Under the dense shade of buckthorn and other invasives, much of the groundlayer – the flowers, grasses and sedges – has died out. What’s left are the common plants (those that can tolerate disturbance) or sometimes, just bare ground.
The first step in restoring the native plants is letting the sunlight reach the ground, but that’s only the beginning. Seeds are the lifeblood of a natural system, producing the next generation of plants and insuring that the system is self-renewing for years to come.
In past times, the land was an uninterrupted expanse for thousands of miles. Seeds were blown about by the wind or carried in the coats of animals or the feet of birds. In today’s fragmented landscapes, the ancient connections are broken. Now we are the wind and the buffalo, moving the seed from place to place.
Throughout the growing season, experienced volunteers carefully harvest some of the ripe seed of native plants. In the fall, the collected seeds are brought to Emily Oaks Nature Center in Skokie. There, the seed is processed to release seeds from their pods or separate plumes of feathery seeds. Once the seeds are separated and measured, they are put into mixes of various kinds. Around 200 species are distributed into a dozen different mixes based on the kinds of habitat they grow in. These mixes – prairie to savanna to woodland, mesic to wet-mesic to wet – are given to stewards to sow into areas newly cleared of brush. Bit by bit, the native plants begin to flourish once again in prairies, woodlands and wetlands.