Seeds: Your own native plant supply

As I flipped my calendar to August (and tried to ignore the groans of dread coming from my school-aged kids), it reminded me that fall is not far off. With fall comes seed collecting, one of my favorite ways to immerse myself in the world of native plants. The tall yellow flowers ( Rudbeckia triloba , Brown-eyed Susan)  in the above picture resulted from  TLC's seed-sharing day (SAVE THE DATE: 10/22/16, 10am-2pm, details below).

Seed Collecting: The Basics
Your native plants are a source for more plants! By observing the life cycle of the different species found in your gardens or restorations, you have the opportunity to collect and use that seed on your own property, or give to others. 

Step 1: Look at your plants
Notice when they're flowering, and once the petals drop they start to look "dried." Seeds can be collected when they're ripe, which often means their seedheads are dark in color, firm, and dry. Over the next few months (August-October), many prairie and savanna seeds will be ready to collect. Click here to view a species collection schedule put together by the Pleasant Valley Conservancy in Wisconsin. This schedule is approximate and varies based on conditions in your specific area.

Step 2: Gather equipment  
Seed collecting doesn't have to be complicated. You can get away with just gloves, paper bags, and small clippers. See the video link below for some ingenious examples of seed collecting materials used by Iowa's  Tallgrass Prairie Center. He starts off simple (milk jug belt!) and then progresses into the use of large machinery. 

Step 3: Collect Seed 
Once you've determined that a specific plant is ready to have its seed collected and you have your equipment gathered, it's time to go out and actually collect the seed. Decide if you want to keep different species separate or not.

Grass: Run your fingers up the stem and drop seed into bag
Other Plants: Clip off entire seed head and drop pod/capsule/seed head into bag

For more detailed directions, read this  University of Minnesota Extension article, or view this Madison Audubon Society video for in-the-field collection techniques.

Step 4: Dry Seed
Once you've collected your seed, you don't need fancy equipment to separate the seeds from the heads. Spread your seed out to dry in an area where rodents can't get to it (aka my dining room table). Once it feels dry, light, and fluffy, you can "clean" the seedheads by hand. This is where my kids came in handy, because I had them just mush up the seedheads with their hands into an open bag, or stomp on the tougher ones with their feet (like purple coneflower). Save all the leftover plant parts, for there are often beneficial dormant insects inside the stems or seedheads. Once I scattered my seed outside over the winter, I threw those parts out there as well to add to the overall organic matter of the site. If you're not ready to scatter the seed, store them in a cool dark place in labelled paper bags, which allows air circulation and prevents molding.

How to learn more: TLC's Seed Sharing Day and Volunteering

Seed Sharing Day:
  • Date/time: 10/22/16, 10 am - 2 pm
  • Location: Alden Township (TBD)
  • Fee: Free
  • Register with Linda Balek by emailing or call 815-337-9502
  • Description: Seed Sharing Day is an annual event organized by TLC and hosted by a number of landowners.  This is an opportunity for people to collect and share native seed for their prairies and savannas.  Make sure you're on the email list to receive an invitation and updates. If you have excess native seed separated by species, bring it to this event in labelled bags. Or just attend the event to collect seed for your own property! Delicious food and interesting discussion is also involved.
Become a TLC Seed Collecting Volunteer:
Want to spend more time outside in a low-impact activity, while getting to know fellow volunteers? Try seed collecting on TLC sites! Seed will be used to help TLC restore our natural areas. Email Melissa Grycan, TLC's restoration ecologist, at and tell her that you want to be on the seed collection volunteer email list. 

Conservation@Home Featured Property: 
First Church of Christ, Scientist

Meet Sherry Johnson, who has spearheaded the conservation efforts for First Church of Christ, Scientist in Crystal Lake. They are the first church to receive the Conservation@Home certification in McHenry County. Sherry has spent years clearing non-native buckthorn and honeysuckle from the property and enjoys watching the native species return. The wooded area of the property has once again become a sanctuary for insects, birds, animals, and people with the incorporation of a path and sitting area. Sherry feels that Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the church, puts it best by stating that, "All nature teaches God's love for man." Kudos to Sherry and First Church of Christ, Scientist for incorporating Conservation@Home principles into their spiritual community!

Remember that you can encourage homeowners, businesses, and other community groups to use the Conservation@Home ideas on their property, big or small. TLC is happy to offer presentations on C@H and many other environmental topics. Call 815-337-9502 or email Sarah Michehl at As the season progresses, email us updated pictures of your environmental features!

The Land Conservancy of McHenry County | | 
815-337-9502 |
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