Skip to main content
ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Agricultural Genetic Resources Preservation Research » Docs » Seed » Collection Protocols

Protocols for shipping seeds from wild populations for research projects at NCGRP


  1. Most materials coming to NCGRP for research or security back up are covered under a Material Transfer Agreement or some kind of Cooperative Agreement.  Your collaborator has templates for these.  These documents describe the nature of the research (if any) and restrictions on distribution of the material.
  2. Contact your NCGRP collaborator when you are planning to make collections to discuss possible contingencies and ensure you have the proper shipping materials, import permits, etc.
  3. Some agencies (e.g., National Park Service) require signatures from the NCGRP collaborator to acknowledge transfer of materials to NCGRP.  The NPS Permit should be mailed or faxed to the NCGRP collaborator at USDA-ARS-NCGRP, 1111 S. Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO  80521 (FAX 970-221-1427). The collaborator will then return the signed page by fax or mail.  A copy of the Permit with the signature should be sent to the Park that issued the Permit.
  4. Materials sent to the PGRPP for immediate inclusion into one of NCGRP's collections require accompanying forms [link to H2.pc8].  Materials sent to PGPR do not require specific forms.

Harvesting Seeds:

This section assumes that there is a sampling plan in accord with the objectives of the collection.  Below are some tips to ensure seeds are properly handled. Poorly handled seeds or seeds harvested prematurely or after maturity will age faster in storage.

  1. If possible, visit site in advance of harvesting to observe seed set and approximate seed maturity.
  2. If seeds are maturing faster than expected, revise sampling date.  It is advisable to place cloth under plants to capture seeds as they shed.  Wind dispersed seeds may be captured by bagging them with veil or netting before full maturity.
  3. Often there is no choice but to harvest immature seeds.  If seeds appear green or moist, they can be matured a little bit off the mother plant by keeping them in the fruiting structures for a few days to encourage very slow dry down.  After a few days of slow drying, the seeds should be spread out and allowed to dry quickly.  Once seeds are ready to dry down, they should be dried within a few days - time at high humidity causes "accelerated aging" and losses of quality are permanent.  If your area is very humid, use adequate ventilation to dry seeds to ambient RH.  Then place seeds into a large container containing activated silica gel.  Replace silica gel as needed. 

Preparations before Shipment:

If you are unsure whether seeds are orthodox or recalcitrant (survive and do not survive drying, respectively), send seeds in the fruits (rinse fruit in ~10% bleach solution first).  Package the fruits in zip-lock bags and put them in an insulated box.  This box should be sent immediately to NCGRP using overnight delivery. If you know you will be collecting this type of seed, contact your collaborator (usually it is Chris Walters at NCGRP (970-495-3202 or before your trip,  so that you can receive specific instructions from mailing and obtain, if necessary, insulated shipping boxes and import permits.  Contact your collaborator after shipping and provide shipping information, size of package, # of fruits and waybill number.

  1. If samples are to be shipped dry, adhere to good drying protocols: initial slow drying (in fruits) for 2-3 days right after seeds are harvested, then fruit removal and rapid drying in a well ventilated room or over continually activated silica gel.  Once dried, the seeds should be sealed in a foil laminate bag. A zip-lock bag will work if seeds are mailed quickly.  If you separate seed by maternal lines, use small paper envelopes, cellophane packets or snap-top vials within a larger bag.  If your institution does not have foil bags contact your NCGRP collaborator. For small seeds, take precautions so that seeds do not get caught in the seams of the container.
  2. Remove soil, plant debris, contaminating seed species and insects from seed samples.  These can harbor pests and pathogens, which are unwelcome at NCGRP. 
  3. Shipping procedures are straight forward for dry material (see paragraphs 13-15 below).  Moist material must be shipped within a few days of harvest; delays can lead to microbial infestation or accelerated deterioration.   Special packaging and expedited mail is required if samples are moist (see #1 above).   Packages from Hawaii require an import permit. 
  4. Include relevant documentation about the sample with the shipment. Relevant information includes taxonomic data, location and date of collection, donor institution and CPC accession numbers, results of any germination tests and the methods used, and a contact person. Usually, the accession form used at the donor institution contains the necessary information, and so sending a copy of that with the seed sample is sufficient.  Paperwork - Even in our electronic age, paper copies are still important.  Keep a copy of all documentation sent to NCGRP.  If samples are sent under the Center for Plant Conservation Agreement, send an additional copy to CPC Office. 

Shipping the sample:

Seeds should be mailed in boxes or in padded envelopes if seeds are small.  Provide plenty of packing materials so the seeds don't shake a lot or get crushed.  Packing material should be water-proof (use zip-lock plastic bags if necessary).

  1. IMPORTANT - Indicate your NCGRP collaborator's name on the outside of the package.  Refer to the intended research or collection type in the cover letter.  Address the package to USDA-ARS-NCGRP, NPS-CPC seed collection project, 1111 S. Mason Street, Fort Collins, CO, 80521
  2. SHIPPING - Seeds of rare or T&E plants should always be sent by expedited post.  In non-summer months it is okay to use 2-day shipping.  It is best to ship materials on Mondays so that they are sure to arrive at NCGRP by Friday.  In the summer it is best to use overnight delivery mailed before Thursday. 
  3. If you have any questions about shipping or special questions about species contact your collaborator.
Back to top