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Volunteer Spotlight: Seed Collecting

volunteers collecting seeds in a field at Deer Grove
Photo by Steve Halm.

Every autumn, many native plants express their diversity through seed. Little bluestem seeds are bright white, and light as feathers. The seeds of Kalm’s brome hang from the stem, full and graceful. Rose hips are bright red and hard as stones.

And each autumn, many of these seeds find themselves the target volunteers, who collect them to aid habitat restoration efforts.

Working directly with the Forest Preserves, these volunteers spread out across quality prairies, woods and wetlands searching diligently for seeds identified by volunteer stewards and Forest Preserve ecologists.

Seed collecting isn’t only for experts, though. With a little training, even novices can learn to search for a specific type of seed. Gathering a bag full of seed is a great way to get to know a plant, without even seeing its flower.

Seed collecting, which can be solitary or social, is serene and calming, the perfect antidote to a stressful week in the office or school. And the work helps the Forest Preserves restore habitat. The collected seeds are usually added to mixes tailored to specific habitats. Then they’re broadcast over areas of earth where invasive trees and shrubs have been removed, encouraging a healthy ground layer (or “understory”) and helping to prevent weedy species from moving in. In other places, collected seeds are “interseeded” with existing grasses and wildflowers.

It’s important to note that it’s illegal for the public to remove seeds or any plant material from any Cook County forest preserve. Seeds are only collected as part of officially approved stewardship activities, and are carefully selected so as not to impact plant populations.

To find a seed collecting opportunity, visit our Ecological Stewardship Days Page.