—to the ground. Washington, D.C. radio station WTOP and The Washington Post provided media coverage for the collection effort, which brought in offers of acorns from as far as Oregon.

Volunteers collected large hauls of seeds and berries from across the state. Residents, Boy Scout Troop 945, and staff from Forest Service and the Frederick County Division of Energy and Environment harvested more than 250 pounds of plum in one day in New Market. Frederick County Girl Scout Troop 37025 collected, cleaned and sorted more than 50 pounds of chestnut oak acorns. Nonprofits like Greater Baltimore Wilderness Coalition and Defensores de la Cuenca also pitched in on the seed collection efforts. Across Maryland, volunteers brought in 60 pounds of dogwood berries and over 1,000 pounds of black walnuts. 

Boy scouts, volunteers and state and county staff collecting plums in New Market. Photo by Ben Tucker.

Forest Service staff then delivered every pound of seeds and berries over the Bay Bridge for timely delivery to the state nursery. From there, nursery staff cleaned thousands of pounds of seed to store for the next planting season, including more than 2,000 pounds of white oak and chestnut oak acorns.

The state nursery grows 2 to 4 million bare-root seedlings annually for reforestation and tree plantings statewide. The seed collection work makes these restoration efforts possible.