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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Scurrying Seed Scavengers

Seed collectors in the Arboretum. Proto credit: Tim Vick

What do chickadees, Arb volunteers and meadow jumping mice have in common? Fall is the time to build up a nice cache of seeds!


As summer comes to an end, many flowering plants of the arboretum’s prairies and forests make seeds. These seeds will stay dormant through the winter and sprout to create the next generation when the weather warms again. 


Enter the rodents and birds, who find fat, calorie-rich packets of food hanging from stems and fallen on the ground. With the winter ahead, seeds are a primary food source for many small beings, who build up body fat and squirrel away extra seeds to prepare. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship — when a buried seed is forgotten, ta-da! Perfect sprouting conditions. 


Plants and animals aren’t the only ones for whom fall is important. Every Tuesday, groups of Arb volunteers go out to collect certain species’ seeds. Even more are collected by the Arb staff and student workers, carefully labeled, and cleared of chaff with mesh screens.


These seeds are part of the ongoing project of restoration in the Arb, from farmland to native plantings. Originally collected from sites nearby, most of the seeds now planted come from the Arb. Collecting seeds so close to home ensures the seeds are locally adapted to survive, and preserves the unique genetic makeup of the area. We are also looking for seed sources further south to augment local diversity and buffer against climate change. 


Berry-like seeds harvested from forests are planted right away, introducing a rich understory. Prairie seeds are planted in fall and winter to aid the spread of certain species and strengthen the ecosystem. This year, seed collecting has been especially intense because another soybean field will be converted to prairie! After harvest, seeds will be flung into the field using a broadcast seeder, with a few planted by hand.


If you want to test your squirrel instincts and be part of the process, come up to the arboretum office next Tuesday at 5 p.m.!


Klara Kjome Fischer ’26, for the Cole Student Naturalists

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