Taking Seeds from the Prairie

Lake Macbride State Park, Summer 2019.

Is it wrong to collect seeds from a prairie restoration project for use in a home garden or another prairie restoration project?

I posed the question on social media. While the responses weren’t that many, they were a unanimous yes.

Not so fast!

“Stealing is stealing,” Cindy Crosby, author of The Tallgrass Prairie: An Introduction wrote.

A prairie manager I know was out for a stroll on his site when he came across a woman cutting buckets of blooms. Horrified, he said, “Lady, what are you doing?” She replied testily, “Well I tried to cut the flowers up by the visitors center for my party and they wouldn’t let me. So I came out here.”

Wildflowers will replenish themselves, right? Maybe and maybe not.

I asked our local state park ranger for his thoughts about harvesting seeds from prairie restoration areas. His response was speedy and made sense, “You are good to take seeds from the plants but just do not remove the plant itself and you will be ok.”

That’s good enough for me. I’ll be watching the patch of restored prairie for seed formation and try some of the varieties in our home garden.

Prairie used to cover more than 85 percent of Iowa land, according to the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge. Today less than one tenth of a percent of original tallgrass prairie remains in the state. A prairie restoration project, like the ones at Iowa state parks, is a work of human hands and culture.

People like Cindy Crosby have a personal investment in work they have done to restore prairie. Even if such restorations are anything but natural, and a constant struggle to keep invasive plants like garlic mustard at bay, they add cultural value in the form of habitat for plant and animal species and the narratives spun around them. We should tread lightly in their work, take what we need, and leave the rest.

Additional Reading:

Tuesdays in the Tallgrass, a blog by Cindy Crosby.

Tallgrass Conversations: In Search of the Prairie Spirit by Cindy Crosby and Thomas Dean.

Restoring the Tallgrass Prairie: An Illustrated Manual for Iowa and the Upper Midwest by Shirley Shirley.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

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