Thursday, February 02, 2012

Playing Mother Nature with Seed

Last fall Greg and I went driving along the county roads, looking for blooming wildflowers that I might be interested in adding to the prairie areas we're trying to restore.  In one of my September posts, talking primarily about a new-to-me plant that we noticed, I also shared a photograph of one of the roadsides we came across.  It only seems reasonable to repost that photo here, since I'm craving some color and greenery at this time of year!

A month or so later (late October? November?), we went back to the areas we'd scouted and I picked a few seedheads from many of the plants I'd noted earlier, storing the seedheads in small, brown paper, lunch sacks to allow them to finish drying.

Today I took the next step and roughly cleaned the seed (to get it off the flower stalks so it would spread more evenly), then went outside and cast it onto any bare ground I could find.  In some places, I even cast it up into the air to let the wind carry the seeds, particularly the ones with "parachutes," to potential new sites. 

The first species I tackled this morning was Maximilian sunflower, Helianthus maximilianii.  This species was one I actually collected along the stretch of road in the photo above, along with several other types of seed.  My goal as I worked was to get as much of the seed out of the dried flower heads as possible, so that I could spread it out further and evenly as I scattered it.

Since I wanted to put the Maximilian sunflower in the front yard, along the fence by the driveway to provide some color there, I worked it by itself, but most of the rest of the seed I combined into batches with like cultural needs (sun vs. shade, for example) and spread as a group.  Below is a photo of one of those mixes, ready to be put into a bowl to carry outside. 

This mix includes big bluestem, Indian grass, 3 different goldenrod species, blue salvia, common evening primrose, Illinois bundleflower, and a little bit of leadplant and butterfly milkweed seed that I actually got from a Kansas Native Plant Society seed exchange.  I spread this mix in the back 5 acres, in the area where we burned last spring.  Because of the drought, the burned area did not redevelop good ground cover, so I thought there might be a bit more sunlight and less root competition for the developing baby plants.

As you look at the mix of seeds, notice how fluffy it looks.  This is due to the awns that so many of these seeds sport, allowing the seeds to use the wind to carry them away from the parent plant.  The very structures that solve a problem "in nature" actually create a problem if you are trying to use a mechanical spreader to seed a large area.  Since I was hand scattering, the fluffy seed actually brought out a little bit of the kid in me occasionally, as I tossed the seed up in the air to watch the wind catch it and carry it away.

Doing all the cleaning and scattering took longer than I expected, so I didn't get all the seed put out today.  I still have several different kinds of sunflower to process and scatter.  However, I was able to spread most of the seed I'd collected...before the rain came that's predicted for tonight and all day tomorrow.  It will take a couple years before I know if any of these seeds have germinated and grown, but meanwhile I'll be dreaming of the drifts of wildflowers to come!

If I don't miss my guess, that's thunder I'm hearing in the distance!


Tricia said...

Bully for you, using real native seed! I looked back through some of your older posts and was very encouraged by your asters. We saw some at Longwood Gardens and my husband fell in love. I'm trying to get some to germinate in drink containers (a post-to-be) as we don't really want to spend a lot more money on this rental garden. I did wonder if you were aware of a couple of native/prairie greenhouses -- Prairie Moon and Prairie Nursery. You probably are -- they're very helpful and their catalogs are a huge source of information for me.

How's the buffalo grass coming? I'm so jealous. If we ever get the chance, I'd love to do a prairie/meadow lawn.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Hi Tricia!

Good luck with the asters. I love them, especially the aromatic aster (Aster oblongifolia) and its cultivars. Of course, in a different area of the country, a different species might work better for you, but just keep trying.

I am familiar with both Prairie Moon and Prairie Nursery and I used them extensively when I was first getting started many years ago. They are marvelous sources, but nowadays I'm trying to get my seed and plant material locally whenever possible so that it's adapted more to our local conditions. I'm especially concerned about the difference in daylength response between southcentral Kansas and Wisconsin.

The buffalo grass is dormant right now, so I won't really know its status until about May. The back yard looks like it took hold pretty well. The front yard is a little iffier, since we got it in so late and the plugs had sat in the flats for so long. I'm keeping my fingers crossed, though.

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

I hope you get a lot to take.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Thanks, Sherlock. I'm hoping so too. This rain has to have helped!

Melanie said...

Not sure how I have missed so many of your recent posts!! If your maximillin sunflower seeds don't germinate well for some reason. .please let me know. .I have a huge glob that I am trying to move from the front of my house. I relocated some to my cedar row last spring. .but because it is far for me to water. .and we got very little water last summer, they died. I make it to Wichita fairly regularly. .and would be glad to meet you somewhere to give you some big clumps to start!! They spread like mad. .but they are SOO beautiful. .and carefree. You can see mine in the fall from the highway passing our house. .and I get lots of comments from people wondering what they are!! I would be grateful to get some to you!! Have a great week.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Melanie, I'd love to get a glob of Maximilian sunflowers from you! I've got some perennials I'd be happy to share, too, if you're interested - aromatic aster, for example, and yellow iris. Let me know when you're coming this way and we'll see where the easiest transfer spot is!

Melanie said...

Great!! I will totally let you know!!