Tree Seed Sourcing 101

Our state nursery no longer needs any white oak or chestnut oak acorns for this season thanks to amazing outreach and response!!
Over 1000 pounds of clean, viable seed collected ready to be planted.

​​Thank you for being a steward of future forests by joining our tree seed collection efforts to support the Maryland Forest Service’s John S. Ayton State Forest Tree Nursery in Preston, Maryland. Be on the lookout every late summer/fall for any of the following species listed in Table 1 (​reverse), and reach out if there are others you’d like to collect!

  • Materials
    Burlap bags or paper lawn/leaf bags, gloves, tarp, rake, and enthusiasm! Remember, look out for yourself when collecting seed. Pack food, water, sunblock, bug spray, and other essentials. Wear long sleeves and pants when collecting seed to minimize the risk of ticks and protect from briars.
  • Collection
    Get seed as soon as it is mature and be sure to inspect! No cracks, dried-out looking seed or seed with holes from wildlife damage such as insects. When tree seed falls from a branch, most of the time it has ripened, and it is best to collect soon after that. Seed will over-ripen and not germinate well or be susceptible to insect attack if fruits or pods stay on the tree or ground too long. See Table 1 for more details. ALWAYS LEAVE SOME BEHIND FOR WILDLIFE!
  • Storage
    All tree seeds need to be stored in a cool, dry place out of direct sunlight in a paper or burlap bag. Do not use plastic bags to collect seed as it can over-ripen and ferment. We do not recommend storing seed inside your home, as it can bring in bugs. Keep species separated…DO NOT MIX SPECIES IN BAG!! Label all bags.
  • Delivery
    It’s best to collect and deliver seed within the same week. If you cannot deliver the seed yourself, contact Francis Smith or your local county forester to discuss other options.
  • an acorn with a weevil next to it. A weevil looks like a small white worm with a red head Additional Notes

      Weevil eggs are laid in acorns in midsummer, and larvae feed inside the nut until fall. This damages the acorn, and it will not grow into a tree. Weevils leave a tiny hole in acorns. Keep a lookout for these! (photo right)​
      If you have acorns of questionable quality, you can do the float test: put them in a bucket of water, save the sinkers and forget the floaters! Insectdamaged and dehydrated acorns typically have some air space inside the shell and tend to float.

​Questions? Contact Francis Smith 

with the Maryland Forest Service at​​.

Species NameIdentificationCollection Tips
Eastern Redbud; Cercis canadensisSmall tree that grows 20’ to 30’. Heart-shaped leaves turn yellow in the fall. Pink blooms in early to mid-spring. Yields 3” green legume-like seed pods that later turn a brownish-black color. Collect Redbud seeds in fall when pods turn brown. Redbud seed pods can often become dried and shriveled. Examine the pods before collecting: do they feel overly dry or thin? If you can’t feel the individual seeds within the pod, do not collect seed from that tree.
Flowering Dogwood; Cornus floridaSmall tree that grows up to 25’. Dark green oval/ovate leaves are 4-8” long and turn red/purple in fall. Blooms white in April-May. Yields bunches of ¼” glossy red fruit in late summer/fall. Collect Flowering Dogwood fruit in the fall, once the fruit skin is red and it begins to soften. These fruits are often eaten by birds and other wildlife.
Chestnut Oak; Quercus prinusLarge tree that grows up to 70’. Dark green alternately arranged leaves are 4-6” long and turn orange/yellow in fall. Yields dark brown, long oval acorns 1-1.5” long with a thin cap covering less than 1/3” of the nut. Caps separate from the nut when mature.Collect Chestnut Oaks in early fall, preferably within 3 days of falling from the tree. If fallen acorns sit on the ground for too long, they can spoil or attract pests like acorn weevils. Use the “Float Test” to weed out spoiled acorns after you’ve collected them.
White Oak; Quercus albaLarge tree that grows up to 100’. Alternate simple leaves are oblong to ovate in shape, 4-7” long, and have 7-10 rounded lobes. Yields ovoid to oblong acorns with a warty bowl-shaped cap that covers ¼ of the nut. The cap detaches from the nut when mature.Collect White Oak acorns in early fall when they are green or just turning brown, since this species germinates almost immediately. At this stage, it should be difficult to remove their caps. If fallen acorns sit on the ground for too long, they can spoil or attract pests like acorn weevils. Use the “Float Test” to weed out spoiled acorns after you’ve collected them.
Southern Red Oak; Quercus falcataLarge tree that grows up to 80’. Most leaves have 3-5 lobes, can resemble a turkey foot. Acorns are small, with cap covering 1/3 to 1/2 of nut. Nut surface is wrinkled. Bark of mature trees is scaly, darker in color, with vertical ridges broken by horizontal cracks often.Collect Southern Red Oak acorns in early fall. This species can often be a prolific producer of oak tree seed aka acorns. If fallen acorns sit on the ground for too long, they can spoil or attract pests like acorn weevils. Use the “Float Test” to weed out spoiled acorns after you’ve collected them.
Wild American Plum; Prunus americanaSmall shrub-like tree grows up to 30’. Green leaves are paler on the underside, are 3-4” long, are alternately arranged simple ovate/elliptical with finely serrated edges and a pointed tip. Produces clusters of white flowers in early spring. Yields fleshy drupe fruit that is round, 1” across, yellow-brown to reddish-purple. Fruit ripens in late summer. Collect Wild American Plum fruits in late summer to late fall. Collect fallen fruit, or fruit still attached to the tree. Rotting fruit is ok to collect. Do not collect seed that is exposed, because it could be too dried out. Be cautious of fruit on the ground, as it can attract insects like wasps.
Paw Paw; Asimina trilobaSmall slender tree that grows up to 40’ tall. Simple green leaves are alternately arranged, are ovate to oblong, and are 5-11” long and 2-3” wide. Leaves have a pepper-like odor when crushed. Produces large fleshy green-yellow fruit that grows in bunches of 2-5. Fruit is 2 ½-4” long, has a tropical scent and banana-like texture with several large kidneybean shaped seeds on the inside. Fruit ripens in late summer. Collect Paw Paw fruit from late summer to fall, but timing can vary. Collect fallen fruit from the ground or give trees a gentle shake to release still attached fruit. Be cautious of fruit on the ground, as it can attract insects like wasps.
American Elderberry; Sambucus canadensisDark green oppositely arranged pinnately compound leaves are 6-11” long with 5-11 elliptical leaflets. Leaflets have serrated edges and acuminate tips. Bottom leaflets are often 3-lobed. Produces bundles of small white flowers in summer. Yields clusters of small ¼” berry-like drupe fruits that mature in late summer. Fruit is a dark purple-like color.
Collect elderberries in mid to late summer, but timing can vary. Collect fruit by the cluster, you can use pruners and cut at the nearest node. Or roll fingers over berry clusters while holding bag underneath.



Chipmunk Stuffed with Seeds - Photo: Christopher Brown

Before collecting, consider the following…

  • Are you allowed there, or do you need to get permission from the property owner or land manager?
  • Do the trees there look healthy? If a tree looks visibly unwell, the seed may not be viable.
  • Do you see enough seed to collect? Check with Francis Smith to learn about weight quotas for different seeds. Certain trees may not produce seed every year!
  • If you’re picking a tree with seed still on branches, are there low-hanging branches for easier collection?
  • Is the ground around the tree relatively clear to work in?​ (A site with low-cut grass or bare ground below the tree where tree seed has fallen is an ideal collection spot to lay down a tarp and gently shake a tree to collect seed and makes it much easier to rake up seed already on ground and gather as opposed to overgrown understory to pick through.)