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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

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Station Information


Crops Maintained at NCRPIS                    

  Station Brochure

Major Germplasm Assignments

Curator Crop Taxon

David Brenner

Amaranth, Sweet Clover, others

Amaranthus spp., Melilotus spp.

Mark Millard


Zea mays L.

Laura Marek

Sunflower, Brassica, and Cuphea

Helianthus spp., Brassica spp., Cuphea spp.

Kathy Reitsma



Jeff Carstens

Woody Landscape Plants, Ornamentals, Mints, and Medicinals





Ordering Germplasm
Go 'shopping' for germplasm at the GRIN Search Engine To search the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) system to determine which accessions to order, click on this link:

For curator assistance, information, or to request germplasm, contact:

North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station
G-212 Agronomy Hall
Iowa State University
Ames, IA 50011-1170
Phone: (515) 294-2250
Fax: (515) 294-1903


Or, you may request germplasm or information via:

GRIN's Germplasm or Information Request Form


When you receive seeds from the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station, the seed packet label will contain much information.  Below is a description of what is on the seed packet label.

Seed Packet Label Description

Seed Packet Label Description PDF

Thank you for your interest in the National Plant Germplasm System collections.


Station Facts & Purpose


Station Facts

The North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station (NCRPIS), founded in 1948, is one of four plant introduction stations and more than 20 active germplasm conservation sites in the United States’ National Plant Germplasm System (NPGS).  It is a joint venture among the USDA-ARS Plant Introduction Research Unit (PIR), the Agricultural Experiment Stations (listed below) of the 12 North Central States, and Iowa State University.  The NCRPIS employs about 35 permanent, full-time USDA-ARS and ISU staff and as many as 65 to 100 part-time seasonal student employees.  Located about two miles southwest of the ISU campus on 120 acres of ISU Agricultural Experiment Station land, USDA-ARS facilities on the NCRPIS headquarters farm provide offices, greenhouses, laboratories, seed-storage rooms, equipment and other support needs for seed regeneration and research. 

Genetic and plant pathology research laboratories, offices and some greenhouse resources are also located with the Agronomy Department on the ISU campus (see maps).  

North Central States Agriculture Experiment Stations



North Dakota






South Dakota




Purpose of Station Activities

Station activities are organized to support the acquisition, documentation, regeneration, health, characterization, evaluation, distribution and enhancement of the plant genetic resources held in the NCRPIS collections.  Nearly 50,000 accessions of germplasm are maintained at the NCRPIS, representing nearly 320 genera and over 1700 infrageneric taxa.  Approximately 20-25% of the collection holdings are distributed to researchers each year.  Approximately 76% of the NCRPIS collections are currently backed up at the National Center for Germplasm Resource Preservation (NCGRP) in Ft. Collins, CO.

These accessions are maintained as a shield against genetic vulnerability to the dynamic challenges of biotic and abiotic stresses and as a source of new crops and products to help sustain the vitality of American agriculture, particularly for the NCR.  The research community also relies on these accessions to meet diverse needs for well-characterized germplasm. 

The NCRPIS provides germplasm and data promptly, enabling their rapid mobilization in response to national emergencies or for long-range, high-risk research, and for repatriation to the country of origin upon request.  The NCRPIS distributes about 20,000 seed packets and vegetative propagules annually.  Of these samples, about 40% are distributed to international requestors.  Performance reports from scientists clearly document the frequent utilization of our germplasm and demonstrate the extent of its valuable contribution to all aspects of U.S. and foreign agriculture.  Because of advances in plant biotechnology and molecular genetics that enable the direct introduction of genes from distantly-related plants into crops, even wild species may serve as increasingly important reservoirs of genes for crop improvement.

The economic value of the germplasm and associated data is difficult to estimate due to the complexity of its utilization, now and in the future.  Thorough characterization, evaluation and documentation of germplasm collections increase their value to researchers because that information enables targeting of research resources towards those materials most likely to hold traits/genes of interest.

Germplasm utilization is size and scale neutral, as germplasm and associated data are employed by requestors as diverse as multinational corporations, university plant scientists, educators, family-owned nurseries, seed companies and non-governmental organizations.  Evaluation and preliminary plant breeding efforts with crops such as amaranth, cuphea, various mints, cucurbits, maize, and oilseed brassicas can help diversify and enhance the profitability of family and small farms.  Genes from germplasm can increase the value of a diverse range of field and vegetable crops, which support a biobased economy, including food, feed, fiber, and novel sources of key compounds for nutritional, industrial and medicinal use applications.

