We grow and sell New England native plants
Set on 75 acres in the Connecticut River Valley of western Massachusetts, Nasami Farm grows New England native plants from seed that we harvest sustainably from healthy, well-established wild populations throughout the region. Our goal is ensuring genetic diversity to offset the clones sold by traditional nurseries and to build resilience into a landscape facing change. We feed our plants with organic fertilizer and use biological controls rather than chemicals as our first line of defense against pests. We use no systemic pesticides, such as neonicotinoids.
We focus on propagation and research to bring different and hard-to-grow native plants into production. In addition to propagating plants for our two Garden Shops, we also work with the Conservation staff and contract with other organizations to cultivate plants for the restoration of wild habitats. And, in our classroom at Nasami Farm, we also offer year-round classes in native plant horticulture and botany.
For home gardeners and professionals, the Nasami Farm Garden Shop, open on weekends from late April through early October, offers an extraordinary variety of native plants during the growing season, and we are significantly expanding our seed collection and our list of species.
Nasami Farm's Garden Shop has closed for the 2019 season. The classroom and the seasonal Garden Shop are the only parts of Nasami Farm open to the public.
Why We Grow Native Plants from Seed
Propagator and Facilities Coordinator Alexis Doshas explains
When nurseries propagate plants through cuttings, cloning, or using seed collected from a small or cultivated population, they winnow out genetic diversity, rendering all the individual plants in the group susceptible to the same pests and diseases. That means that all plants of the same species that live in a particular geographic area can be wiped out by a single pest, as happened, for example, when one microorganism decimated Ireland's potato crop in the mid-19th century, causing a famine that claimed about a million lives.
In some cases we need to propagate plants through cuttings or another vegetative method, usually when a species is difficult to grow from seed or does not produce much, if any, viable seed. Also, native plant cultivars—varieties that have been bred for certain characteristics, such as resistance to disease, size, and ornamental traits—have their place in our landscapes, in moderation.
Take, for example, double blood-root (Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’). A natural mutation in the wild created a plant with additional flower petals. Unlike the straight species, double blood-root is sterile—that is, it does not produce seed—because the mutation transformed its reproductive parts into petals. While we continue to collect wild seed of blood-root and grow it from seed, that is not an option for double blood-root and similar sterile plants. So, we may divide the plants, take cuttings, or purchase them from our partner nurseries that have propagated them from cuttings.
But these are exceptions. We primarily focus on growing native plants from seed collected in the wild by a team of trained staff and volunteers who research and document local sources of healthy, wild populations. At the right time, we head into the field to collect seed, careful to leave plenty of intact specimens to enable the population to continue to thrive. This widespread sampling in the wild ensures that the native plants we grow in our greenhouses represent the region's robust genetic diversity.
Fertile Ground for Research
We experiment with chemical-free pest control, nutritious soil mixes, and propagation techniques for challenging plants
For example, in one ongoing experiment, we're trying to learn how to get the seeds of bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), a low-growing evergreen shrub, to germinate faster. Bearberry is a popular nursery plant because it thrives in poor, dry soils and is a favorite alternative to turf grass, especially on slopes. Birds and other animals feast on its red fruit. But it is nearly impossible to find genetically diverse, seed-grown specimens in commercial nurseries because of the plant's hard-coated seed, which can stay dormant for years. To keep up with demand, most nurseries produce clones with cuttings from one or two parent plants, contributing to a lack of biodiversity in the landscape.
What if nurseries could grow bearberry faster, without resorting to genetic modification? The first step in solving the puzzle is to find out why the plant's tough-coated seeds germinate when they do. Is it an environmental stimulus, for instance? We are collaborating with staff at a local community college to discover what triggers Arctostaphylos seed to germinate, treating the seeds with smoke, heat, chemical baths, and combinations thereof. Our findings could lead to more nurseries growing bearberry from seed—and bolstering the species’ genetic diversity in the wild.
Growing Plugs for Roseate Terns
Landowners contract with us when they need to restore acres of habitat. Here's one story.
When erosion washed out island nesting grounds for roseate terns at Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, off Cape Cod, the population of this endangered species plunged from about 50 pairs to 8 pairs. In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which manages the refuge, hired Nasami Farm to grow more than 2,000 plugs of seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens) to create new habitat for the terns. Plugs are seedlings grown in six-inch-deep cells that allow the plants to develop more advanced root systems, which gives them a head start when they are transplanted in the wild.
Why seaside goldenrod? According to USFWS staff, this plant creates a canopy under which the birds can nest. And, after the chicks hatch, they can scoot under the canopy to hide from predators. Roseate terns also like to burrow in beach grass, but it can become too dense to provide this shelter. The goldenrod will fill in but still provide enough room for the birds to nest.
Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge is one of the many projects for which Nasami Farm staff has been contracted to grow plugs. From colleges and watershed associations to state and federal agencies such as the USFWS, clients typically seek to restore acres of degraded habitat to support a greater diversity of wildlife, or a particular rare or endangered species, such as the roseate terns. The fact that Nasami Farm staff grows plugs from seed collected from wild populations in New England ensures that the plants are more likely to be genetically adapted to the conditions where they mature.
Two years after planting in Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, USFWS staff reported that the goldenrod was filling in well, and the number of terns had increased to 14 pairs. The 2017 nesting season brought 18 pairs. And, in the summer of 2018, 30 pairs arrived to nest in the refuge. Though the steady yearly increase suggests a resurgent nesting population, the new habitat doesn't guarantee that result, says Refuge Manager Matthew Hillman.
"I certainly hope that our roseate tern numbers will continue to increase," Hillman says, adding, "Much of what happens is completely out of our control and depends on how the winter storms alter the islands and change nesting habitat. However, much also depends on our active management, such as prescribed fire within the tern colony, invasive species control, and predator control."
And that, says, Hillman, is just on the island refuge itself. "Monomoy is only part of a much larger puzzle," he says. "Terns are known to change colony locations from one year to the next, and sometimes even within a single season. So we will continue to aim to provide the best available roseate tern nesting habitat and hope that they will continue to use these areas for nesting."
Want to learn more about contracting with Nasami Farm to grow plugs for habitat restoration or large-scale ecological design? Email Nursery Production Manager Cayte McDonough.