This fall I experienced another kind of forest restoration that I really didn’t know existed near me. My Dad and I decided to go to a morning restoration event since it was at my favorite forest preserve. Thinking we were going to be cutting buckthorn, as described on the forest preserve website, we brought saws and gloves. However, once all of the volunteers gathered in a circle and announced, “It’s seed collecting day, hooray!” I realized that I was greatly mistaken.
At first I was slightly disappointed. I was hoping for some heavier work as opposed to the ease of seed collecting. As time went on, I became very grateful for the opportunity to learn something new. Also, the volunteers' excitement wore off on me greatly. They had been waiting all year to start picking seeds again and begin spreading the seeds to new forest areas. I had no idea how important these seeds were and how they would be used.
The volunteers split everyone into two groups: beginner and advanced. The beginner group was my Dad, one other girl, and I. It really felt like a private tour through the forest. Along the way we learned how to identify a multitude of forest plants. I had the hardest time keeping all of the names straight, but I had it pretty well down by the end of the day. I was amazed how the people in the advanced group were able to list off the full scientific name of any flower we spoke of. Getting to talk with experienced volunteers was really inspiring.
For the most part, our group leader would show us what kind of seeds we would be collecting, give us a plastic, ziplock bag, and tell us to search the surrounding area. For each different plant we were told how many seeds to take. Most of the time we left one-third of the seeds on a plant. That way, those plants would continue to spread in the area, while allowing us to also spread them in other places.
When the restoration was over both groups met by the parking lot. We laid out all of the bags of seeds and one volunteer wrote the name of the plant on a piece of paper that would go in each bag. In just a few hours we had collected hundreds of seeds from dozens of plants. The pile was quite satisfying.
Our leader explained that seeds were collected in the forests of the surrounding area and all brought to a warehouse to be sorted and processed on a designated day. The seeds would be made into mixes to be spread into areas that needed them. For example, hardy plants are put into a mix to be spread in a recent wildfire area. Other mixes might be put into an area that was recently deforested because of invasive species and so on. The seeds are not spread past a certain number of miles from where they were collected to keep in their natural range. Why is this so important? Because of the mix of city and forest, seeds often don’t make it to a new destination like they normally would. Many seeds get obstructed by houses and streets.
From listening to the importance of the seeds, it is easy to see why the forest preserves have the strict policy of not collecting anything. So many times I’ve wanted to take home a flower to press or a leaf to study and perserve; but if it was allowed, the natural cycle of the forest would be altered. Just imagine if everyone in the area took one flower.
Perhaps my favorite part of the day was being allowed to walk in amongst the flowers and smell the mountain mint we picked. Why is the forest where this event took place my favorite? Because in all of the years I've been coming to that forest I've learned where the wildflowers and birds are, their names, where the paths lead, and so on. The familiarity can be more special than the uniqueness of the landscape. In my experience the more you know an area, often the more amazing it becomes. To help the forests around you and get more involved with nature, I highly recomend going to a restoration event. Learning about these forests is a truly special experiece! Who knows, maybe after a few restoration events you'll pick up a multitude of scientific plant names and be able to rattle them off like the volenteers I met!
An important reminder: Seed collecting should only be done as part of a forest group that has permission. There are multiple groups that have their own websites and also the forest preserve websites. Sometimes the events all have the same description, so be ready for tree cutting, seed collecting, and anything in-between! If you have questions there is usually a number to call and/or an email.
Cook County Forest Preserve Volunteer page:
Other counties also have restoration days on their own websites.
'Ever wish you could name all the wildflowers you see while on a hike? By taking a look at the pictures and names of the flowers below, you will be off to a running start. Simply scroll over the flower for it's name. Remember, some flowers have multiple names and you might be familiar with another that is equally correct. Also be mindful that the leaves of other plants might be captured in the photos. The pictures below I took in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. They are common wildflowers of those states, though many can be found across the country.
I have a collection of nature photography that just happened to turn out different than what I was expecting. But, why waste a perfectly good photo just because it's, well, kind of random?
Fungi are one of the most widely misunderstood organisms in nature, and it’s not hard to tell why. They can come in a variety of shapes, some that resemble some pretty ugly images, and they are associated with death, such as living on dead trees and some being poisonous. So far they sound like something we’d be better off without. Though some kinds of fungi can have harmful effects, many kinds are vital to the environment.
These organisms are not plants or animals, they belong to their own kingdom, kingdom Fungi. One of the most widely known species in this kingdom are those of the mushrooms. They lack chlorophyll and are therefore unable to create their own food through photosynthesis. Instead they use different relationships with the living or dead organisms around them, two of which are saprophytism and symbiosis.
Fungi help largely to decompose many dead plants and animals in a relationship called saprophytism. We are able to go into a forest without having to worry about piles of dead matter; God has it all taken care of behind the scenes, thank goodness! Furthermore, the nutrients from the decomposing matter is returned to the soil to be used again.
In a symbiotic relationship, fungi growing on trees are beneficial. The trees get important minerals from the mushrooms and in return the mushrooms are given glucose. So, just because a tree has mushrooms on it, it does not necessarily mean it is getting decomposed. Symbiotic relationships also dwell within many other plants. The underground branches of fungi help plants immensely by swapping nutrients. The success of a seedling growing may be up to five times greater if it has fungi helping it out.
Finally, people have been able to use fungi for the control of crop pests. Fungi spores are sprayed over crops to kill the threatening insects that could cause major destruction. As opposed to chemicals, this is usually cheaper and safer for the environment.
A lot has been learned about how fungi can and have helped our environment. I’m sure there is plenty of research still to be done out there and who knows how fungi will be able to be used beneficially in the future. It is amazing how something as unsightly as fungi, can make such a difference in our world.
Over this last year I have enjoyed taking photos of interesting mushrooms. Some I have found resemble two of my favorite foods! Below I have included my favorite mushroom photos. I will leave further research of ugly mushrooms up to you. ;)