Kelly McCann – Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

Nursery FindYourPark VIP

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!