This fall, I joined the Iowa National Heritage Foundation (INHF), Polk County Conservation, and 100 other volunteers at Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt in Polk County, Iowa for a prairie seed harvest by moonlight. We were split up into groups, grabbed buckets, donned headlamps, and waded into the waist-high prairie grasses and flowers as the sun set in front of us.

Harvesting Native Prairie Seeds

Photo by Carly Kelty-Greenfield

My group was tasked with harvesting gray-headed coneflower, Ratibida pinnata. Also commonly known as pinnate prairie coneflower, the native plant can reach up to 4 feet tall. Several flower heads with drooping, yellow petals will grow on each plant. At the end of the growing season, the cone at the center of the flower dries into a head of compressed small, brown-gray seeds (Natural Resources Conservation Service).

Gray-Headed Coneflower

Photo by Carly Kelty-Greenfield

Our group leader showed us how to apply pressure to the cone between our thumb and index finger, gently compelling the cone to release the seeds. If the cone was resistant, it was not quite ready for harvesting. The seeds were tiny, so I felt quite accomplished when the white bottom of my bucket finally disappeared.

Filling a bucket with gray-headed coneflower seeds

Photo by Carly Kelty-Greenfield

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