Seed Hunting Season is over

Hunting season ended for me today – seed hunting season. No more wonton soup containers full of fermenting plant flesh on the side room desk. No more film canisters and ziplock baggies in every pocket of every bag, pant, and jacket.

The season began this year with round-lobed hepatica, collected steps from home up on the Sourland ridge, and ended with Hydrangea arborescens, a lucky find on a Thanksgiving day family hike along the Musconetcong. (I did suggest that hike, just on the off-chance...)

Today I sowed flats of that Hydrangea, along with Zigzag Goldenrod (near Round Valley), New England Aster (the wet meadow out front), and Virginia Pine, collected on a lark with Bill Rawlyk in Kingwood.

It was a lean year for Wreath Goldenrod. I sowed a little pot of it and put it in a big ziplock bag.

The few seeds I dared collect from the solitary (and heavily-browsed) Hearts-a-burstin’, the only one I’ve found in the Sourlands, got packed in wet sand in a little cocktail sauce container and placed in a box which lives in our refrigerator, alongside the mushier and mushier Stayman Winesap apples from Terhune Orchards. With that, the desk in the side room is clear, and the seed hunting season is – closed! Just in time for muzzle-loaders to begin firing in the surrounding woods.

Now I wait for spring. I did resolve to do more tracking this winter, and I already had an interesting encounter with fresh fox scat on a mossy fallen black oak, but... part of me is senescing until the plants rise up from beneath the sleep of leaves.

It’s astounding to me when fresh mayapple parasols poke through the spring soils from their centenarian rootstocks: would that we all could look so perfect and young when we are two hundred years old.

It’s equally astounding when a baby spicebush breaks through its potting soil and appears to be fully formed within a few days of germination. Forget cotyledons! it says.

I wait for spring to pull the heavy Kadon trays wrapped in black garbage bags off the basement shelves. “Black Cohosh”, they will say in sharpie-marker-on-masking-tape, or “Trout Lily”, or “Black Birch”.

This past spring, those trays spilled out onto our front and side porches, into the little hoophouse that ate our backyard. Pots of seedlings lined every windowsill that my wife Rachel didn’t “stand and defend”.

Those fermenting plant fruits in leftovers containers- they really started to accumulate on the side room desk in August or so. Most of our native fleshy fruits contain germination inhibitors and need to be cleaned before the seed(s) within will sprout. The parent plants seek to insure that their fruit has been ingested, digested, and taken away before germination. Fermentation is a great way to start the cleaning process, but... the yogurt container with the 300 rotting spicebush drupes in it did start to smell pretty rank after a few weeks.

Next year will be different. We’ve got a grant for a greenhouse from Conservation Resources, Inc. More grants may be on the way. We’ll be setting up shop in Princeton, and the plants will be finding their way to our preserves, to the backyards of neighbors, to the edges of those new vernal pools NRCS helped us dig at Cedar Ridge...

Next year will be a big step forward for the Native Plant Nursery. More volunteers, plant sales, networking, with other restorationists. We’ve got a lot of folks to reach: the residential landscape will never be re-knit with the wild landscape (while people remain) until people start planting native plants – lots of them. A spicebush patch in the backyard will feed migrating wood thrushes; ants will carry Bloodroot from one shade garden to the next; a frontyard Hornbeam will float seeds over to an adjacent young woodlot – that little stretch of wet woods that couldn’t be developed.

That’s the dream. Far-fetched? Maybe. But we who do stewardship are facing tough odds, massive disturbance at both local and global levels, and we might as well aim high.

My desk is clear and hunting season is over... unless I run across those tamarack seeds I never got around to looking for...

p.s. This post is really similar to one I put up at - and I mention that both as apology to those who've seen it, but also as encouragement to check out that blog if you're interested in land stewardship issues in New Jersey.