October Seeds Bring Spring Plants

The past couple of weeks were busy ones for the Education team. We took advantage of the gorgeous fall weather by being outside practically every day with both students and adult volunteers. A good portion of our time was spent collecting various seeds as the plants matured, dried, and began to drop their fruits at the cold's approach.

Students collect Partridge Pea Seeds at ANA 11

All of the seeds we collected fall into two categories, wetland plants and meadow plants, and have differing modes of collection.

Meadow Plants

Our SONG (Saving our Native Grasslands) program exposes students to the beauty and biodiversity of meadow ecosystems and connects the concepts to the watershed through two native grassland riparian areas at ANA-11 and our Anacostia Riparian Meadow Restoration (ARMR) site on the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia. At ANA-11, students collect Partridge Pea, Boneset, Goldenrod, and Indian Grass that will then be spread at our ARMR site to increase and improve the riparian buffer zone. This important buffer acts as a filter for stormwater flowing into the river and like a sponge for high water rising out of the Anacostia’s banks during flood events.

During the SONG program the students also construct birdhouses for meadow birds such as Wrens, Chickadees, Nuthatches, Bluebirds, and Warblers. With the proliferation of the native grassland plants and, consequently, their seeds on which these birds feed, the students are effectively creating the food source and habitat for these birds, a vital part of the meadow ecosystem.

Students assemble birdhouses during one of their visits.

Wetland Plants

Our Rice Rangers education program provides the opportunity for students to grow wetland plants in their classroom under grow lights. Upon the plants’ maturity, the students then come out to the wetlands and plant their plants, helping to restore the native wetlands.

Volunteers and AWS interns alike went out in canoes and in marshy areas searching for wetland seeds to collect for this program. The most prolific right now is pickerel weed which has a beautiful purple flower reminiscent of a lupine blossom. It is scattered about the wetland edges which makes it easy to spot and collect in our ventures out and we have a good stockpile for the season. More elusive plants that we are still searching for are duck potato and arrow arum. Their fruiting bodies will often be submerged at high tide when we are out in canoes making them nearly impossible to spot without exploring individual plants.

Pickerel weed is a prolific, and beneficial, wetland plant.

The Rice Rangers program uses all of these seeds but the program’s namesake, wild rice, threw us for a loop earlier in the fall when it started shedding its seeds many weeks in advance of its normal time. We attributed this to the effects of climate change and, once we realized the situation, collected as many wild rice seeds as we could.

It has been a pleasure to get out in the field with students and volunteers to teach and learn, myself, more about the plants that keep our wetlands and meadows healthy. These educational opportunities in partnership with the stewardship team are powerful and will go a long way in restoring our Anacostia.

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