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Seeds and Plants

Seeds contain the embryo from which fruits and vegetables are grown. The Federal Seed Act controls the labeling of seed packages from state to state, ensuring buyers can make informed decisions when purchasing. The Federal Seed Act also promotes unity of seed laws from state to state and fair competition within the seed trade.

Plant breeding is the science of growing plants to select for specific traits. Selective breeding has been used to improve the nutrition of fruits and plants for both humans and animals.


Information, Regulations and Seed Sources
  • Federal Seed Act

    The Federal Seed Act (FSA) controls the interstate shipment of agricultural and vegetable seeds.

  • Organic Seed Finder

    Association of Official Seed Certifying Agencies (AOSCA).

    A database of organic seed vendors searchable by field crops, fruits and vegetables, and other organic crops.

  • Why Test Seeds?

    USDA. Agricultural Marketing Service.

  • Seed Savers Exchange

    This nonprofit membership organization works locally and internationally to save and sell heirloom garden seeds. The catalog of seeds derives from a diverse selection of vegetables, herbs and flowers maintained by the group in its seed bank and preservation gardens.

  • Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN)

    USDA. Agricultural Research Service.

    GRIN documents animal, microbial, and plant germplasm collections through informational pages, searchable databases, and links to USDA-ARS projects that curate the collections. GRIN is operated by the National Germplasm Resources Laboratory in Beltsville, MD.

  • A "Library" for Safeguarding Our Food Supply

    USDA. Agricultural Research Service.

    Genetic material from more than 1.1 million cultivated, wild, and endangered plants from around the world are housed at the National Laboratory for Genetic Resources Preservation (NLGRP) in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Nursery and Seed Trade Catalogs

Henry G. Gilbert Nursery and Seed Trade Catalog Collection

The collection features over 200,000 American and foreign catalogs.  The earliest catalogs date from the late 1700s, but the collection is strongest from the 1890s to the present.

Go behind-the-scenes at the USDA National Agricultural Library to explore
vintage seed and nursery catalogs from the Library's collection of over
200,000 catalogs. (34 min)


Selected Research and Resources

Plant Breeding

Plant Diseases

  • National Program 303: Plant Diseases

    Research Components:

    • Etiology, Identification, Genomics and Systematics
    • Biology, Ecology, and Genetics of Plant
    • Pathogens and Plant-Associated Microbes Plant Health Management
  • Index of Plant Diseases in the United States

    Plant Pests of Importance to North American Agriculture.

    Agriculture Handbook 165 [1960].

    "This Handbook lists more than 1,200 host genera and some 50,000 parasitic and non-parasitic diseases."

  • Regional IPM Centers

    Information and resources about integrated pest management (IPM) managed by the Regional IPM Centers, and funded by USDA, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).

  • Plant Pest and Diseases

    USDA. Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS)

    APHIS responds to many new introductions of plant pests to eradicate, suppress, or contain them through various programs in cooperation with state departments of agriculture and other government agencies.

  • National Invasive Species Information Center (NISIC)

    USDA. National Agricultural Library.

    The National Invasive Species Information Center website contains invasive species information gathered from Federal, state, local, and international sources.

How do I identify a plant I've never seen before?
  1. Contact your local extension service.
  2. Use these online tools:
    Pl@ntNet identify
    Use this tool to identify plants using pictures.

    USDA. National Invasive Species Information Center
  3. Read books on plant identification.
    Check with your local library for books or databases on plant identification. Read about borrowing materials from NAL.
  • A botanist’s vocabulary : 1300 terms explained and illustrated. Susan K. Pell and Bobbi Angell. Portland, Oregon : Timber Press, 2016.  226 pp.
    NAL Call Number: QK9 .P44 2016
  • A dictionary of botany. R. John Little, C. Eugene Jones; ill. by Raymond B. Smith. New York : Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1980.  400 pp.
    NAL Call Number: QK9.L735
  • The Kew Plant glossary : an illustrated dictionary of plant terms.  Henk J. Beentje; illustrations by Juliet Williamson.  Richmond, Surrey : Kew, 2010. 160 pp. 
    NAL Call Number: QK9 .B44 2010 (Non-Circulating)
  • Plant identification terminology : an illustrated glossary.
    James G. Harris, Melinda Woolf Harris. Spring Lake, Utah: Spring Lake Pub., c2001. 206 pp.
    NAL Call Number: QK9.H37 2001 (Non-Circulating)
Read about plants and seeds

Contact your local library to access materials about plants or seeds.  Learn about borrowing materials from NAL.


  1. CRC world dictionary of plant names: common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology. Umberto Quattrocchi. Boca Raton : CRC Press, 2000.  NAL Call Number:   QK13.Q38 2000.
  2. Plant names A-Z: the complete guide to using the correct plant names.  Karen Platt.  Sheffield : K. Platt, [1999].  NAL Call Number:  QK96.P63 1999.
  3. Multilingual dictionary of agronomic plants.  Edited by S. Rehm.  Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994. NAL Call Number:   SB45.5.M85 1994.


  1. The Book of seeds: A life-size guide to six hundred species from around the world. Edited by Paul Smith. University of Chicago Press.
  2. Garden seed inventory: an inventory of seed catalogs listing all non-hybrid vegetable seeds available in the United States and Canada. Seed Savers Exchange, 2004.
  3. The profit of the Earth: the global seeds of American agriculture. Fullilove, Courtney [Chicago, 2017]
  4. The Seed Industry in U.S. Agriculture: An Exploration of Data and Information on Crop Seed Markets, Regulation, Industry Structure, and Research and Development. USDA Economic Research Service, Agricultural Information Bulletin No. AIB-786, 2004.
  5. The triumph of seeds: how grains, nuts, kernels, pulses, and pips, conquered the plant kingdom and shaped human history. Thor Hanson [Basic Books, 2015]

Seeds. The Yearbook of Agriculture. 1961

Learn about seeds from the expertise and writings of scientists, researchers, plant breeders, seedsmen, economists, production specialists, seedgrowers, and administrators.

150 Years of Research at the USDA: Plant Introduction and Breeding

Griesbach, R.J. 2013. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, DC.

Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases

The databases "facilitate in-depth plant, chemical, bioactivity, and ethnobotany searches using scientific or common names."

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