To fully regenerate the NCRPIS collections from backup samples or reacquisitions would cost approximately $30,000,000 in 2005 dollars, if reacquisition was possible.  To regenerate the fraction distributed to requestors each year, 20-25% of the collection holdings, approximately $6,000,000 is required.

Pollination is accomplished by hand in the case of maize and cultivated sunflowers, and with the use of pollinator insects such as honeybees, bumblebees, alfalfa leafcutter bees, Osmia bees and flies in screened cages, in both the field and greenhouse. 

Production, storage and distribution of healthy, viable propagules are facilitated by a phytosanitary program which emphasizes detection and diagnosis by disease organisms by the pathology research staff, good sanitation practices implemented by the curatorial staff, and periodic viability testing.

Plant genetic resources (also termed germplasm) are, with water, air, soil, and crop management practices, fundamental to the success of agricultural production systems that sustain humanity, now and in the future.  Relatively few crops (sunflower, certain pines, various nuts and berries) of commercial importance are native to the United States.  Today’s agricultural systems are based primarily on crops that were domesticated and developed by ancient peoples.  Consequently, the origin and development of the U.S. system of renewable resource production has been highly dependent on plant germplasm introduced from other countries.

Acquisition and preservation of this germplasm for the future benefit of sustainable agricultural production continues to be an urgent matter.  Crop improvement and diversification may depend on more recently acquired genes found in germplasm collections.  Recent advances in genomics, genetics and bioinformatic capabilities are enabling researchers to realize the potential value that collections of landraces, cultivars, and their wild and weedy relatives can contribute.  Without modern technological tools, transfer of these traits/genes of interest would be very difficult or impossible.

Much potentially valuable germplasm no longer exists in its native habitat or is rapidly disappearing as rural development, overgrazing, urbanization, population pressure, climate change, disasters caused by nature or the actions of man, and implementation of modern agricultural methods, including the replacement of older cultivars by improved varieties, damage or destroy native habitats and plant populations.

Changes in production goals and practices (e.g. reduced tillage, reduced chemical inputs, higher density planting) place new demands on crops.  Resistance or tolerance to abiotic stress (e.g. water, heat, or nutrition) is a key limiting factor to worldwide agricultural production.  As the water resources available for agriculture become increasingly limited, the importance and value of genetic sources of abiotic stress resistance increases.  As practices such as reduced tillage, reduced chemical inputs, higher density planting populations, and water and fertility management change, the crop genetics used by growers around the world must be able to respond and perform well.  Biotic stress agents such as pathogens and pests continuously evolve in response to their interaction with crop genetics in the field and production practices, thus their economic importance can shift with respect to time and geographic locale.

Germplasm continues to be integral to developing more efficient and sustainable crop production systems that maximize the protection of biodiversity, natural habitats, and other factors contributing to environmental quality.

Nutritional crop use examples include sunflowers with high-oleic or mid-oleic fatty acids, red-colored carrots high in antioxidants, and corn with specific endosperm traits for snack foods.  Amaranthus is an established crop outside of the U.S., but is considered a "new" grain and vegetable crop for the U.S.; it is also utilized by weed scientists studying chemical control efficacy and the development of herbicide resistance.  Germplasm holdings with medicinal /nutriceutical applications include Echinacea (purple coneflower), Hypericum (St. John’s wort), Actaea racemosa (black cohosh), and others.   The oilseed Brassica collection provides genetic resources for industrial and food oil crops, improved human nutrition, and for remediation of contaminated environments.

The maize collection provides not only for nutritional and feed uses, but also for the development of biofuels such as ethanol, and the industrial chemical furfural.  Germplasm sources of industrial chemicals held include Crambe, Calendula, and Euphorbia, and Cuphea as a source of fatty acids for soaps, detergents, surfactants and cosmetics.

Conserving soil and water and combating their pollution (especially by enigmatic non-point sources) have become increasingly important in the NCR.  Accessions of many of the species commonly planted for roadside stabilization and shelter belts (e.g., willows) are part of the NCRPIS collections.  Crown vetch (Securigera) has been widely planted along interstate highways to prevent soil erosion.  Other legumes (Melilotus, Dalea, Galega) are well adapted to the NCR where they may also assist soil conservation.  Alyssum murale and Brassica juncea are of interest in phytoremediation because of their ability to extract heavy metals from contaminated soils.  The NCRPIS collections have furnished genes for host-plant resistance of a variety of crops (maize, sunflower, brassica etc.) to biotic and abiotic stresses which have the potential of decreasing pollution by tangibly reducing the amount of water, fertilizer, and pesticide inputs applied to NCR farmland.

