ReSeeding Rhode Island

No one gardens better than Mother Nature. Her designs are exquisite, and the connections between plants, insects, and animals that she has forged result from countless generations of evolution. The consequence of this process is biodiversity, as measured not only in species richness, but also in genetic richness. Uli Lorimer

As native plant enthusiasts, we have long been aware of how important native plants are to creating ecologically biodiverse habitats, ones that will support the local bugs, bees, and butterflies, the beasts and birds that depend on them — even the microbes and fungi dwelling in the soil.

Now, we are coming to realize that we need truly local plant species: that is, ecotypes that have coevolved with the local fauna and are genetically suited to meet the unique requirements of all the occupants of a particular habitat.

New England Ecoregions, from Native Plant Trust’s Garden Plant Finder. Ecoregion 59 is one of 105 ecoregions mapped on the continental United States by the Environmental Protection Agency to designate areas that share largely similar environmental conditions and plant genetics. photo Native Plant Trust Garden Finder

Recognizing this need, in 2022 RIWPS launched the ReSeeding Rhode Island initiative, an ambitious five-year plan to increase the availability of plants grown from locally sourced wild native seeds collected from Ecoregion 59, the habitat that characterizes Rhode Island and extends beyond its borders.

The story of Reseeding Rhode Island however begins in 2010 with the work of botanist Hope Leeson on the Rhody Native Initiative of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey. We have also drawn heavily from the model of The Ecotype Project for Pollinator Health, set up in 2019 by The Northeast Organic Farming Association of Connecticut (CTNOFA) — now the Ecotype Project.

The first round of our current journey has begun. Our botanist Shannon Kingsley has been collecting seeds in a sustainable manner.  These seeds come from a small select number of native wild plant populations. Once cleaned and sowed, this generation of seed will be grown into plugs. Through partnerships with Rhode Island organic farmers, land trusts and other potential collaborators, the plugs will be cultivated in dedicated “founders” plots.  The plants produced will then become the source of first generation (F1) organic, native, genetically diversified seeds. They will be harvested and used to increase the number of genetically suited native plants in the plant supply chain.

Follow us on our journey, learn with us, share in the excitement of Reseeding Rhode Island via Instagram (click here)

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For more details about the background for the Reseeding Rhode Island, see Reseeding RI, WildfloraRI, Spring 2022.