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Seed savers

MARQUETTE – It’s that time of year for pumpkins, chrysanthemums and raking leaves, but for conservationists and like-minded people, it’s also time to harvest seeds.

Ally Dale, program manager with the Marquette County Conservation District, talked about native plant seeds Oct. 2 at a workshop attended by people interested in learning about the topic and even taking home seeds.

The outing began at the Trestle Corridor, the district’s demonstration garden located off of Fourth Street just south of Washington Street in Marquette.

Walkers and bicyclists ride through the corridor frequently, but other travelers, particularly motorists, probably pass by the garden all the time.

And that would be a shame, considering that through the growing season it’s full of native plants like joe-pye-weed, wild lupine, evening primrose, rough blazingstar, lance-leaved coreopsis and other flowers and grasses.

Some of the showiest flowers would have to be the wild irises, which rival their cultivated garden counterparts in beauty.

“I just think blue flag iris are gorgeous,” Dale said.

In 2014, the corridor was part of the Marquette Beautification and Restoration Committee Inc., Garden Tour, which she said was exciting because the event typically focuses on neat, manicured sites, “and they gave us a chance to kind of showcase our ‘weeds’ as people call them.”

Work at the Trestle Corridor often is performed Wednesdays, which, Dale pointed out, attracts the interest of bicyclists.

“A lot of people don’t really understand that although it might look like a weed, it’s really great food, habitat for wildlife,” Dale said. “So, it’s a great way to teach people about native plants.”

The Trestle Corridor, she noted, is a federally recognized Monarch Waystation, meaning the milkweed growing there attracts monarch butterflies.

Milkweed is the only plant monarch caterpillars can eat.

Dale said the Conservation District also maintains native gardens at the Starbucks along U.S. 41 in Marquette Township, at Rock and Third streets in Marquette and by Graveraet Elementary School, also in Marquette.

Dale said the district collects and stores seeds, and then sells them to raise money for educational programs, to be distributed to volunteers or for use in restoration efforts, such as planting seeds where invasive garlic mustard was removed.

There’s an art to properly collecting seed. Dale stressed the most mature seeds are going to be found at the top of the plant, pointing to seed pods with varying degrees of maturity on an evening primrose at the Trestle Corridor as an example.

If people want to collect seeds from private property, landowner permission is needed, she said, and permits are needed for seed collection on state and federal land.

“When we come and collect seed, we just take paper bags and clippers,” Dale said. “It’s pretty simple. That’s what we use. There’s really no complicated method. I wear gloves, because some of the seeds can be kind of rough.”

After seeds are collected, they should be kept dry with good air flow, she said, with a cool, dry, dark place like an unheated garage or basement considered good spots.

“The trick is to keep it dry and out of sunlight,” Dale said.

After visiting the corridor, the workshop participants went back to the district offices in Marquette Township to glean seeds and learn about the various techniques of extracting them from the dried plants.

“Every one’s a little bit different,” Dale said.

The variety of plants from which they gathered seed was abundant, including little bluestem, wild bergamot, Canada goldenrod, fireweed and swamp milkweed.

Volunteers gathered not only seed but a little knowledge as well.

Sharon Soave of Ishpeming, who is involved with the Ishpeming Beautification Committee, said that through the workshop, she gained an appreciation for wild flora.

Soave also is involved with Partridge Creek Farm.

“Now I know what to look for over there,” Soave said.

Daija Cherry, who lives in Marquette Township, took part in the seed-gleaning activity for various reasons. She said she worked for the Conservation District during the summer.

“I also recently bought land that has been logged, and I’m really interested in restoring the land to its natural state,” Cherry said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.

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