Kelly McCann – Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
The National Park Nursery Program at Mississippi National River and Recreation Area is officially underway. It is a new Centennial partnership with two local schools that will grow prairie plants for the park while getting to learn about botany, biology, and careers in conservation hands-on in their classroom and in the park. You can read more about the background of this project here. The Open World Learning nursery involves a lot of their students: the 7th graders have a field trip to collect the seeds, the 9th and 10th graders are planting and caring for the plants, and the upperclassmen will have a field trip using the nursery plants to restore a prairie!
To kick off the growing season, I visited Open World Learning in mid-January. I met with a group of interested 9th and 1oth graders during their science block to introduce them to the project. I brought seeds that 7th graders from their school had collected on a field trip in October. When you collect seeds from a prairie, you end up grabbing the entire seed head (what used to be the beautiful wildflower), so it takes another step to clean the seed. The same thing happens in a farmer’s field, mechanically, as the farmer drives over the field during harvest. I taught the students to harvest the seeds by hand, and it’s more fun than it sounds…
They pour a few cups of the seed heads into a paper bag and SHAKE! It’s somehow very entertaining, and the students go crazy on the seeds. The goal is to shake the seeds free from all the other junk, then you dump it over a screen to filter the seeds out. Very simple, very fun. I also had another group using sandpaper to scarify the seed coats of purple prairie clover – a finicky plant that germinates best after it’s gone through an animal’s acidic digestive tract or survived a few freeze-thaw cycles. We mimic that with sandpaper then a freezer.
At the end of the day, we got a lot of work done and had a good time. I’ll be visiting next month with a Ranger to finally break in the greenhouse and start growing!