A Need for Seed

My second visit to Spruce Knob (photo taken by Hannah Scrafford)


Much of October and November was dominated by the drive to go out and collect seeds. Lots of it. We got to explore so much of what the Mon has to offer. We’ve experienced the glorious changing of the colors as we eased into autumn. Never had I seen so much life… which is odd given that I’ve always thought it signified death. Those days will never leave my mind. I felt so incredibly lucky to have been able to go out every day with my co-intern-turn-closest-friend and collect seeds. I’ve also had so many more opportunities to visit Spruce Knob, Dolly Sods and many other unique places to collect.

Pausing from collecting to bask in the beautiful autumn setting.

All the seeds collected after a day out with others!

We were fortunate enough to be surrounded by so many wonderful people who were excited to collect with us. We were able to coordinate a number of collection excursions with insightful and hopeful individuals who wanted to either learn more or simply have a good time outside collecting seeds and having good conversation– or both!

While collecting is a great way to connect with others, we are also actively sowing seeds for the future. We’ve been able to show the old and new AmeriCorps interns the ropes so that they can continue to seed collect and process for the ongoing restoration efforts across the Mon.

Posing with all the seeds we processed that day. The most abundant seeds here are alternate-leaved dogwood (Cornus alternifolia).

By the time December came around, I could feel time slow and the reality of my program’s impending end date floating around my brain.

As our time here in West Virginia began to unwind, I also started feeling the pressure to finish processing all of our seeds. I coped with the low-grade stress by creating lists and personal goals for myself to hold on to for the coming month. Along with help from Caroline, I enlisted the aid of the AmeriCorps interns who have helped move along efforts to process all of the seeds collected through the summer and fall.


In the midst of all this processing, I’ve been able to engage myself and get involved in other ways. In early November, Caroline and I were interviewed and featured in the Pocahontas Times, the local newspaper. A couple weeks later, I was tapped to talk about the CLM program and the work we’ve accomplished to a leadership board (composed of all the district rangers across the Monongahela National Forest). Presenting in front of the rangers was nerve-wracking enough but having to present without Caroline compounded my anxiety. Nevertheless, I persevered and received a lot of positive feedback that reassured me. And at the beginning of December, the AmeriCorps (who are also my roommates) and I built a float for this year’s unique drive-in Christmas parade! It was yet another great opportunity to get involved with the community and it was so great to have the support of our district ranger, Cindy Sandeno and a few other forest service members.

The forest service Christmas parade float that celebrates 100 years of the Mon.


A seed in time

It is hard to believe that we are already halfway through December, which means we have one week left in Marlinton before we head home and work remotely until the new year. We have collected more than enough seeds from the available populations from our species list and are spending our final weeks here processing the last few buckets-full of American mountain ash, ironweed, Clematis virginiana, closed-bottle gentian and smooth alder. We may still go out collecting, but only for those seeds which persist into the winter and require minimal processing time: ironweed, staghorn sumac, C. virginiana. By the end of next week, we will have delivered all of our perennial woody plant seeds to Appalachian Headwaters where they will be stored and propagated over the next year. Our annuals will be stored here in Marlinton, since they can be cultivated in situ through wind dispersal and scattering.

A mature red spruce forest (Red Spruce Knob, Pocahontas County, WV)
Amanita flavoconia or “Yellow patches” – a mycorrhizal fungus found in mature red spruce forests. Mycorrhizae connect trees through a network of underground fungal mycelium and allow them to exchange nutrients and hormonal messaging across the landscape.

We have collected thousands upon thousands of seeds during these past few months. It is quite amazing to see the totals: 14,000 seeds of alternate-leaf dogwood, over 15,000 seeds of closed-bottle gentian, and 15,000 of southern mountain cranberry. Even for species that were scantly populated (catberry, for instance) we’ve collected over a thousand seeds. Our repository will serve as a reservoir of plant life used to pioneer forest succession on strip mines in the Monongahela for years to come. In turn, the plants that grow from our seeds will impact this forest for centuries. Heck, millennia! Theoretically, the seeds we’ve collected will act as the first catalysts in the succession of an enduring red spruce forest. These plants can withstand young soils and grow in direct sunlight, and over the next decade they will morph the rocky restoration site into a haven of biodiversity. Birds and other pollinators will consume and disperse the second generation of seeds across the site, reallocating nutrients to the stripped, rocky soil and forming essential foundations for early-succession tree species. As large trees take hold in the newly rich soil, they will shade out the earliest pioneer species from our seed stock, forming an early-succession broadleaf forest. Eventually, red spruce will grow up in the shaded understory of this forest, transforming its soil composition into a deep humus layer filled with mycorrhizal fungi that push out early pioneer species and favor the dominance of late-succession coniferous tree species, and plants that can survive in the dark understory.

One must zoom out at least one hundred years to see how our daily efforts will endure. Three generations from now, visitors may come across Sharp’s Knob and walk upon a cushion of moss and knee-deep duff teeming with a root network of ectomycorrhizal fungi. Maybe they will breathe the cool, terpene-scented air found only in a copse of red spruce, their eyes comfortably shaded by the dense canopy above. Perhaps they, too, will collect fruits, but instead in the form of Vaccinium berries, mayapples, mushrooms, spruce cones. And on the way out, they’re bound to drop a few on the ground, dispersing the next generation of forest flora.

And the cycle continues…

December’s Update

Good news from the JTGP CLM team! We are gearing up our baby Joshua Tree’s for their final transplant into the Common Garden sites across the Mojave. These little ones have come a long way and look very official with their field-ready metal tags.

A group of JTs that are ready for their final tag–these long, finely serrated leaves are so wonderful to see–and to think they all started off as tiny, grass-thin cotyledon.
M. Beadle and N. Filannino working through the tagging process. We’ve all taken ‘ownership’ of a section of the plants in the GH. Its been great to become familiar with the layout and plants within our sections, especially now that so many of them are big!

We still have some maternal lines that are struggling to grow and it will be interesting to see if they pull through or if they simply won’t get to Gardens. As we all know by now: plant research is a dynamic and patient process! All tagged JTs will be transplanted in the gardens over this winter and will have at least a year to grow and develop in their given environments before JTGP leading scientists start to collect genetic and phenological from them (While my group of CLM JTGP interns will be long gone by then, I am excited to check in with our PIs and hear how everything is going in the Gardens).

Because our time here is quickly coming to an end our team has also been super busy organizing, cleaning up and structuring the many data we have been collecting over the past five months. We’ve mastered excel and dabbled in R and are continuing to develop and analyze the loads of info we have on the germination and growth of our JTs.

Jt’s with their metal tags: ready to roll!