Jeff DeBell, DNR Silviculturist / Geneticist
Forest nurseries need tree seed to grow the seedlings that you buy. In many cases, this seed is collected directly from the woods. However, when the seed need is large enough to justify extra investment, tree seed can be grown in seed orchards. There are two important advantages of getting seed from orchards versus collecting in the woods. The first is that it is much easier to apply treatments to encourage cone production or control insects in seed orchards, so the seed supply is more reliable. The second is that seed orchards are usually planted using trees that have been proven to perform well on a variety of forest sites, so the quality of the seed is higher.
Washington DNR, with funding support from the U.S. Forest Service, has begun to establish seed orchards for eastern Washington. One of these is a ponderosa pine orchard located at Pullman, adjacent to the campus of Washington State University. This orchard was established as a result of cooperation between the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Washington DNR, the U.S. Forest Service, and a number of public and private cooperators who belong to the Inland Empire Tree Improvement Cooperative (IETIC). Although the orchard is growing on the Palouse, the parent trees came from the northeastern corner of Washington and northern Idaho, and that is where the seed should be planted once the orchard begins to produce. Before being chosen for the orchard, the trees were grown for many years in IETIC tests. They had to demonstrate good growth rate and stem form, and be free from disease before making it into the orchard.
The trees are growing well, and in another five years or so we should start seeing the first crops come out of the Pullman orchard. When that happens, 25% of the seed will be designated specifically for use by family forest owners or the organizations (such as nurseries) who serve them. This is part of an effort by Washington DNR to create more reliable seed supplies for eastern Washington forests to help them recover from fire and disease outbreaks and remain healthy into the future.