Seed Shed Doings December 2017
A year-end update on activites at the "Seed Shed" operated by the Northwest Illinois chapter of The Prairie Enthusiasts.This year it seems to have been all about the numbers. Land Manager Ed reported that we restored 46 acres (consisting of 9 separate projects) each with its own specific seed mix. Over 2,000 lb. of seeds containing 112 species were used for these sites. Prairie Diva Barb collected some additional species for overseeding, for the Species Conservation Project, and Prairie Moon Nursery requests, bringing the total species gathered to 211. Volunteers clocked 385 hours of seed picking at 32 sessions. If you were among that group, we thank you!
Because it has been so warm and dry (will fall ever end?) Ed and his crew were able to do 5 large burns this fall. Fall burns are rare because it's usually too cold and wet in November/December. These burns are important, especially in woodlands, because they accomplish something the spring burns do not. They suppress woody vegetation by damaging the outer bark, allowing winter freeze and thaw cycles to work their way to the cambium cell layer—the growing part of the trunk.
As to our rare plant gardens here at Lonetree Farm I can report that we had a 50 % seed germination success rate—14 species germinated, 7 did not. Many of those plants produced seed which we harvested and overseeded to increase plant numbers. In addition, 11 species of rare plants went into the gardens. Much to my delight, some of those plants flowered and produced seed also. Specifically, Asclepias tuberosa, Chelone glabra, Geum triflorum, Lespedeza leptostachya, and Spiranthes magnicamporum, all of which I have discussed in previous issues. Since the prairie plant game is a long one—some seed will lay dormant for a year or more—there is every possibility that some of the 2017 failures will turn into successes in 2018.
The Prairiemeister seeded his rain garden with a mix of 14 sedges and added 42 species into the expanded east garden beds. The most noteworthy among these are Carex trichocarpa, Dichanthelium leibergii, Liatris cylindracea and Tradescantia bracteata. The combined gardens now boast 27 rare plant species and over 62 new species to come.
In November we got together with the seed exchange group who have changed their name from NISE to NINSE (Northern Illinois Native Seed Exchange). Consequently, I will be starting 9 new species under grow lights this winter and more are planned for NIPE member Bill Hunt's greenhouse.
In response to a previous Seed Shed Doings issue, NIPE member Jim Alwill of Prairie Earth Nursery emailed me to say that he has had success starting all kinds of prairie plants from seed through benign neglect. He told me that he will often start seeds in flats that he leaves out over the winter on a concrete floor in an unheated hoop house. He said: “The seedlings seem to tolerate all kinds of abuse. Lack of daily care, missed waterings, full sun, partial shade. I think my growing outside conditions imitate nature.”
I have taken his advice to heart. I am hedging my bets with the rare seed that has come my way and divvied it three ways. Some went directly into the garden, some went into flats that are spending the winter out in the east garden against the north wall of the hog house (now officially the east garden shed.) The rest will be propagated under grow lights after stratification in damp sand. With any luck, seed will germinate somewhere in 2018!