Now that winter has truly arrived, I took some time to clean and organize our 2017 seed collection. This year, we received help from college students, Maria Center residents, Moontree volunteers, members of the grounds crew, and others.
We collect seeds (and plant them) to increase the plant species diversity in our restoration areas. Biodiversity is a fundamental value of conservation biology, and it’s a cornerstone of ecological functioning.
Yes, seeds can spread themselves, and they have many ways of doing so. It seems that for every species I get in the targeted collection bag, I pick up another one on my coat, pants, or shoelaces.
However, it’s important to remember that seeds evolved their dispersal mechanisms in the context of unbroken natural areas. Even though the land was modified by indigenous peoples for thousands of years, it has only been in very recent history that so many acres have been so regularly plowed, drained, sprayed, paved, and mowed. We have selected for a very narrow suite of native species (and alien imports like dandelions) that can withstand this regular onslaught. The less tolerant species have retreated to fencerows, field edges, and islands of small forests.
Just having a single representative plant of a given species “somewhere around here” is not sufficient for ecological function, or to support robust populations of the insects, fungi, bacteria, mammals, birds, etc that rely on them. Yes, it may eventually spread… but “eventually” on the nature’s timescale may be decades or centuries.
We don’t have that kind of time. But we do have brains, hands, and Excel sheets. Even though much of restoration ecology remains something of a black box (especially the microscopic biophysicalchemical world in the soil), we know enough to get started.
I’ll post an update later on the 2017 prairie plantings, but here I’d like to just list the species we were able to harvest in between all of our other tasks. They matured throughout the growing season, most of them ripening in late summer or fall. They grew on dry sand to wet muck. A few are small and inconspicuous, others send new shoots up 10 feet in the air each year.
This year we gathered around 43 species. Together with 24 additional species off-site from a much-loved volunteer, we have 67+ unique species that we will be sowing this winter and into the spring.
Most of the seeds have a dormancy mechanism that prevents them from germinating immediately in the fall. The cold weather and freeze/thaw forces on the ground unlock this mechanism and allow them to sprout in the spring. Most take a couple years of growth before flowering.
For those wanting to learn more, here are a few resources:
|Scientific Name||Common Name|
|Aletris farinosa||colic root|
|Amorpha fruticosa||indigo bush|
|Andropogon scoparius||little bluestem grass|
|Angelica atropurpurea||great angelica|
|Arisaema dracontium||green dragon|
|Asclepias amplexicaulis||sand milkweed|
|Asclepias syriaca||common milkweed|
|Asclepias tuberosa||butterfly weed|
|Aster azureus||sky-blue aster|
|Aster ericoides||heath aster|
|Baptisia australis||blue wild indigo|
|Baptisia leucophaea||cream wild indigo|
|Bouteloua curtipendula||side-oats grama|
|Carex comosa||bristly sedge|
|Carex grayi||common bur sedge|
|Carex hystericina||porcupine sedge|
|Carex pellita||broad-leaved woolly sedge|
|Carex vulpinoidea||brown fox sedge|
|Cassia fasciculata||partridge pea|
|Cassia hebecarpa||wild senna|
|Coreopsis palmata||prairie coreopsis|
|Corylus cornuta||beaked hazelnut|
|Echinacea purpurea||broad-leaved purple coneflower|
|Elymus canadensis||canada wild rye|
|Elymus virginicus||virginia wild rye|
|Eryngium yuccifolium||rattlesnake master|
|Eupatorium maculatum||spotted joe pye weed|
|Euphorbia corollata||flowering spurge|
|Filipendula rubra||queen of the prairie|
|Gaura biennis||biennial gaura|
|Gentiana crinita||fringed gentian|
|Geum laciniatum||northern rough avens|
|Heracleum maximum||cow parsnip|
|Juncus tenuis||path rush|
|Lespedeza capitata||round-headed bush clover|
|Liatris cylindracea||cylindrical blazing star|
|Lobelia cardinalis||cardinal flower|
|Lobelia siphilitica||great blue lobelia|
|Lupinus perennis occidentalis||wild lupine|
|Lycopus virginicus||bugle weed|
|Monarda fistulosa||wild bergamot|
|Parthenium integrifolium||wild quinine|
|Penstemon digitalis||foxglove beard tongue|
|Petalostemum purpureum||purple prairie clover|
|Physostegia virginiana||obedient plant|
|Polygonum sagittatum||arrow-leaved tear-thumb|
|Potentilla arguta||prairie cinquefoil|
|Ratibida pinnata||yellow coneflower|
|Rosa carolina||pasture rose|
|Rudbeckia triloba||brown-eyed susan|
|Sabatia angularis||rose gentian|
|Scirpus cyperinus||wool grass|
|Silene regia||royal catchfly|
|Silene stellata||starry campion|
|Silphium laciniatum||compass plant|
|Silphium perfoliatum||cup plant|
|Sisyrinchium angustifolium||stout blue-eyed grass|
|Solidago graminifolia nuttallii||hairy grass-leaved goldenrod|
|Solidago rigida||stiff goldenrod|
|Sorghastrum nutans||indian grass|
|Tephrosia virginiana||goats rue|
|Thalictrum dasycarpum||purple meadow rue|
|Tradescantia ohiensis||common spiderwort|
|Verbena stricta||hoary vervain|
|Veronicastrum virginicum||culvers root|
Wonderful work, Adam, and thanks to all those who contributed.