Hannah Howard

Hannah Howard (left), community coordinator with Nature Conservancy of Iowa, explains to Keith Miller how to harvest a seed pod.

MUSCATINE — For an hour in the afternoon sun, volunteers wandered around the patches of wild Indian Grass and Big Blue Stem picking seed pods and dragging their hands down stocks to fill buckets and bags with their seeds. 

"Hand-collecting seeds is pretty easy," said Hannah Howard, a community coordinator with the Nature Conservancy of Iowa. "When they are ready for collection, (the seeds) just pop right off the pod. Most of the plants are wind dispersed, so you just have to run your hand along them to harvest."

The seed collectors' labor will benefit the Muscatine Pollinator Project's native growth park project, a 36 acre development on Houser Avenue near the Transfer Station and Recycling Center. In the face of declining populations of bees, butterflies and other pollinators, the mission of the park is to create environments that encourage the proliferation of local flora as a means to support pollinators specific to the region.

"You can really collect quite bit more seed with a few more hands," Howard said. "And it's something easy to do. Something kids can do."

Howard said that efforts in biodiversity, such as the work that the Muscatine Pollinator Project is involved in, are really important for the future of some of the landscapes.

"Americans have transitioned into a very sterile landscape," Howard said. "We essentially have a monoculture of grass and maybe you know planting a few red maples or spirea which don't really offer a whole lot. With this project we want to raise awareness about the need for native plants that are great for pollinators, whether they be the bees or the butterflies."

The park is a joint effort among the Muscatine Pollinator Project, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the City of Muscatine. The acreage consists of upland, wetland, and woodland areas. The goal is to promote native flora in hopes of preserving local ecosystems that depend on native plants to support their food chain.   

According to Jon Koch, the director of the Water Pollution Control Plant and volunteer for the project, these plants that, for most resemble weeds are native flora. 

"The biggest misunderstanding about the native plants is that people call them weeds," said Jon Koch, an event organizer. "(These plants) don’t have these nice manicured looks as other plants might. But they are natural. They are natives."

Koch said that the flora and fauna of places like Muscatine have changed significantly since people first arrived.

"This is the way the landscape was before people came in and settled," Koch said. "We’ve come in and changed things to bring in these other plans. It's really impacting our environment."

But for Koch, this operation is about more than just getting the landscape back to how it once looked. 

"They look at them and they see these weedy, obnoxious things that we need to get rid of, when we actually need to be promoting them," Koch said. 

The efforts of the seed collectors will help preserve some strains of plants that have begun to disappear. 

"You can use these natives to unique, well-manicured effect," Koch said. "You get the double benefit of a beautiful landscape with native flora and it promotes the local pollinators that depend on them."