the base of a power tower is a cluster of beefy orange blooms
of Turks cap lily. Nearby, purple prairie clovers
delicate wands decorate the grassy growth. Yet pretty as
these flowers are, they are just a means to an end for the
plants and me. Seeds are what we want.
survives in some surprising places. This one is under the
power lines in Bridgeview, a suburb southwest of Chicago.
There are condos to the east and train tracks to the west.
Beyond the train tracks is the I-294 expressway. The prairie
is a wedge about 200 feet wide and half a mile long. The
power lines tower over it like the protector that they are.
The prairie is in good shape despite the dumpers and the
dirt-bikers, let alone the dramatic alteration of the landscape
surrounding it. In March, a spark from a passing train set
the dry stalks aflame.
walk north, pausing to collect some hoary puccoon seed.
In May, the simple orange-yellow, forget-me-not flowers
of this plant dotted this area. Now these plants are harder
to find. But I have an eye for them. Their seeds are hard
to collect because they ripen slowly over the period of
a month and drop once they ripen. Most of them have already
fallen, but I collect what I can. Puccoon seeds look like
little battleship gray incisors. You pick at them to see
if they are loose. It helps to have fingernails that are
not too short.
rattle my collection of puccoon seeds around in a pill container.
Thankfully, most native plants are long-lived perennials.
This means that you can collect seeds without worrying about
harming the population. A good rule of thumb is not to collect
more than 50 percent of the seed.
seed is a two-part equation. The first part requires you
to recognize when seed is ripe. The second part requires
you to understand the plants place in the landscape
so that you scatter the seed in appropriate habitat.
likes lots of sun and drier conditions. This seed will go
into the Palos Forest Preserves a few miles to the west.
A lot of the forest preserves were heavily grazed or farmed
before the Forest Preserve District of Cook County bought
them. There are plenty of places where puccoon should grow.
hard to believe that a mere 180 years ago there werent
just isolated individual parcels of prairie but a continuous
whole owned by no one. Dealing with nature today means dealing
with various landowners and agencies. In the past a seed
might get moved from one place to another by hitching a
ride on a bisons hide. Now getting seed from this
site to a forest preserve requires a different process.
I walk this prairie with Commonwealth Edison biologist Jon
Keener and work with the Forest Preserve Districts
Land Management staff. Land stewards like me need to make
human connections to restore the natural connections.
deep pink flowers of marsh phlox gleam from a wet spot.
But in a drier area ahead are the plants that I seek. They
have shriveled already and are done for the year. They are
the marsh phloxs drier cousin, the prairie phlox.
The marsh phloxs stem is smooth while the prairie
phloxs is hairy. To capture the prairie phloxs
seed, I attached stocking feet to the plants with a twistie.
When the seed is ripe, it falls into the stocking where
I can collect it. As I collect these seed pouches, the power
lines crackle. A red-winged blackbird on the telephone line
along the train tracks squawks.
is a lot more summer left, a lot more flowers and seeds
to come. I will collect about 30 different species here
by the time the seasons through. Before I leave, I
pause by the Turks cap lilies and the purple prairie
clovers. Come September, Ill be back for some of their