The Art of Seed Cleaning


Seed collection came to a close for me in October, and with it, so did my time spent in the field. However, I still needed to organize all the plant matter I had accumulated over the summer and send it off to the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Boise, ID. Towards the end of the month, my supervisor and I decided it would be a neat experience for me to participate in the seed cleaning process. So, I tucked all my seed collections and their respective herbarium specimens into a box and headed out to Boise. I spent a few days in Boise learning the art of seed cleaning and witnessing many mounds of messy fluff transform into neat little packets of seed eager to be planted.

The hard work of many interns this summer now patiently waiting to be cleaned.

After the species identification of seed collections were verified, each bag of seed was cleaned by hand and then by machine before moving into storage. Hand cleaning could be a daunting task, especially if there happened to be a lot of debris in the collection, but this step definitely improved the effectiveness of the mechanical seed cleaning. I could feel my eyes begin to cross as I sorted through piles of fluff for hours on end, but it was rewarding to complete a collection. Additionally, this monotonous task was made enjoyable by sharing the experience with the fun crew of Boise seasonals.

Machaeranthera canescens at the beginning of hand cleaning.

Tessa, one of the Boise seasonals, doing a stellar job at hand cleaning M. canescens.

The machinery we used for seed cleaning is located at the Lucky Peak Nursery, near Lucky Peak State Park. This step in the seed cleaning process is also pretty time consuming, but it’s a bit more engaging than the hand cleaning. We would run a collection of seed through a mechanical brushing machine that would ideally remove most of the pappus (all the fluffy stuff) from the seeds. The seed collection would then be transferred to an air column, where a stream of air was supposed to separate all the debris from the viable seeds. The effectiveness of these machines often depended on the cleanliness of the seed collection and the species we were working with. I worked on Crepis acuminata and Machaeranthera canescensC. acuminata is much better behaved when it comes to seed cleaning.

The brush machine.

Tessa: master of the air column.

While cleaning wildflower seeds is not the most exciting thing I have ever done in my life, I think it’s neat to see the end-product and it’s an important step in improving the germination rates of the seed. I am glad I had this opportunity. I will definitely appreciate the cleanliness of any packet of seed I plant in the future!

C. acuminata before cleaning.

C. acuminata after cleaning.

Some packets of CLEAN seed – aren’t they beautiful???

Cheers to more adventures!


USFS Idaho Falls, ID

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