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Buckthorn hedge before work starts on September 15, 2012

This September, the Salt Creek Greenway Association (SCGA) celebrated National Public Lands Day at Wolf Road Prairie twice.

Our first event was billed as Pre-National Public Lands Day and was held on Saturday, September 15, 2012 from 9:00 AM to Noon.

The tasks of the day focused on collecting a rich variety of seed from grasses and forbes ready for harvest and clearing a dense buckthorn hedge separating the northern section of Block 411 in Wolf Road Prairie from the wetland. This obstruction was visually unsightly and also damaging to wetland edge and prairie ecosystem biodiversity and hydrology.

SCGA volunteers worked side by side with Joe Swano, Chip O'Leary, Dara, Ken Evans, Kevin Neary, Gilbert Rosairo and Mary Love, staff from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County (FPDDC), on hand to assist with the workday.

As buckthorn branches were cut, they were stacked and burned on a nearby brush pile. By the end of the morning, most of the brush hauled to the pile had been reduced to ash. After about three hours of intensive labor, the buckthorn hedge had met its end and the prairie and wetland were no longer disconnected. FPDCC staff applied herbicide to cut buckthorn stems in the afternoon.

Dr. Darrel Murray led volunteers in seed collecting throughout the morning. The group spanned out across the prairie in search of ripe seeds of specified grasses and forbs. Later, Dr. Murray compiled a list of seeds collected by species and volume of seeds collected per species.

Dr. Murray reports that approximately 900,000 seeds of five species were collected during the September 15th workday at Wolf Road Prairie. The complete list of species with approximate number of seeds for each species is as follows:

Approx. Number of Seeds
Andropogon gerardii Big Bluestem Grass 30,000
Baptisia leucantha White Wild Indigo l,500
Eupatorium maculatum Spotted Joe Pye Weed 740,000
Hystrix patula Bottlebrush Grass 3,000
Parthenium integrifolium Wild Quinine 5,000
Sorghastrum nutans Indian Grass 195,000
Estimated Total Number of Seeds Collected and Dispersed 974,500

According to Dr. Murray, these seeds will be dispersed in open areas near the site of collection or in sites to be described later. These introduced seeds are in position to supplement re-colonization by native species in formerly degraded ground.

The second National Public Lands Day event was held on Saturday, September 29, 2012 from 9:00 AM to Noon. The workday was led by Regional Steward, John Kolar, and SCGA volunteer, Greg Jerzyk.

Patricia Cassidy, Chicago Wilderness Coordinator for National Public Lands Day, recruited volunteers to participate in this event at Wolf Road Prairie.

John Kolar kept volunteers moving throughout the south 40 acres to areas where seed was still available for collection. He segregated tall grass seeds from forbs seeds and tried to confine the process to sidewalks and paths while covering the largest number of disparate ecotypes. These late autumn seeds will be dispersed into restoration areas by Kristen Pink, Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

Also visiting Wolf Road Prairie on the morning of September 29th was Liane Cochran-Stafira, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Saint Xavier University, and her class studying the Natural History of the Great Lakes Region, including prairie and the identification of prairie plants.

The combined two workdays resulted in an estimated 300,000 or more seeds collected. These seeds, representing a variety of grass and forbs species, will be scattered into newly cleared areas at Wolf Road Prairie. Next year, we hope to see an increase in numbers of these native plants flourishing at the preserve.

Thanks to the 40 hard working volunteers who donated their time and energy to the combined two workdays to help care for and restore the beautiful lands of Wolf Road Prairie.

National Public Lands Day photos by Dave Waycie and Valerie Spale.

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