National Tree Seed Centre
The National Tree Seed Centre (NTSC) is Canada’s only national seed bank preserving the genetic diversity of Canada’s forests. Through partner training and technical support, the NTSC follows global seed conservation standards to create and maintain high quality seed collections.
The quality of our seed collections, coupled with our expertise in storage and germination protocols, makes the NTSC an important resource for:
- tree and shrub breeding
Located at the Canadian Forest Service-Atlantic Forestry Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick, the NTSC maintains a dynamic living library of Canada’s forest genetic resources. The NTSC has over 17,000 unique collections from 120 native tree and shrub species – the most diverse collection of its kind in Canada.
- National Seed Supply Assessment
- Who uses the Centre’s seed?
- Seed collection and storage
- Ordering seed
- Conservation of Butternut genetic resources
- Conservation of Ash genetic resources
- Contact / shipping instructions
The NTSC was established in 1967 with the focus of obtaining, storing and providing native Canadian tree and shrub seed of known origin for research. Since then, the mandate of the centre has grown to include the conservation of genetic resources under threat from invasive pests, pathogens and climate change.
National Seed Supply Assessment
The NTSC is leading a national assessment of ecologically appropriate seed supply to support largescale nature-based solutions to climate change. This work expands upon the assessment completed in 1999, for reforestation needs.
We have a series of bilingual surveys designed to scope available seed from wild and domestically produced sources, as well as organizational capacity and needs across the country.
While seed orders cannot be filled for operational production, our experience in maximizing seed quality and storage for 171 native tree and shrub species can support knowledge exchange and recommendations for any organization to scale up their efforts.
Training can be tailored to your interests and needs. At least 60 days notice is requested.
To receive the surveys or request training, contact the National Tree Seed Centre.
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 ecological reclamation, climate change, assisted migration, provenance trials, isozyme studies, molecular investigations, tissue culture 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, Parks Canada, provincial forest services, forest industries, indigenous collaborators and other agencies. In addition, 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, equilibrium relative humidity, 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 45 to 55 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.
For parties interested in obtaining seed for research purposes from the National Tree Seed Centre (NTSC) we are looking for:
- Acknowledgement that the NTSC is providing seed (in-kind) in their research proposals.
- Links to results obtained using seed provided by the NTSC.
- Acknowledgement in publications and presentations that seed was provided (in-kind) from the NTSC.
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 Martin Williams
Conservation of Ash genetic resources
Emerald ash borer (EAB), an exotic insect, poses an economic and environmental threat to ash trees 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 Forest Seed Center is the first Canadian facility to collect ash seed for genetic conservation.
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.
- Within a stand or area, collect seed from at least 10 trees (more if possible). Where possible collections should be from trees located at least 50 metres apart.
Maps of current NTSC Ash collections
- Regions without current collections in conservation will be the focal point for the NTSC, and collaborators in the coming years.
All maps sourced from the NTSC collection database (1948-2020), USDA, USGS, Canadian Council on Ecological Areas (CCEA 2017), Mapbox and Openstreet Map. Tableau Desktop 2019.4.7 license provided by the Forest Gene Conservation Association of Ontario.
For more information on the Canadian Ecological Land Classification (ELC) classification, visit Introduction to the Ecological Land Classification (ELC) 2017.
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 2-6 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.
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 instructions below), where the seed will be cleaned, tested and stored.
- Before sending your shipment, call or email the Centre to confirm arrangements.
Contact / shipping instructions
Contact the National Tree Seed Centre to subscribe to the National Tree Seed Centre News, Research and Services newsletter.
Send collected seeds to:
Atlantic Forestry Centre, National Tree Seed Centre
Attention: Donnie McPhee
1350 Regent Street
Fredericton, NB E3C 2G6
Email: Donnie McPhee
- Canadian Forest Genetics Association Tree Seed Working Group's news bulletin
- International Seed Testing Association
- Association of Official Seed Analysts
- Silvics of North American Trees
- Woody Plant Seed Manual
- Trends in forest depletion, seed supply, and reforestation in Canada during the past four decades (1999)
- Date modified: