Sown for Spring

7 February 2024

Photos by Kallie Rollenhagen

Collecting seeds in the Arboretum

Thousands of seeds in the Cowling Arboretum are awaiting spring, ready to start filling Carleton’s prairies with big bluestem, Golden Alexanders, porcupine grass, and other native species. Gathered by student workers and volunteers from some 25 locations last season, their origins range from the Upper Arb and the McKnight Prairie to more far-flung places like Richard J. Dorer State Forest near Winona.

Aims of reseeding: to sequester carbon in soil formerly used for agriculture, demonstrate climate change mitigation strategies in hopes they’ll be used elsewhere at larger scale, and strengthen wildlife habitats. “The adage ‘if you build it, they will come’ is so true,” says Arboretum Director Nancy Braker ’81, who reports that reseeding has lured native birds like the Henslow’s Sparrow, unseen here for decades, back.

While it’s gratifying to see the Arb’s 400 or so species thrive after decades of seed redistribution, Braker says she also finds more immediate pleasure in the work of gathering. “There’s a different smell to the vegetation and the seed heads for each plant. It’s like a scavenger hunt.”

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