Learning the ABCs: Always Be Collecting

Looking at the San Francisco Peaks from Kendrick Park

Its been about 2 and a half months now collecting seeds with the Seeds of Success program in Flagstaff Arizona. We’ve gone from hot cloudless skies in early July to several weeks of monsoonal rains, to the beginnings of a cool autumn. The monsoons were really excellent this year, and not only boosted the number of flowering species but also provided for some prolific and tasty mushrooms. People keep telling us we are lucky to be collecting in a year like this, after a long drought cycle of poor winters and monsoons.  There certainly has been an abundance of flowers this year, and hopefully we will be able to keep collecting, even after the growing season ends. Soon the nights will just become too cold. Thats what 7000 feet will for you.

One of our collection sites in Colorado

We’ve also had the opportunity to cruise around the Colorado Plateau a bit these past months, with two trips up to Montrose, Colorado to help with the BLM Uncompaghre Plateau Project (UP project). Its been wonderful passing through the region’s patchwork of open desert and sculpted sandstone. The colors alone are worth the trip.  The Montrose area has been an interesting diversion from our familiar species around Flag, and it has been encouraging to be collecting species at the request of land managers who will directly utilize our collections for sage grouse habitat restoration.  As an added bonus, we were surprised to discover how beautiful the Uncomphagre Mesa is–Its firs, aspens and fresh-water springs contrast dramatically with the surrounding desert. Known as the “Ancestral Rocky Mountains” this ancient range was once much larger but eroded away into the famous red sandstone of the Moab region. It definitely felt like a Colorado ancestral Rocky Mountain high.

The mysterious Pterospora andromedea, or Pine Drops. (not collected, just cool)

Over the past few months we have been learning some of the ins and outs of seed collection. Although collection is never too complicated in and of itself, the logistics and timing of our collections can be a bit tricky.  In some ways collecting is a bit like preparing an elaborate, multi-course meal– if you’re timing isn’t right you might just burn something or serve it underdone.  I remember the sinking feeling as we visited one site after the monsoons started, only to find all the available seeds were gone — shattered by the rain. Fortunately, the species was an aster so we could cut many of the partially immature seed heads and they matured on their own. We learned how important it is to make solid initial collections and to collect often enough in anticipation of inevitable snafus. Fortunately right now we are entering a part of the season when there’s probably something to collect almost every day, which is pretty exciting. The weather is getting cooler, school is in session, and football is on tv– looking forward to fall

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