This has been a year of many plant species deviating from their normal development cycle. Some species flowered late, some early, some have stayed around for the whole summer and others were totally absent. Most have had individual plants that flowered out of sync with the rest of their group. This Prairie Dock is an example of that condition.
I’m enjoying the extended flowering period, but the rest of the Prairie Dock plants are well past this stage.
This is the time of year for seeds to be ripening. The tall flower stalks have lost their color and the plants are busy pumping energy into the achenes that will soon dry and scatter on the wind as a promise of new plants in the future. I plan to intervene in this natural process and gather the seeds for distribution in areas of my own choosing.
The achenes containing the seeds can be seen surrounding the central disk. Each flower head produces about a dozen achenes and each achene contains a single seed. I’ve read that seeds will germinate if planted while the achenes are still green, but I’ve never had any success with that method. I won’t harvest until the entire seed head is dry.
I opened a couple of the seed heads to check on seed development. Every achene I checked was swollen with a developing seed. I should be able to collect plenty of seeds. At least I will if I can keep the birds from eating them before they dry. The almost sunflower like seeds are eagerly sought by many bird species. Goldfinches in particular can clean out an entire stand in just a few days and they don’t wait for the seed head to dry.
In order to save some seeds, I must make them inaccessible to the birds. I usually don’t take any action until I see some sign that the birds have begun their harvest. The most noticeable sign, aside from the birds themselves, is bird droppings on the leaves below the flower stalks.
I place a net barrier around the portion of the seed crop that I would like to claim as my own. The open mesh of the net allows adequate air flow for the seeds to dry. When the bulk of the seed crop is ready to harvest, I’ll remove the net and pluck the seed heads. When I first began doing this, I tried to cinch the net around every possible opening, but a bird would always end up inside the net. Letting the bird out was a nuisance, so I’ve changed my methods slightly. Now the bottom and top of the net are left open. If a bird really wants to, it can get inside the net and later it can easily get out. Those few birds that do go in eat so few seeds that it doesn’t make a difference to my harvest. I also leave plenty of stalks outside the net for use by the birds. In this way I think we all get what we want.