Heartland Restoration Services

Supplying native seed and plant material in northern Indiana
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Elizabeth Towne

In Fort Wayne, Indiana, Heartland Restoration Services and its sister company, Earth Source Inc., support sustainable development by protecting habitats and native species as stewards of the land. Established in 1988, Earth Source is a landscape architectural and environmental consulting firm, specializing in wetland mitigation services. Heartland Restoration followed Earth Source in 1994, formed to install and supply native seed and plant material for Earth Source’s mitigation projects. Today, the company propagates more than 100 types of local genotype native grasses, sedges and forbs of wetland, prairie, savannah, woodland species.

“Our sister company, Earth Source, works with developers to identify wetlands and sensitive environmental habitats,” explains Eric Ummel, director of Heartland Restoration. “Their bread and butter is wetland mitigation –which essentially means replacing wetlands filled by development.”

“When a developer wants to build, they call Earth Source to identify environmentally sensitive areas and Earth Source works with various government agencies to get the necessary permits required for development,” continues Ummel. “To replace the wetland, you need to make the habitat similar to the first one, including the same native plants –this is why Heartland Restoration was formed. We started our nursery to supply plant and seed materials to our installation division for projects.”

Growing nursery and retail operations

Since the company started more than 20 years ago, Ummel says the industry has grown and the demand for high quality native plant materials has increased. “The industry has grown a lot and we’ve grown alongside it,” he says. “Now, not only are we supplying our own projects, we’re also selling seed to other contractors, state and local conservation agencies. There has even been a move on the residential side with homeowners wanting to do prairie projects and rain gardens although this portion of the business remains small. We’ve really grown a lot from where we started.”

Today, Heartland Restoration has up to a 10-person staff with two seed and plant operations located in northeast Indiana. “Our plant nursery is wholesale only, but we have had a retailer pick up our line so plants can now be made available to the general public through them,” says Ummel.

Certified native species

For a successful restoration project, Ummel stresses the importance having plant materials that originated as close as possible to the project. “Many plant nurseries sell, ‘native’ seed, but this may only mean plants native to North America; this type of seed may not be adapted to local climactic and soil conditions,” he explains. “Before our nursery was formed there were only a handful of places in the Midwest to buy the correct seeds and plants for mitigation projects because changes in bloom time, dormancy and hardiness all affect the plant’s ability to survive.”

This is why Heartland Restoration strives to provide quality native seed and plants with precise local genotype or local genetic origin. “The majority of our original native seed has been collected from wetland, prairie, savannah and woodland areas specific to northern Indiana,” says Ummel. “We keep detailed records of where each of our seed species was originally harvested.”

Working hand in hand with ICIA

These records have allowed Heartland Restoration to become part of the Source Identified Indiana Genotype Yellow Tag certification program through the Indiana Crop Improvement Association (ICIA). “Yellow Tag documentation is available to those that have committed to obtaining source identified seed,” says Ummel. “We collect species from natural areas and propagate them in our greenhouses to be installed in our nursery for future seed production. Heartland Restoration now has more than 100 different species of native plants available.”

Ummel says the company benefits from working with ICIA in two ways – one being important record keeping and documentation and two, working with ICIA’s certified seed testing laboratory. “With every species we collect we need to know where the original genetics came from to get the closest plant materials possible for each project,” explains Ummel. “ICIA assists in this process by verifying collection sites. We meet annually with Alan Galbreth, CEO of ICIA, to verify collection sites. Any plant under the Yellow Tag program has been verified, essentially saying, ‘yes this plant is where they say it’s from.’”

“ICIA has just begun to work with our nursery division in terms of native seed testing,” adds Ummel. “Anytime we want to sell seed, legally it has to be tested for germination and purity. We send over a sample to the ICIA lab and they verify the seed quality.”

Ummel says this verification process is important as Heartland Restoration seeks to expand its nursery and meet demand with new species. “In the near future, we’re looking to put more greenhouses up and we have already started expanding field production for seed.”

After two decades in business, Heartland Restoration Services and Earth Source Inc. continue to accomplish the objectives of development, while doing so in a sustainable and environmentally responsible way.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Earth Source Inc.