Falling with Style (and Intention)

Our Coast & Community Scientists Experiment with a New Approach to Swamp Restoration.

plane2 w green tree

Overhead a plane glides across the marsh. It looks like rain, but the sky is bright, and the sun is shining. All around, seeds are falling, with style and intention.


Right now our coast is losing one football field of land every 100 minutes, and as this land vanishes, so does the natural buffer it provides. One major effort to curb this trend are projects aimed at restoring swamplands. Swamps support tree growth, and a forested swamp benefits our communities because it slows and absorbs storm surge. Making these projects possible across the coast, volunteers trudge through the marsh to plant cypress and other saplings, in the hope of restoring a swamp dense with forest. In a single day, a group of 20 can cover the marsh with as many as 500 trees, planting one sapling at a time. While that is a remarkable effort, future innovation is necessary if we hope to restore as much of our coast as possible.

Time, funds, and access to areas of land often limit current approaches to swamp restoration. As of now, we can only restore the land that we can reach, either by boat or by car. Additionally, the rate at which we can restore is dependent on what can be time-consuming manual labor.

Luckily, our scientists at PC are clued into the demand for restoration and are anticipating the need to restore faster. Last week, they began their second round of testing, for a new approach to swamp restoration. Using a technique called Aerial Seeding, swamp tree seeds fell from the sky, with style and the intention of rebuilding the swamp forest.

Caught by project lead, Dr. Theryn Henkel of our Coast and Community Program. If this experiment is successful, the seeds scattered by this plane will grow into towering swamp trees like Bald Cypress and Water Tupelo.

Aerial seeding is a technique commonly used in agriculture, in which crop seed is spread across a field by plane or helicopter. With a few adjustments to the seeding hopper, a plane scattered 1.405 million swamp tree seeds across 250 acres of marshland last week. This experiment followed an initial dropping of 800,000 seeds in May of last year. The seeds have been spread across project sites in Caernarvon, LA and on the Maurepas Landbridge, where restoring a natural buffer is critical for neighboring communities.



Our aerial seeding project is in its experimental phase. There are many factors that will determine success or failure, such as nutria herbivory, etc. However, if successful, aerial seeding may significantly decrease these limitations on swamp restoration projects, and in effect make it cheaper to restore. In both rounds of experimentation, we dropped more seeds in 30 minutes, than the number of trees we plant in one year. Similarly, an approach from the air will greatly expand our reach to parcels of marshland we've had to overlook in the past. In short, successful aerial seeding may vastly increase the rate of restoration, expand access, and make these projects more affordable.


Stay tuned to hear about the experiment's results.


Our Aerial Seeding Recipe:

1/2 Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum)

1/4 Water Tupelo (Nyssa aquatica)

1/8 Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)

1/8 Swamp Maple (Acer rubrum var. drummondii)