When ecologist Stefan Weber describes his work collecting native plant seeds, it brings to mind a rescue mission of sorts.
“We see these tiny wonderful remnant populations that you know are destined to be killed because you’re in the site of a future highway,” Weber says. “Chainsaws are buzzing in the background as you hurry to gather seeds to save before it’s too late.”
Weber works for St. Williams Nursery and Ecology Centre, the biggest for-profit nursery in Ontario, so in spite of the ‘do-good’ thrust, Weber reminds me it’s a business that sells bulk seeds: “We make money doing this.”
With his team, Weber goes into the wild, collects a small amount of seed to be scaled up for agricultural practices on the farm and greenhouses, and then propagates the plants.
Source identifying all of their seeds, the nursery grows over 500 different species ranging from native wildflowers, trees and shrubs to grasses, and even aquatics.
As a seed specialist, Weber is in charge of “everything seed.”
This includes timing when a crop is ready to be harvested, collection of that crop, the drying, the processing, the cleaning.
This large-scale restoration work involves growing every single seed into a plant.
It takes one or two generations to get a room full of plants –like a substantial field of plants. In years, that’s like two years to scale up from ‘wild’ to ‘field restoration status.’
It’s a rewarding occupation. Weber, who’s been with the nursery for two years, describes how they get to go everywhere: “We find things that conservation authorities don’t know are there. We see territory that they don’t get a chance to see.”