Plotting a Comeback

Published 6/25/2024 10:29:02 AM

Growing, harvesting rare native plants

Prairies are considered Iowa’s most complex and diverse habitats, offering food, shelter, water, and space for innumerable wildlife. Today, however, these wide-open fields make up less than one percent of Iowa’s landscape. It’s this uniqueness and rarity that compels Polk County Conservation to actively protect and restore prairies. One of the ways conservation staff does this is through encouraging the growth of hardy plants and flowers that are known to grow locally. But getting access to such rare local seeds can be an expensive endeavor. 

Harvesting seeds has been identified as one creative solution to the challenge of procuring costly native prairie seeds from existing prairies. And in recent years Polk County Conservation has actively planted native seeds in production plots for the express purpose of harvesting even more desirable seeds. In 2023 alone, the prairie production plots produced nearly 37 pounds of seeds, valued at $13,398. In addition to the cost savings, the effort gives staff more control over what types of seeds they grow and subsequently harvest to fill out its needed inventory. 

The prairie production plots are located at Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt and are jointly managed with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, with the help of many volunteers. The success of the effort is spurring the two organizations to double the capacity of the plots in 2024 and grow three additional species of prairie plants. 

Check out our volunteer opportunities, click here.