A bluebird house sits amidst the fall prairie plants and trees at the Nature Center
photo by Sheri Albrecht

It gets pretty busy around the Nature Center in the fall as our lush prairie flowers and grasses turn to seed.  It wasn’t always that way.  When we began our prairie restoration back in the late 70’s, we battled weeds and invasive plants like the multifloral rose until our more desirable forbs and grasses took root and the seed it produced went right back into the ground.  Now, we have an abundance of seed so this year, we invited the city of Cedar Rapids to harvest seed for use in their prairie restoration project at Prairie Park Fishery.  Right now, it’s a park and fishery without much prairie!

Linn County loaned seed harvesting equipment to the city to help with the prairie seed gathering projectSo a couple of weeks ago, city workers came to the Nature Center with some equipment borrowed from the county and with the help of our land steward, Jean Wiedenheft, collected about 200 pounds of prairie seed.  That’s more seed than our volunteers and staff planted to start our prairie to begin with! Parks Superintendent Daniel Gibbons estimates the Nature Center saved the  city about $4000 by letting them collect the seed instead of having to buy it.

Director Rich Patterson is more than happy to share the seed with the city.  As the new prairie takes root at Prairie Park, he’s hoping the city will see the environmental benefit of patches of prairie scattered throughout the area to help in flood and erosion control and dedicate more land to prairie restoration.  “It’s more seed than we could possibly use here so I’m happy to see the city put it to good use.”

A tangle of wildflowers decorate the Nature Center's prairie
photo by Nancy Lackner

It’s going to take a year or more for the seed to emerge – and several more years before it’s fully established, but watch for big bluestem, Indian and switch grasses as well as yellow and purple coneflower, blazing star, butterfly milkweed, bee balm, Virginia mountain mint and other wildflowers to start reaching for the summer sky around the lake – and with it, the birds, bees and other critters that call the prairie home.

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