- Welcome to the National Tree Seed Centre
- Seed collection and storage
- Ordering seed
- Butternut conservation
- Ash conservation
- Additional resources
- Contact us
Welcome to the National Tree Seed Centre
We preserve the genetic diversity of Canadian tree and shrub species and provide seed for scientific research.
The National Tree Seed Centre, established in 1967, is located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, at the Canadian Forest Service–Atlantic Forestry Centre (CFS–AFC).
At this facility, we collect, process, test and store the seeds of Canadian tree and shrub species for conservation and research purposes.
Currently, the Seed Centre has more than 14,000 seedlots. These contain seed from more than 110 Canadian tree and shrub species and 45 non-native species. The long-term goal is to store representative seed samples collected from throughout the natural ranges of all Canadian tree and shrub species—about 125 tree species and 100s of shrub species.
Who uses the Centre’s seed?
Researchers are the primary users of the Centre’s seed. This includes scientists at Canadian universities, provincial and federal governments and research agencies, as well as at universities and research organizations in many countries around the world.
The seed is used for a range of research projects, such as provenance trials, isozyme studies, molecular investigations, tissue culture, climate change, assisted migration and species restoration.
In addition to providing seed to other organizations, we conduct our own investigative work, such as developing improved processing and germination testing methods and procedures.
Seed collection and storage
Control of seed quality at the National Tree Seed Centre is a top priority. It begins at the time of collection, continues during the handling and curing of cones and fruit, and carries on right through cleaning, testing and storage. This maximizes the long-term storability of the seed.
Seed is collected from natural populations.
Most is collected by Seed Centre staff. However, additional seed is also acquired with the assistance of other Canadian Forest Service centres, provincial forest services, forest industries and other agencies. As well, some seed is obtained through exchange or purchase from seed dealers.
A variety of methods are used to collect the seed such as by climbing, using pole pruners or ladders, from harvesting operations and directly from the tree or shrub.
To ensure high genetic and physiological seed quality, collections are only made when there is a good crop. Collections may be taken from individual trees or from many trees to acquire a representative sample of the genetic variability of the population.
Seed testing is conducted on a regular and continuous basis. Germination testing rules established by the International Seed Testing Association and Association of Official Seed Analysts are followed or used as a guide. Freshly collected seed and seed obtained from cooperating agencies and seed dealers are tested before being placed in storage.
Typical seed tests performed include those for moisture content, 1000-seed weight and germination. Seedlots in storage are regularly tested for germination to monitor their long-term viability.
Nearly all the seed at the Seed Centre is stored at –20°C. At this temperature, the seeds stay viable for decades as long as the seeds’ moisture content is low (5–8%). For example, seed from white spruce, black spruce, jack pine and red pine has germinated at over 80% after 40 to 50 years in frozen storage. For hardwood species whose seed cannot be dried and do not store well (such as oak and silver maple), seeds are kept at 4°C and collections are made frequently to maintain a viable supply.
The National Tree Seed Centre provides small quantities of seed at no cost for scientific research purposes only.
Seed will be sent by regular mail at no charge or by courier at the client’s expense.
An Import Permit may be required for seed requests from outside Canada. When the Import Permit is received, the Seed Centre will obtain a Phytosanitary Certificate which will accompany the shipment.
Using the Seed Database
The Seed Database lists the species in our collection, the number of seedlots available for each species, as well as detailed information about each seedlot.
On the Seed Request Form you will need to enter the species and the NTSC Number of the seedlots that you request.
Familiarizing yourself with the headings and codes in the Seed Database will facilitate your search. Please consult the Legend of Seed Database Codes for this information.
The Seed Database is part of the Canadian Forest Genetic Resources Information System (CAFGRIS).
Conservation of butternut genetic resources
Butternut (Juglans cinerea), a tree species native to Canada and the United States, is being killed by an introduced fungal disease (Ophiognomonia clavigignenti-juglandacearum). This disease causes butternut canker.
