Growing natives from our own wild seed

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Experts tell us that when buying native seeds and plants, your best bet is to choose local. A blazingstar from Missouri might not do so well in the Keweenaw. So this fall, our chapter is gathering seeds from native plants growing wild in the Keweenaw. We will start them at home and sell them during our 2021 Native Plant Sale. You might consider growing some for your own use as well.

Note to chapter members: No experience is necessary to participate. Good thing, too, because I’ve never done this before either. No time like the present.

Here’s a series of steps to follow. Secretary Polly Havins has graciously offered to keep track of this effort. If you want to be part of this, here’s what to do:

  1. Let us know you will be gathering and growing seed by sending an email to WOKeweenaw at googlegroups.com.
  2. Find a plant!
  3. One caveat: Wild Ones Liz and Kristine both raised this issue. As you identify your plants, try to avoid those that could be cultivars—fancy-looking escapees from gardens. Liz notes you are more likely to find those around homesteads; invasives like periwinkle and lily of the valley are a dead giveaway that humans have been gardening in the vicinity.
  4. If you already know where some wild-growing natives are, great.
  5. If you don’t, knowledgeable members can provide some direction. That said, you may know more than you realize. There’s wild red milkweed and big bluestem growing at the Hancock Beach.  Lanceleaf coreopsis and thimbleweed at the Hancock cemetery. Dana Richter gave us some native lupine seeds to start when we toured his garden. Common milkweed is all over the place (and we sold a lot of that this summer). Polly has black-eyed Susans, butterfly weed, purple coneflowers, and western pearly everlastings on their property, plus Joe Pye weed on the roadside near her house.
  6. We can also collect seeds from plants brought in from elsewhere, like the prairie blazingstar at the Hancock Bioswale, but they should be identified as sourced from a commercially grown native plant.
  7. If the plant is on private property, get the necessary permissions.
  8. Take a photo of your plant and mark it somehow, so you can find it when it sets seed.
  9. Send your photo(s) to WOKeweenaw at googlegroups.com. That will educate those of us who aren’t familiar with the plant—plus, this gives others a chance to verify its identity, so we don’t accidentally sell an invasive exotic or other such travesty.
  10. Keep an eye on your plant(s) to determine when to harvest the seeds. Then harvest. Jill has agreed to give a quick presentation on how to do this and how to start seeds at our Sept. 22 meeting. Thanks, Jill.
  11. Propagate! Others can advise, but do your own research. We can do this; it’s not calculus. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s site (https://www.wildflower.org) has good information on how to start native plant species from seed. Prairie Moon is another good source.
Remember, these seeds come from tough stock. While they have their specific growing requirements, they don’t need babying. You won’t need a greenhouse. Jill plants hers in reused plastic salad containers and leaves them outside all winter.

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