The NCR's highly variable climates, often severe winters and common grassland soils severely restrict the variety of landscape plants adapted to the region.  The NCR also includes many expanding metropolitan areas with their own constraints on the performance of landscape plantings.  New landscape plants are evaluated for ornamental merit at sites across the diverse environments as part of the NC-7 Ornamental Trials, the longest running ornamental trial program in the U.S.

The NCRPIS plays a vital role in enhancing communication and information management capabilities regarding plant genetic resource issues among the germplasm user community, and other germplasm management sites in the NPGS (genetic stock collections, crop-specific collections).  These information exchanges facilitate germplasm conservation and management efforts, and help rapidly identify germplasm with particular agronomic, horticultural or other merits.  This in turn enhances the ability of plant scientists, germplasm managers, and plant breeders to respond rapidly to novel user needs and demands.

Without the NPGS’s germplasm, associated data, and research, the research programs of thousands of scientists and plant breeders throughout the world would be impeded, if not totally precluded.  The world’s food supply would be less diverse, more vulnerable to epidemics, and less able to adapt to changing national and international environmental and regulatory concerns, or to global change in climates and commercial markets.  Several Congressionally-mandated or international responsibilities would be unfulfilled.  Domestic and international germplasm exchange would be significantly impeded.

In summary, the germplasm at the NCRPIS has been and will be a key component of more efficient agricultural systems which maximize yields of food, fiber, ornamental, nutritional, nutriceutical, medicinal and industrial products needed for a biobased economy while striving to minimize chemical inputs, water and soil depletion and contamination, and production and processing costs.  Such systems maximize the well-being of society and the world’s resources, provide profits to producers, security of supply, price stability, market competitiveness, and minimize losses due to genetic vulnerability.


Nine Areas of Conservation


Germplasm collections at the NCRPIS are acquired primarily through either foreign or domestic plant explorations, or by exchanging with other germplasm banks or collectors. Germplasm acquisition has been fostered by a long-standing tradition of free exchange among plant breeders and other plant scientists. Some germplasm must be observed in quarantine facilities before it is judged healthy and suitable for incorporation into the collection.



Identifying information, often termed passport data, generally accompanies an accession. These data are recorded on a NPGS-wide computerized germplasm database, the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN) housed in Beltsville, Maryland.

 Perserving information.


At the NCRPIS, controlled pollinations are generally used to increase our seed supply. Our controlled pollination program is one of the most extensive in the country, because most of the crops we maintain are cross-pollinated. The controlled pollination program, along with careful harvest techniques, help maintain the original genetic variability and integrity of our accessions. The flowers of maize (corn), pumpkins, forage legumes, and domesticated sunflowers are pollinated by hand. The melons, cucumbers, wild sunflowers, brassicas, carrots, chicory, herbs, and a variety of ornamental species are pollinated by honey bees, flies, or other pollinating insects in field cages.


Most of the germplasm at the NCRPIS is propagated from seed. Seed supplies are increased when their numbers or germination percentage falls below a predetermined level. Seed is stored in temperature and humidity controlled rooms at 4 deg. C (38 deg. F) and 25% relative humidity. The National Center for Germplasm Resource Preservation (NCGRP) in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserves the base or back-up collection for all the germplasm in the NPGS, including the NCRPIS.



Analyzing highly heritable traits allows curators to identify unknown accessions (taxonomy), to detect contamination in seed lots (quality assurance), and to monitor the effectiveness of the management program. NCRPIS staff members are also using molecular markers such as isozymes and DNA to study maize (corn), mints, sunflower, and Cuphea.



Evaluation includes yield trials, screening for host-plant resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses, and testing for general agronomic merit and adaptation. Germplasm with accurate evaluation data is very useful for crop improvement programs. Many of our crops are evaluated for resistance to insects (sunflower moth,Corn earworm, lygus bug, European corn borer) and disease (Alternaria, Rhizoctonia fruit rot, powdery mildew, rust, smut, Stewart's wilt, Northern leaf blight).


Genetic enhancement is a term for such activities as adapting exotic germplasm to grow in areas not normally grown, incorporating high value genes into adapted varieties, and improving agronomic performance. NCRPIS staff members have:

  • Improved native mint family plants for nectar production.
  • Adapted Cuphea to Midwestern growing conditions.
  • Transferred fruit rot resistance to cucumbers.