In Canada, butternut is on the endangered species list under the federal Species at Risk Act. This means the tree is at serious risk of becoming extinct.
Where does butternut grow in Canada?
Butternut is native to southern Ontario and Quebec and western and southern New Brunswick. It is typically found growing in small stands near or with other mixed hardwoods. The New Brunswick populations are genetically distinct from those in the other two provinces and in the United States.
In New Brunswick, the species grows mainly in the Saint John River Valley and along the banks of the Southwest Miramichi River and the Aroostock River.
The need for an ex situ conservation strategy
No control for the fungal disease yet exists, and no butternut trees appear to be resistant to the disease.
Research in the United States has found that the species has little genetic basis for resistance. Although resistance to canker initiation brought on by the fungus is genetically present, it is not enough to be incorporated into a resistance breeding program. This supports previous findings that suggest resistance is not heritable in butternut.
For this reason, in situ conservation (meaning on site, or nearby, on lands such as parks or protected areas) is not an effective long-term strategy for the endangered butternut.
At the Atlantic Forestry Centre of Natural Resources Canada–Canadian Forest Service (NRCan–CFS), a project is underway to develop an ex situ (meaning off site) butternut conservation collection. This will be one of only a few resources available to researchers to support future research and restoration of the species using next-generation technologies.
The research activities underway
This project, which started in 2013, includes activities such as:
- cryopreserving embryonic axes – Cryopreservation involves storing material in liquid nitrogen at -196°C. For four years (2013−2016), over 28,000 nuts were collected throughout New Brunswick. About 21,500 embryonic axes from these were stored in liquid nitrogen at NRCan-CFS’s National Tree Seed Centre.
- assessing the butternut populations across its range in New Brunswick and evaluating the health of these populations
- genotyping the New Brunswick butternut populations to evaluate the extent of its genetic diversity – During three years of surveying (2014−2016), the NRCan–CFS collected samples from over 600 trees on more than 40 sites in New Brunswick. All of these samples will be genotyped.
A database maintained at the Atlantic Forestry Centre on the New Brunswick butternut population includes:
- tree identification and genotyping data
- tree health assessment data, such as tree physical traits and health parameters (diameter at breast height, presence of canker, crown vigour, dieback, etc.)
- information about the ex situ collection of nuts, including number of nuts, measurement data and embryonic axes storage data
These new genetic data will enable us to evaluate the uniqueness of the New Brunswick butternut population.
For more information, contact the butternut conservation team
Conservation of ash genetic resources
Emerald ash borer (EAB), an exotic insect, poses an economic and environmental threat to ash trees in Canada. Since it was discovered in Windsor in 2002 it has spread rapidly across southwestern Ontario. In 2006 the insect was found in London and in 2008 in Ottawa and southeast of Montreal. It continues to expand its range in Canada.
The larvae bore into the tree, creating tunnels in the wood under the bark. These tunnels disrupt water and nutrient flow, killing the tree. Every ash species is susceptible, which means EAB threatens the existence of ash in Canada. It is therefore important to collect ash seed before Canada’s ash resource is decimated.
The National Tree Seed Centre has taken the lead in Canada in collecting ash seed for genetic conservation.
The need for an ex-situ conservation strategy
In 2004, the National Tree Seed Centre started collecting ash seed for genetic conservation.
Natural ash populations have adapted to their environments. Preserving germplasm from a significant number of these populations will facilitate the reintroduction of ash species once adequate environmental control measures for EAB are developed or trees resistant to the insect are bred and introduced. The easiest way to assemble breeding material is to collect seed from native stands. The seed will not transmit EAB to non-infested areas.
When properly handled and stored, ash seed will remain alive for many decades. Seed can be easily distributed to scientists and growers to produce seedlings for EAB research, breeding, genetics projects, other scientific study and future reintroduction efforts.
We encourage organizations as well as the general public to assist us in this effort by locating ash stands and populations and collecting seed to send to us.
To ensure the proper identification, collection and preparation of ash seed for sending to the Centre, we ask that you read the guidelines below before you start and follow them during the collection process.
