Friends are working to restore some of their farmland to prairie. Over the summer it was exciting to watch the barbed-wire fences come down, the fields controlled-burned and seeded, and the native grasses emerge. They plan to seed again in December with little bluestem, switchgrass, Indian grass, and side oats grama as well as native wildflowers. Here’s where I am making a small contribution.
In my suburban garden, I have tried to incorporate native species to attract butterflies and hummingbirds: coneflowers, blazing star, milkweed, coreopsis. And although it’s not native and considered a weed by many, Queen Anne’s lace is a key player. This plant is tricky: an annual with a long taproot, it’s hard to transplant so is best grown from seed.
In late September, once the seed heads were dry, I collected several envelopes full of Queen Anne’s lace seed. This seed is a marvel of evolutionary design. Look at all of those little spines–perfect for hitching a ride on a passerby, hanging onto the blade of an established plant and staking a claim in the soil.
I also gathered seed from my stand of blazing star (Liatris spicata). You can tell by this seed’s inverted umbrella design that it relies on the wind for dispersal.
And I collected seed from two varieties of milkweed: swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata–pink flowers) and blood flower (Asclepias curassavica–red-orange flowers). Like the blazing star seed, this seed has wispy tendrils to catch the wind, with the seedhead acting as a parachutist.
I saved the seed in envelopes and stored them the garage. I just gave the last of the seeds I collected to my friends to add to their seed mix. I look forward to seeing their bit of prairie take root and grow.
Enriching the Earth
To enrich the earth I have sowed clover and grass
to grow and die. I have plowed in the seeds
of winter grains and of various legumes,
their growth to be plowed in to enrich the earth.
I have stirred into the ground the offal
and the decay of the growth of past seasons
and so mended the earth and made its yield increase.
All this serves the dark. I am slowly falling
into the fund of things. And yet to serve the earth,
not knowing what I serve, gives a wideness
and a delight to the air, and my days
do not wholly pass. It is the mind’s service,
for when the will fails so do the hands
and one lives at the expense of life.
After death, willing or not, the body serves,
entering the earth. And so what was heaviest
and most mute is at last raised up into song.
Wendell Berry (from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry)