Little Seeds On The Prairie

I spent a cool, breezy, but sunny October morning helping collect seeds from a restored prairie to reseed another site that has been overcome by invasive species.  Even though it was in the upper 30s and breezy, it felt pleasant in the protection of the tallgrass prairie.  In the spring and summer, I would have been in the company of ticks, lots and lots of ticks, dive-bombed by aggressive swallows, and verbally assaulted by unimpressed red-winged blackbirds but by mid-October, the prairie is a much more hospitable place for humans.

Indigo, most likely white wild

About a dozen of us broke up into two groups collecting seeds from different parts of the conservation area in Central Illinois.  My group was collecting foxglove beard tongue and indigo.  I had spent much of my summer hiking several miles through the conservation area performing a field study on Eastern Cottontail rabbits, so I’ve had the pleasure of watching the prairie transform from late Spring to late Fall.

By October, nearly all of the blooms are gone, as well as several bird species.  It’s quieter and a little more lonely but still home to the wildlife that toughs out Illinois’ harsh winters.  I feel a bond to those critters that stay because I have to endure those winters too!

Turkey vultures still circled above and there were plenty of spots in the prairie where white-tailed deer had camped out in a bed of trampled grass.  And though the flowers had long faded away, the tough stands still stood their ground in the cool breezes and the flowers will be back.

Illinois prairie in late summer
Illinois prairie in mid-October

The seeds collected will be sifted, a pain-staking process, and then scattered this winter on undisturbed ground amongst other plants.  Removing the invasive species by tilling would only encourage weedy plants to grow in the spring.  Prairie grasses and wildflowers do not need to be planted on bare or tilled soil. Surface soil disturbed by freezing and thawing is all that is needed for the seeds to take hold.


It’s a great feeling to collect seeds that will help restore another site for years to come.  We humans do a lot of things wrong but ecological restoration is one attempt to make amends for being, well, knuckleheads to nature so much of the time.

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