What ash species are native to Canada?
Five native species of ash occur in Canada:
- black (Fraxinus nigra)
- green (F. pennsylvanica)
- white (F. americana)
- blue (F. quadrangulata)
- pumpkin (F. profunda)
Blue ash and pumpkin ash are rare. They are found only in southern Ontario at the northern fringe of their natural ranges.
Non-native species of ash have been planted in urban areas and used for landscaping. Seed from non-native species must not be collected for sending to the Seed Centre.
How to identify ash species correctly:
It is essential to collect seed from correctly identified trees. Characteristics can vary within a species and a tree of one species can sometimes look like it is another species. It is therefore necessary to examine all characteristics to make an accurate identification.
If you cannot positively identify the species, DO NOT collect the seed for the Centre. When you submit collected seed, we ask that you include a sample twig and pressed leaf from the tree in question. See “Where to Send the Seed” below.
Trees are best identified and flagged in August, well before seed collection time.
For assistance with ash identification:
When to collect:
- Ensure that seed is ripe before collecting it.
- Collecting too early will result in seed that is not completely mature.
- Collecting too late will result in losing seed to natural seed fall.
- Black ash is usually ready by mid-September. All the other ash species are ready to collect after the end of September.
Where to collect seed:
- Collect seed from natural stands only.
- Do not collect from planted trees such as in parks, along streets or on residential properties. The seed used to grow these trees may have originated elsewhere and not be well adapted to the growing conditions of the site it is planted on.
- Avoid collecting from single, isolated trees. Within a stand or area, collect seed from at least 15 trees (but more if possible, up to 25). Trees should be at least 50 to 100 metres apart.
How to collect seed:
- Place seed collected from individual trees into separate bags, one for each tree.
- Use large paper grocery bags, which will aid in allowing the seed to dry.
- Assign a number to each tree and clearly label the paper bag with this number as well as the tree’s location. Also place a label with the corresponding information inside the bag.
- NEVER use plastic bags.
- Collect seed directly from the tree, NEVER from the ground. Seed on the ground could be from any tree.
- Before starting to collect, check a sample of seed for insect damage and to ensure the seeds are filled. If seed quality is low, move to another tree. Keep in mind that seed quality varies from tree to tree.
- Collect 6 litres from each tree (includes seed and the associated stems of the seed clusters).
- Pole pruners may be used to cut off branches. If a ladder is required to climb up into a tree, ensure that someone is trained to do this and the appropriate safety equipment is used.
- Seed may also be collected from harvested trees as long as the trees were cut when the seed was ripe and fully mature.
- After collection, place the bags in a well-ventilated area to allow the seed to dry.
What information to record:
- On one sheet of paper, record the following information for each tree that seed is collected from:
- name of collector
- collection date
- the number you assigned to the tree
- location (place name)
- GPS coordinates in decimal degrees for each tree (latitude and longitude)
- Site description
- Make a copy for your records and then send the sheet (or sheets) to us with the seed.
- Also include with your submission a map on which the collection sites are clearly marked.
How to pack the seed for sending:
- When the seed has air-dried for several weeks, staple the bags closed.
- Pack each carefully, along with its related twig and pressed leaf samples, in a box (or in as many boxes as needed). The leaf samples should be kept flat and separate by tree. All the samples can be sandwiched between two pieces of corrugated cardboard
Where to send the seed:
- Send the boxes by courier to the National Tree Seed Centre (shipping address below), where the seed will be cleaned, tested and stored.
- Please call or email the Centre before you send your shipment (see contact information below) to confirm arrangements.
Natural Resources Canada
National Tree Seed Centre
1350 Regent Street
Fredericton, NB E3C 2G6
National Tree Seed Centre
International Seed Testing Association
National Tree Seed Centre
Natural Resources Canada
Canadian Forest Service–Atlantic Forestry Centre
P.O. Box 4000
Fredericton, NB E3B 5P7 CANADA