Nita Haley has volunteered with the State Botanical Garden of Georgia for 16 years, often focusing her efforts in the gift shop. This year, however, Haley is using her sewing skills to help the garden and its southeastern partners collect the seeds of rare and endangered plants.
Haley makes seed bags, small mesh pouches with drawstrings that fit over the top of flowering plants to collect their seeds. She created the bags with Jennifer Ceska, conservation coordinator for the State Botanical Garden, a unit of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia.
“The charm of the bag is that it’s made of polyester, so you can see through it and it dries quickly,” Haley said. “It’s also lightweight, so it won’t weigh the plants down during a heavy rain.”
Seed collection has long been a popular conservation method for those working with rare and endangered plants. Unfortunately, when the seeds mature, they are often blown away by wind and rain. The garden’s conservation team has sewn their own collection nets for years, but they often get wind-damaged or come untied.
Haley’s model is more efficient.
“Nita’s seed collection bags are well-made, they don’t fray and they’re re-usable,” Ceska said. “People have even used panty hose as collection tools before, but Nita’s are a breathable and uniform solution that can be used by conservationists all over the southeast.”
So far, Haley has made more than 150 bags, which are being used by the Chattahoochee Nature Center, The Nature Conservancy, the Atlanta Botanical Garden and the Georgia Department of Transportation, in addition to the State Botanical Garden.
Haley moved to Athens from Atlanta 19 years ago after retiring from teaching, and she comes from a family of sewers. While she doesn’t know the long-term implications or the range of the project, Haley hopes to continue assisting the conservation teams throughout the state with their seed collection needs.
“I call the people who work with the plants ‘seed scientists,’” she said. “They use the bags to preserve rare seeds, but I’m the one having fun, doing what I love.”