Sunday, November 10, 2013

Preparing for the New Wildflower Meadow

A new wildflower meadow is on its way - Gray-headed Coneflower in bloom
During the last few weeks I've been collecting seeds in order to plant in a new wildflower meadow. This late in the season almost all of the nature preserve’s plants have produced their seed, but that doesn't mean that any of them want to give it up to me. Currently the seed heads of Brown-eyed Susan remain locked up tight and no amount of crushing seems to free them. On the other hand Gray-headed Coneflower couldn't be more obliging, and with just the smallest amount of pressure applied to the seed-head, all of the plant’s small dark seeds are released. 
Just the slightest pressure frees the seeds of Gray-headed Coneflower
An American Goldfinch helps itself to the ripe seeds of Tall Coreopsis
The seed heads of Virginia Mountain Mint are extremely aromatic
Virginia Mountain Mint in bloom
The seed heads of Purple Coneflower are protected with sharp spiky projections that can easily puncture a glove or a finger. In this way it’s a lot like a thistle. However, once you manage to free a few of its seeds the rest can be stripped off with no problem. The small seeds of New York Ironweed are all attached to their silky parachutes and they come off easily only when the parachutes are ready to deploy. 
The sharp spiky seed heads of Purple Coneflower are very thistle-like
Purple Coneflower will make many pollinating insects happy in the new meadow
The seed heads of New York Ironweed resemble little bottle brushes
New York Ironweed in bloom
Blue Lobelia is an easy plant to shake down for seeds and I do literally mean shake down. The seeds are held in tubular pouches are can easily be dumped and shaken into a container.  Bergamot seeds, like those of Lobelia are as small as pepper grains and are also easy to collect, but not if you take too long to get to them. Forsaken too long their seeds often get blown away before collection time. I missed out on collecting Spiderwort seeds since those plants produce their seeds much earlier in the season. Currently it’s difficult to find even an old dried stem of more than one of them in the old meadow where a thousand bloomed last summer.
Ohio Spiderwort blooming in the old meadow

Bergamot seed heads have many seed bearing tubes
Blue Lobelia likes wet meadows but can also persist in upland areas
The seed head of Downy Sunflower is particularly striking
The tiny seeds of Giant Blue Hyssop were also easy to collect
There were a few other desirable meadow plants that I could find little or no trace of; these included one of my favorites: Royal Catchfly. I was more fortunate with Culver’s Root. This uncommon meadow plant develops a candelabra-type arrangement of flower spikes when in bloom. This time of year the spikes hold scores of bead-like seeds which can be removed by simply pulling the seed stem through your pinched fingers. Downy Skullcap is another uncommon meadow wildflower, which gives up its seeds without a struggle. Just shaking the dry flower heads into a bag is all it took. Whether this diminutive member of the mint family will be able to germinate and then hold its own in our new wildflower meadow is an open question. 

Royal Catchfly in all its glory
Downy Skullcap seeds were collected but will the plant survive in the meadow?
Liatris spicata seeds were also easy to obtain
New England Aster seeds have yet to be collected, but I still have some time
Purple-stemmed Aster seeds are equipped with silky parachutes
I was recently asked by someone how I intended to sow these seeds. The only way that I know to broadcast seeds of such radically different sizes and weights is to spread them by hand. And keep mixing them around as I proceed. Relatively large seeds like those of the Common Milkweed are easy to keep track of in the mix – and you can be sure to distribute them as evenly or as unevenly as you wish, but the smaller seeds defy any such discrimination.
The seeds of Common Milkweed come in convenient and easy to open packages 
I didn't include Green-headed Coneflower since it may overtake other meadow plants
One of the plants that I’m including in my collection of seeds is the Cup-plant. The species is a tall yellow sunflower-like perennial of the prairies. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted it in the mix – not because of its lack of beauty or for its usefulness to wildlife, but more because of its potential to dominate its habitat. I purposely left out of my mix about 6 other species – some are sunflower relatives or look like they could be. In some areas where I’ve planted Green-headed Coneflower, Tall Coreopsis, Oxeye and Woodland Sunflower – the plants spread by rhizome and act  like a prolific groundcover – blanketing the area and allowing few other species room or any hope of a ray of sun. However I am including Downy Sunflower which is one of the more beautiful members of this group, but the one that shows the least overbearing qualities.
The remarkably tall Compass Plant towers above the old meadow

Giving the new meadow a once-over with the disk
The new wildflower meadow (or meadow to be) has already been ploughed, disked and harrowed – all that’s left now is to plant the seeds and for that I’m hoping for a calm dry day. Perhaps that’s a bit of a tall order up on our hill. Still the planting is set to happen this coming week sometime. It will take a few years for the wildflowers to develop to the point where they are the dominate plants in the meadow; for the first 2 years I will expect alien biennials like Queen Ann’s lace and White Sweet Clover to reign. It also remains to be seen if enough of the goldenrod rhizomes were taken out to stop them from immediately dominating the space. Burdock, Spotted Knapweed and so many others invasives are waiting in the wings. It’s a tough world of competition out there.
Bergamot is a pollinator's favorite

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