For five years, the seeds sat — all 1,100 pounds of them — on the top shelf in the very back of a refrigerated Brookshire Bros. warehouse in Lufkin.
The drought-hardy loblolly pine seeds had been a focus of the Texas A&M Forest Service Western Gulf Forest Tree Improvement Program since its inception in 1951. But demand for the seeds declined over the decades, prompting geneticist to shelve the surplus indefinitely.
The seeds — 1,100 pounds of drought-hardy loblolly pine and 6,000 more of assorted varieties of the same species — had been stored so long, in fact, that in August 2011 geneticists began making plans to toss them into the landfill.
“This was supposed to be a temporary arrangement. We told them, ‘This won’t be forever,’ but it was beginning to look like it might be,” said Tom Byram, a geneticist with the agency’s tree improvement program. “What’s the use of having them if you’re not going to use them?”
That plan changed the following month when the most destructive wildfire in Texas history ravaged Bastrop County and its renowned Lost Pines ecosystem. The 32,400-acre inferno laid waste to the community, destroying 1,660 homes and killing 1.5 million trees.
“After the fire, it was immediately obvious we were going to be doing a restoration project of one kind or another — and we had the seed,” Byram said.
Tree experts in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma spent the next year nurturing the seeds, growing them into seedlings that could be used to reforest Bastrop State Park and surrounding private lands.
On Tuesday, Nov. 27, the first shipment — 200,000 loblolly pine seedlings grown by ArborGen, a commercial nursery based in East Texas — arrived at Bastrop State Park. Another 200,000 seedlings grown by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry were delivered a few days later.
Texas A&M Forest Service’s West Texas Nursery and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center also grew seedlings — 25,000 and 30,000 respectively — that will be delivered as needed to support various reforestation projects throughout the planting season.
The first volunteer planting workday at Bastrop State Park was Saturday, Dec. 1. Planting on private land began Monday, Dec. 3.
A total of 550,000 seedlings will be planted in Bastrop over the next few months. Meanwhile, tree experts are continuing to grow seedlings with plans to plant 1.5 million next year and another million the year after that.
Costs will be covered by the Arbor Day Foundation, a non-profit organization that joined earlier this year with Texas A&M Forest Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to launch the Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign, a reforestation fundraising effort.
Byram said there still was enough seed to produce about 14 million more loblolly pine seedlings, which will be more than enough to finish the project. But he warned that it could be 25 years before the 10-inch seedlings grow into the mighty pine trees that people associate with Bastrop’s Lost Pines.
“The function we have in restoration is to put the right genes back out there and then let Mother Nature sift through it. That’s the most anybody can do,” Byram said. “That’s our contribution. Mother Nature has to take the next step.”
For more information on the Lost Pines Forest Recovery Campaign or to donate or volunteer, visit www.arborday.org/texas.