The NCRPIS has recently joined efforts with the Germplasm Enhancement of Maize (GEM) project. The GEM project is a cooperative effort of the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, land-grant universities, and industry. More information is available at the GEM website.



Since 1948, the NCRPIS has supplied germplasm that contributed significantly to crop improvement and to basic scientific studies:

  • 'Plainsman', one of the first commercial hybrid amaranths, was derived from Amaranthus germplasm curated by the NCRPIS.
  • The NCRPIS maize (corn) collection has been the source for a wide variety of genes conferring host-plant resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.
  • Molecular evolutionary studies have been conducted using NCRPIS Cuphea germplasm.
  • Herbicide-resistant accessions were identified in the NCRPIS Cucurbita (squash) collection.



We distribute small quantities (generally about 100 seeds per accession) of germplasm, seed lists, and other information free of charge to bona fide plant researchers worldwide. We ask the recipients to send us information regarding the material's utility for crop improvement or scientific research. The National Center for Germplasm Resource Preservation (NCGRP) in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserves the base or back-up collection for all the germplasm in the NPGS, including the NCRPIS. To order seeds or plants, contact us by letter or email.


Seed Storage Conditions at NCRPIS

According to recommendations by the FAO/IPGRI's Genebank Standards (1994), long-term base collections should maintain seed storage conditions at -18 C. The use of sealed, moisture-impermeable containers was also recommended. For medium-term, active collections, the only recommendation given was to utilize conditions that ensure accession viability of at least 65% for a period of 10 to 20 years. The lack of more specific recommendations reflects recognition of the variability of appropriate seed-storage conditions for the wide range of species that are stored from site to site. The North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station is an active site. Our original seed samples are stored under long-term, base-collection conditions (i.e. -18 ºC). Seeds of our active collection, comprised of those samples that are regularly distributed to requesters, are stored at 4 ºC and 30% relative humidity, as described in greater detail below.

Two storage condition regimens are utilized at the NCRPIS:

For Distribution (Active) Collection

  • 4 ºC at 30% RH
  • Seeds are initially dried before being placed in cold storage and are allowed to equilibrate further in cold storage before being placed in glass or plastic jar packaging. Changes to the seeds moisture content during the opening and closing of jars, which occurs during the filling of seed orders, is not a concern as the storage room's relative humidity is controlled at 30%. Glass jars are used instead of plastic for those taxa with small, electrostatically charged seeds to facilitate order filling.
  • Under these conditions:
    • Water is at its densest; cellular damage is reduced if we should unexpectedly store high-moisture content seed.
    • No freezing damage can occur.
    • The temperature is more tolerable to personnel filling orders than is the -18 ºC environment.
    • Seed-longevity studies of Brassica, Cucumis, and Zea mays have shown average seed viability greater than 65% for 25 years for all three genera. Some samples of Zea mays maintained an average viability greater than 65% for 40 years. These durations exceed the recommendations of the FAO/IPGRI's Genebank Standards (1994).
For Original Seed Collection
  • -18 ºC (relative humidity not controlled).
  • Seeds are dried before being placed in freezer storage.
  • Seeds are stored in re-sealable, thick-plastic, see-through packaging. This packaging is highly impermeable to air and moisture. The plastic packaging allows visual examination of the seed without having to open the package.


FAO/IPGRI. 1994. Genebank Standards. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI), Rome, Italy.



Cold room stored distribution lots.
Cold room for distribution lots.

Plastic seed jars on shelves of a movable carriage.
One-gallon (3.785 liter) plastic jars.
One quart glass jars.
One-quart (0.986 liter) glass jars.
One pint glass jars.
One-pint (0.473 liter) glass jars.
Thick plastic resealable packaging.
Thick plastic resealable packaging.
Freezer-stored seed.
Freezer-stored seed.
Package heat sealer.
Package heat sealer.
Image scan of seeds.
Image scan of seeds.
Fire suppression air tanks.
Fire suppression air tanks.
The fire suppression air is composed of nitrogen, argon, and carbon dioxide.  When smoke is detected, the air is dispensed into the rooms in specific quantities for the size of the cold room and freezer rooms and brings the level of oxygen to just under 15%.  This is enough oxygen for people to breathe, but insufficient to sustain a flame.


Organization Chart

Last Modified: 6/9/2016