Golden Hills had another successful season of prairie seed harvesting thanks to more than 100 volunteers who joined us throughout the Loess Hills. We hosted at least one volunteer opportunity in each of the seven Loess Hills counties from Akron down to Hamburg.
Several events took place at Hitchcock Nature Center in Pottawattamie County.
Skeleton weed (Chondrilla juncea) is a unique and rare species for Iowa, typically found much farther west in shortgrass and desert regions. Its fluffy seeds blow away quickly and often don't last long. The plant is easy to overlook surrounded by grasses and other forbs, so finding seed to pick from skeleton weed is always a pleasant surprise!
Leadplant, Amorpha canescens, is a common prairie flower. Its seed is often abundant and one person can easily hand-harvest a lot of its seed in a small area.
Most of our trips to Hitchcock Nature Center included a visit to Bouteloua Ridge, a spur ridge off of the popular Badger Ridge. This ridge is so named for the abundance of Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama) and Bouteloua curtipendula (side-oats grama). The blue grama seedheads resemble eyelashes, and side-oats look like small oats sticking out nearly perpendicular from the grass stems.
Our Harrison County event was at one of the most iconic Loess Hills spots, Murray Hill Scenic Overlook. Here we were able to harvest a significant amount of Yucca glauca. Like skeleton weed, yucca is more of a desert species not usually found east of the Loess Hills, as it prefers the well-drained soils found on only the steepest Loess Hills ridges.
In Monona County, we explored an off-trail area in the Preparation Canyon Unit of Loess Hills State Forest. This event included some of the most rugged and challenging terrain, but our eager volunteers were treated to amazing views.
Fremont County's seed harvest featured Sunset Ridge, another popular hiking route, at Waubonsie State Park.
In Woodbury County we partnered with Woodbury County Conservation at Dorothy Peacut Nature Center.
Plymouth County included Five Ridge Prairie in partnership with Plymouth County Conservation Board and Iowa Prairie Network.
In Mills County, we worked with Iowa Department of Natural Resources at Green Hill Wildlife Management Area. This is one of the newest wildlife areas in the Loess Hills and overlooks Council Bluffs and Omaha.
Despite a dry year, multiple seed harvests were canceled due to wet weather. Fortunately for the events we did have, most included beautiful weather with great fall prairie colors.
Our final event was another seed harvest at Hitchcock, where we again visited Bouteloua Ridge.
Some of the seed from Hitchcock and other county parks will be used with their permission to propagate plants in a greenhouse this winter for our native plant sale next spring. We have also made some seed packets to distribute at future events. All seed from DNR properties (state parks and wildlife areas) will stay with the DNR for prairie restoration and reconstruction projects.
While we encourage the public to join us for these events, please note that seed-harvesting is generally not allowed without permission on public lands and is not allowed at all for personal use on state grounds. We teach several guidelines about sustainable harvesting, as it is possible to take too much. Make a plan to join us next year and help restore native ecosystems in western Iowa! Details will be posted at goldenhillsrcd.org/prairieseed