Seed collecting on the prairie

Indian Grass

Volunteering is one of the important components of being a Master Naturalist. We need to complete 60 hours of volunteer work to move from interns to full Master Naturalists, and then log 30 hours annually to keep our certification. We have fallen in love with volunteering. It’s a great format for socializing with others who are passionate about nature, and we really get to participate in making our natural areas better than we found them. Its an amazing feeling!

One of our favorite activities is seed collecting. There can be little better than tramping through the prairie, looking for grasses and forbes (prairie flowers) to collect their fall bounty. It gets you off the trail and into the heart of things to view the landscape a whole new way. There is also no better way to learn to ID and differentiate plant species than going on a giant treasure hunt for your assigned seed.


We collected Boneset, Rosinweed, Big Blue Stem grass, Coneflowers and more. It was surprisingly exhilarating and we went out multiple times as the fall progressed.


Sometimes while you’re out there, you get a real treat. The above photo is of a native Illinois orchid, Nodding Lady Tresses! I didn’t even know that the plains states had their own orchids.

Now that the cold weather is setting in, we get together to clean the seed so we can rebroadcast it next spring in the areas needing further development.

We worked on Rattlesnake Master, which is a cool plant but has strong prickly seeds. We had to wear gloves to protect our skin while we removed the seed from the seedhead, but made quick work of the project.

We’re supposed to remove the seed from the chaff, but its not an exact science amongst our group and its all going to go back to the ground anyway. I have a new found respect for small scale seed companies! I have no idea how they get them so clean.

It was a fun day. We got the chance to reconnect with our old Master Naturalist classmates, and meet new folks from previous classes. Everyone brought food to share and there was a post seed feast to enjoy among friends. Its the very best kind of volunteering!


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