During the rainy morning of February 24, a group of around 30 people gathered at Long Branch Farm to help the Cincinnati Nature Center (CNC) prepare native seeds for planting in the spring. This was the fourth event for our Family Community Service Program, through which we provide opportunities for people of all ages in our local community to join folks from the Zoo in hands-on, local conservation projects.
As we arrived, we were met by Jake Sberna, the Native Landscape Coordinator at CNC. He talked about the history of Long Branch Farm, which was Neil McElroy’s farm before being donated to CNC to be used for environmental education. As the Native Landscape Coordinator, it is Jake’s job to decide which plants to grow and where to plant them. This is especially important as invasive plants are removed, because with nothing to replace them, they return very quickly. He helps ensure that there are plenty of healthy, native plants that provide food and shelter for local wildlife such as the monarch butterfly.
Over three hours, we helped with a number of different tasks to prepare native seeds for planting later in the year. One group stratified seeds by using sandpaper to rub off some of the waxy outer coating and putting them in bags of sand to be refrigerated. This process simulates natural over-winter conditions the seeds must go through in order to germinate, or begin to grow.
Another group sowed seeds in flats where they can start to sprout and grow. And the third group re-potted plants that had previously been sowed earlier in the year. This gives each individual plant more room to grow and spread roots, before eventually being planted outside. After all of these were done, the groups came together to pot elderberry cuttings. Many bushes and shrubs, including elderberry, are able to grow an entire new plant from a single cut branch. Pretty amazing, right!?
Overall, we stratified 44 bags full of native plant seeds, sowed 87 flats, re-potted 435 plants, and potted 64 elderberry cuttings. These plants included swamp milkweed, white wild indigo, tall coreopsis, and Riddell’s goldenrod. All of these will provide habitat and food for all sorts of native wildlife when they are planted in the spring.
The species that we were really focused on helping was the monarch butterfly. This is an amazing insect that migrates from Canada to Mexico and back again over a number of generations. Many of the areas that monarchs use during this migration are facing habitat loss, making it more difficult for them to find food and places to rest. This is why planting pollinator-friendly plants is so important, especially milkweed – the only plant that monarchs will lay eggs on and eat as a caterpillar. Want to help out monarchs in your own yard? Check out the Zoo’s Best Plants for Pollinators, a Zoo-branded series of pollinator-friendly plants that homeowners can purchase at dozens of local garden centers and nurseries.
We had a great time playing in the dirt and planting native seeds to help out monarchs, and our next event will be just as exciting. We will become citizen scientists on March 23 and discover which frog species live out at the Zoo’s EcOhio Farm as part of the FrogWatch program.
Sound like fun? Join us! Learn more about the Family Community Service program and how to get involved here.