J.E. Schroeder Seed Orchard, Managed by Oregon Department of Forestry, Celebrates 50 Years of Breeding Work Aimed at Improving Oregon’s Forests

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This May, the J.E. Schroeder Seed orchard celebrated its 50th anniversary during an event at the orchard itself in St. Paul, Oregon. Former and current employees, cooperators, Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) Board members, and family representatives of the founders were in attendance.

Worker harvesting Douglas-fir cones.

Don Wright, Assistant Seed Orchard Manager from 1992-2010, stated, “It’s nice to see some of the work we started being carried out, including the breeding work we did in the 90s, which are now established orchards. I’ve always wanted to come back and see that.” 

The orchard uses traditional breeding methods to develop improved trees over multiple generations. No genetic modification methods are employed. The focus is on boosting natural traits, such as increased growth rates, widespread adaptability, and insect and disease resistance.

Last fall, the orchard had its second-largest cone harvest, which included 6,767 bushels of Douglas-fir cones and 92 bushels of Western hemlock cones. Every 2 bushels is about a pound of seed. Last year’s crop yielded between 100 million to 118 million Douglas-fir seeds.

Today, Schroeder’s boasts 38 separate seed orchards, with 70 percent of efforts going towards improved Douglas-fir. Each orchard is monitored and maintained for 28 cooperators, including federal agencies, ODF, tribes, and private companies.

A worker grafts a Douglas-fir seedling.

One of the seed orchards is home to a collection of Willamette Valley ponderosa pine trees grown from seeds collected from throughout that tree’s native range during the 1990s. Seeds from those pines have been used by landowners to plant groves of Willamette Valley ponderosa pine in low-elevation parts of the Valley where Douglas-fir is no longer establishing as well as in the past. Another area is planted with western larch (Larix occidentalis), a timber species native to mountainous areas east of the Cascade crest, to see how it might perform as a seed source for planting in eastern Oregon.

For more stories covering the legacy of the Seed Orchard, visit: https://www.oregon.gov/odf/working/pages/seed.aspx

About Author

Jim Gersbach is a Public Affairs Specialist at Oregon Department of Forestry.

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