The reconstruction process begins with seeds, but getting large quantities of prairie plant seeds that are native to our area can be a difficult task. We use only local ecotype seed, or those from an area that includes 38 counties in southern Iowa. These seeds are adapted to the same types of soil and climate conditions that are found on the refuge. Staff and volunteers work hard to collect seeds from dozens of species in summer and fall from plants on the refuge. We also purchase some seeds from prairie nurseries. We harvest seed on the refuge with machinery, and buy some seed that has been harvested from remnant prairies.
During the winter months, volunteers help staff with cleaning the hand-collected seeds – removing stems, leaves, and any other non-seed material. Once cleaned, most of these seeds will be added to a seed mix, and spread on the ground in a field that has recently been farmed. Some will be added to areas that have already been planted with prairie plants, but don’t have a high diversity. More than 200 species of prairie plants have been seeded into former farm fields on the refuge.
Some kinds of plants are harder to grow from seed, or the seed is difficult to find or expensive to buy. In late winter, these seeds are planted in our greenhouse, where they sprout without competition. Once they are large enough, volunteers, students and staff transplant them into larger conetainers where they can grow into seedlings. This gives them a chance to grow strong roots before they are planted outside later, so they have a better chance at survival. They are transplanted into areas where those species are not present.