Plucking Seeds for Pollinators and Project Wingspan

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Pre-dawn on Oct. 6, WOK members Marcia Goodrich (me) and Valorie Troesch packed Marcia’s Honda Fit with the requisite food, water, garden clippers and bug dope and launched ourselves southwest at the barely tolerable hour of 8 a.m.

Two chatty hours later, after missing two turnoffs and getting well-meaning-but-not-all-together-helpful directions from a very nice guy in a pickup truck, we finally threw in the towel and called US Forest Service botanist Sue Trull. She sent out a rescue patrol, and within minutes we were bouncing down an unsigned road. And a few seconds later, we arrived at a big meadow in the Ottawa National Forest. This would be the site of our first Project Wingspan seed harvest.

Project Wingspan is a huge, multistate project by the Pollinator Partnership to expand habitat for pollinators. Teams of trained volunteers from all over the place gather wild native plant seed under the watchful eyes of leaders like Sue. That seed is then used to improve habitat by restoring areas that have lost their native vegetation.

The first species we gathered in the clearing was common milkweed. Then we went after grass-leaved goldenrod, which was abundant but cleverly hidden beneath the arching stems of Canada goldenrod. We were under strict orders not to conflate the two. That did not preclude me from throwing some look-alike aster seed in with my good goldenrod, forcing me to throw entire batch back where it came from and start over. Oh well. Anything for science.

Next, Valorie and I had lunch by a waterfall with Sue and three other Project Wingspan seed collectors, bright young women who seem destined for promising careers in natural resources. Thus fortified, we scoured roadsides for black-eyed Susans, evening primrose and Joe Pye weed. At the end of the day, Sue gave us perfect directions for a shortcut home and then left with a prairie’s worth of native seed bagged in the back of her forest service vehicle.

In summary: Project Wingspan is not just a noble cause. It was a lovely excuse to spend a warm October day wandering around in the out-of-doors with lovely people. I hope I get to do it again.

P.S. If you’d like to volunteer for Project Wingspan, here’s where you can begin: https://www.pollinator.org/wingspan/seed-collection .

Common milkweed seed gathered for Project Wingspan

Combining Joe Pye weed seed gathered in the Ottawa National Forest

Milkweed bugs!

More grass-leaved goldenrod seeds than you can shake a stick at

Wild Ones member Valorie Troesch harvesting evening primrose seed

The merry crew of Project Wingspan pooling their harvest of common milkweed seed

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