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Preserving the Prairie

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.

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).

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.

Photo by Carly Kelty-Greenfield

At the end of the harvest, the volunteers gathered around a bonfire with INHF and Polk County Conservation leaders where they shared more information about Iowa prairieland. According to the leaders, 200 years ago, 85 percent of Iowa was covered by prairie. Today, it’s less than 0.1 percent. These conservation organizations do such important work in preserving our native land, water, and wildlife. That day, volunteers helped collect more than 75 pounds of native prairie seed, but it will take thousands more to help restore our prairies. What kinds of activities do you like to do to help support conservation efforts in your region?

Photo by Carly Kelty-Greenfield

Published on Oct 27, 2017

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