Seed Collecting for Beginners at Deer Grove East in Palatine
When I first heard about 'seed collecting,' I imagined scholarly professorial types in a paneled study thumbing through well-worn albums looking for examples of 'allium canadense' and 'aster ericoles'. Seed collecting somehow reminded me of stamp collecting. I could not have been more wrong. It turns out to be an energetic hands-on activity. Conservationists use seed collecting to restore the rich genetic diversity that once thrived in our local prairies, grasslands, and forests.
The beginning seed collector may ask the obvious question, 'Why collect seeds in the first place?' The simple answer is: To help restore native plant populations and the original genetic diversity to local prairies, grasslands, and forests that have been eradicated, plowed under or paved over or to make space for encroaching cropland and suburban sprawl.
It is a sobering thought that less than 1/10th of 1% of our nation's original prairies, grasslands, and forests survive today. Over the years many local natural areas, including the prairies and woodlands that make up Deer Grove Forest Preserve, became overrun with invasive trees and shrubs that crowded out less resilient species. The practice of fire suppression also helped assure stagnation and prevent healthy growth. Resulting shade prevented sunlight from reaching the forest floor, and allowed the decline of many plants that require some direct or indirect sunlight. Many of these natural areas ended up becoming choked with undesirables, both invasive and native.
So, how does one get started "Seed Collecting?" The answer is easy. Research the various conservation groups in your area that sponsor seed collecting'work days'. Local groups, including Spring Creek Stewards, Poplar Creek Prairie Stewards, and Friends of Deer Grove East have web sites with work day schedules, many include seed collecting activities. I went to my first seed collecting workday after attending the Friends of Deer Grove East kick-off event last October 8th, where attendees were invited to sign up for different activities. Seed collecting, primarily a late summer/autumn activity, sounded interesting so I signed up and spent a great autumn afternoon in an oak savanna collecting bottle brush seeds. The collected seeds will be replanted in the hopes they will sprout and prosper, helping the land return to a more pristine, healthier state.
The beginner seed collector may wonder if they need to invest in expensive equipment, like GPS locators, limited edition leather bound books on seed collecting, and a toolbox full of pruners, trowels, shrew repellant, and the like. Gadgets and electronics are not needed. Instead, you'll just need supportive shoes or boots and long pants. A seed collecting workday is not the place to show off your new pair of short shorts and tube top. Long pants are a must as they will protect you from thorns and brambles. Having a pair of pruners is not a bad idea either. Most seeds are separated from the plant by hand, usually in a "stripping" motion, or are just snipped off with pruners. The conservation groups sponsoring the seed collection will teach you exactly what seeds to look for, and how to collect them. Collected seeds are stored in containers, usually paper bags from the grocery store and are not mixed until a later date at a processing work day.
Seed collecting is a great way to get out into the fresh air and meet like-minded people. It requires no experience, background in conservation or restoration, just enthusiasm and a desire to help restore our natural areas to their former glory. Check the websites and calendars of your local conservation groups and start collecting. If you haven't collected seeds before, don't sweat it. There are many friendly people eager to show beginners exactly how it's done.
– Article and Photos by Steve Halm
- Photo - Praying Mantis at Deer Gove East - by Sue Gorr