Category Archives: seeds

Beginnings

Morning dawns on the prairie.

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A lone red-winged blackbird calls. No breeze rustles the brittle, bleached out stands of little bluestem; the dry stalks of prairie switchgrass. The seedpods of of St. John’s wort and other bloomers have long since cracked open and dropped their seeds. There’s the promise of something new ready to germinate.

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Few flames from prescribed burns have touched the tallgrass here in Illinois … yet. But there is the rumor of fire.

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The temperatures have warmed. The wind whispers “it’s time.”

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Time for everything to begin again.

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To burn off the old; to spark something new.

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With the flames will go our memories of a season now past. What waits for us  …

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…will build on what went before, but is still unknown.

There is a sadness in letting go of what we have.

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Yet to not move forward– to shy away from that which that will seemingly destroy the tallgrass– is to set the prairie back. To keep it from reaching its full potential.

So we embrace the fire.

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We accept that things will change.  IMG_7100

 

We realize there will be surprises. Things we don’t expect.

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We strike the match. Say goodbye to ice and snow.

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Watch the prairie go up in flames.

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We wait to see what will appear.

On the other side of the fire.

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All photos copyright Cindy Crosby: (top to bottom) sunrise, Meadow Lake prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prairie grasses and Great St. John’s Wort (Hypericum pyramidatum), Meadow Lake prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; Willoway Brook, The Schulenberg Prairie, Lisle, IL; eastern cottontail, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;   prescribed burn, The Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn sign, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Meadow Lake prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn, The Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; July on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  twin fawns, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; Meadow Lake prairie planting, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; prescribed burn, Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; two-track through Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL. 

 

Seeding the Snow

Early January can’t make up its mind between rain or snow. Water droplets cling to plants…

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…then begin to freeze.

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A squirrel, oblivious to the precipitation, snuggles into the crook of a walnut branch. Its scritch, scritch, scritch, of teeth against hull breaks the silence.

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I find her cast-off walnut hulls in the tallgrass.

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The prairie, once plump with seeds of every sort in October, is in the throes of letting go. Partially-nibbled or mostly gone is the rule  for seeds now. Birds, insects, and wind have done their work.

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Carrion flower fruits wrinkle in the cold.

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Its deep purple berries are a welcome bit of color. The January prairie is more about structure than bright hues.

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The colors of the tallgrass are muted.

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…in a veil of drizzle turning to snow.

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Tree limbs, battered by winter weather, fall into the tallgrass. Their soft wood will become a nursery for fungi, moss, lichens, and insects.

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White wild indigo seed stalks snap off at the base. The wind tumbles them across the prairie into the  brook. They pile up like a dam. Their seeds are now scattered through the tallgrass, waiting to sprout in the spring.

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All across the prairie, seeds loosen their grip on stalks; drop onto the waiting frozen ground. The cold and snow begin to work their magic, readying the seeds for the moment in the spring when everything shouts……

GROW!

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Bright colors are in there — invisible. Tucked into the dull, lifeless looking seeds.

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We believe in what’s coming. The miracle of hard, dry seeds dropped onto ice and mud that will transform the prairie and seed the snow.

Until then, we watch. Wait for miracles…that will come out of the snow.

All photos by Cindy Crosby (top to bottom)  figwort (Scrophularia marilandica) with water drops, Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL; squirrel with walnut, SP: black walnut hull, SP; grey-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) seedhead and Illinois bundleweed (Desmanthus Illinoensis) seedhead, SP; carrion flower (Smilax herbacea) seedhead,  SP;  gray skies, SP;  prairie in the drizzle, SP; grasses, SP:;  bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) seedheads; white wild  indigo (Baptisia alba) plants, SP ; tall coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris)  Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; Michigan lily (Lilium michiganense), NG; black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) with katydid, SP; bottle gentians (Gentian andrewsii), NG.

Abbreviations SP, NG: Schulenberg Prairie, Nachusa Grasslands.

 

Prairie Endings and Beginnings

“What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.” –T. S. Eliot

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October recedes in the rear-view mirror.

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Hello, November.

On the edge of the prairie, ruby-leaved maples still spill their colors into the cold, blue air.

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An Asian beetle scrambles along a wooden beam, then slows.

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Grasshoppers flip and turn on the bridge through the tallgrass, then pause, as if asking: “What’s next?”

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It’s the end of one cycle. And the beginning of another.

The season of seeds.

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The prairie explodes with a seed extravaganza.

Asters shake their pom poms.

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Milkweeds breathe out tendrils of silk.

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Cattails wave their batons to the rhythm the wind commands.

Seeds, seeds, seeds.

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The prairie tosses its curls full of Canada wild rye, punctuated with thistle.

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Enchanter’s nightshade casts its spell over the prairie savanna.

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One by one, the seeds ripen, then loosen.

And so, they begin their journeys. Some by wind…

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Some by water…

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Some lifted by the hands of volunteers, who spend hours in the tallgrass picking prairie seeds into buckets;

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spread them out in trays to dry.

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The seeds wait, ready to be sown on winter’s first snow. The cold, damp conditions will ready them for germination in the spring.

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The end of one chapter; the beginning of another.

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The promise of something new to come.

All photos by Cindy Crosby: (top to bottom) Leaves, Springbrook Nature Center, Itasca, IL; bridge, SNC; maple (Acer spp.), SNC; Asian beetle, SNC; grasshopper, SNC; wild plum (Prunus americana), Songbird Slough Forest Preserve of DuPage County, Itasca, IL; asters (unknown species) , SS;  milkweed pod (Asclepias syriaca), SS; cattails (Typha latifolia), SS; Canada wild rye (Elymus canadensis), Nachusa Grasslands, Franklin Grove, IL; enchanter’s nightshade (Circaea lutetiana canadensis), NG; beebalm with milkweed seed (Monarda fistulosa and Asclepias syriaca), author’s backyard in Glen Ellyn, IL; Springbrook Creek by the prairie at SNC; seeds collected on the Schulenberg Prairie, The Morton Arboretum, Lisle, IL;  native prairie seeds drying in the headhouse, SP;  little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), SP; goldenrod (Solidago spp), SS.

The opening quote is from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets.”