Non-timber Forest Products: Part II Seeds and Boughs

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Credit: Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

The brisk wind, cold temperatures and fallen leaves are upon us, and so it is time to get out and start harvesting tree seeds and evergreen boughs either for your own use or to sell.

Just this past week, I saw a local florist advertising that they are now purchasing boughs (or branches from conifer trees).  In fact, nationwide, the most frequently sold NTFP is boughs.  The most common use for boughs is of course wreaths.  Other uses include garland, floral arrangements and producing aromatic oils.  Luckily for those of us in Wisconsin, the preferred tree species for wreaths is balsam fir (Abies balsamea) which is a very common species in the state.  If your woodland doesn’t have enough balsam fir to handle all that you wish to gather, you can get a permit to harvest boughs from public lands.  One general guideline is to harvest no more than one third of the branches from any tree.

Boughs are bought by the pound, ton or bundle.  It is best to talk to several buyers before you start cutting to determine which products they are most interested in, and how they are buying.  Check out the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Producers Association website to start looking for wholesalers of wreaths.  The University of Minnesota has several publications to help you getting started in harvesting boughs.  Beware, balsam trees have a very sticky resin, so you will want to have a pair of gloves that you wouldn’t mind tossing out.

Fall is also the time when private and state nurseries are interested in purchasing tree seeds.  The state nurseries, in particular, set goals for their tree production and have specific species in mind when they start buying seed.  The DNR website specifies which species they are buying each year, in what quantity and the dates they are starting their purchasing.  For example, in 2010, DNR nurseries are most interested in jack pine, basswood, black cherry and hard maple.

Most nurseries will process the seed (i.e. clean them of shells and husks), but you need to follow proper handling recommendations based on the various species.  The important thing to remember is that you want the seed to remain viable, which means avoiding rough handling, extreme temperatures and the chance for seed to dry out.  Pine cones can be particularly tricky for collecting them at the right time; once they have lost the seeds, nurseries aren’t interested.  However, some wreath makers are also interested in cones for decorative purposes and may purchase the seedless cones.  As with boughs, contact buyers prior to harvesting to learn their specifications for purchase.

Collecting seeds and boughs can be fun for all members of the family, especially if the ultimate reward is a beautiful wreath or a nice profit in your wallet.