Conservation at Spring Valley: Melanie Blume Reports on Her SUST Internship Experience this Semester

Blume, MelanieThis is the 2nd guest post by RU senior Melanie Blume, a SUST major who is interning with conservation and education staff at the Spring Valley Nature Center and the Volkening Heritage Farm near Roosevelt’s campus in Schaumburg IL. These excellent facilities are part of the 135-acre Spring Valley Conservation Area, the largest and most ecologically significant green space with the Village of Schaumburg limits, and are managed by the Schaumburg Park District. 

During the Spring 2015 semester, Melanie reflects on her work at Spring Valley on prairie conservation, seed propagation, invasive species identification and removal at the Nature Center; as well as on garden preparation, planting of their extensive vegetable garden, and contributing to Farm to Table programs with a focus on local food production at the Volkening Farm.

Blog 2 greenhouseA couple of weeks ago during my internship at the Spring Valley Nature Center, I worked in a large greenhouse with a system that regularly sprinkles water and keeps the temperature and humidity at a steady tropical level in contrast to the frigid temperatures outdoors (pictured at left). There are countless shelves lined with trays of various plants at various life stages (illustrated below). These collected plants are ultimately replanted, which saves the conservation crew a substantial bit of money.

I spent about four hours in the greenhouse on Wednesday of that week transplanting native columbine and sedges (sedges are similar to grasses but have three edges instead of two). From one crowded tray of little sedge seedlings I made about 3 trays of healthy plants that we will plant in spring. This will help to increase regeneration of native plants and grasses within the Spring Valley ecosystem. With exotic plants like buckthorn, wild locust, and Creeping Charlie, native plants like sedges, grasses, and wildflowers are at a disadvantage in their once mastered ecosystem, which is why conservation efforts like this are critical to restoring the forests and prairies to their natural form.

Blume Blog 2 seedlings

Matt McBrien, who is in charge of conservation at Spring Valley, explained that what they do is called stratification. This means mimicking in the greenhouse what happens in nature. Typically seeds should be stored in wet and moist conditions for an average of two months. This process simulates the winter season that helps break down the seeds outer coating. In a separate green house that is not heated there are bags upon bags of collected seeds from native plants. They use brown shopping bags for some so they can dry out a bit, and Ziploc bags for others. After that we propagate them into hearty plants that we can transplant in the spring. In areas with a lot of soil erosion, planting native grasses can prevent further erosion and help restore the ecosystem.

Before nonnative plants and insects made their way into our forests’ ecology, the ecosystem was able to sustain itself balanced naturally by years of evolution. That is why these seed trays don’t need to be sterilized like we did when preparing the vegetable seedling trays at the farm. Native grasses and other plants have acquired natural defenses to protect them against common pests. The native species have been adapting to coexist with the other native plants and organisms for centuries. This is also why the introduction of plants like buckthorn or black locust can bring a forest to its end after thriving for hundreds of years

Settling Europeans used rows of buckthorn bushes as impenetrable fences meant to outline their property. But using buckthorn had unforeseen consequences that we are still battling today. These plants procreate profusely by having seeds in every part of the plant — they’re even lined up in the stems and twigs that snap off constantly. They are easily carried by the wind or picked up by a passerby. Nonnative buckthorn fills in forests making them impossible to walk through as inhabitants once could. A part of me wonders if this is nature’s way of protecting its forests from the people who change the forest ecology anyways. Buckthorn gets its leaves earlier than many of the native plants and keeps them longer in the fall, for this reason it can outcompete native wildflowers and grasses.

The ongoing effort to restore and maintain a native ecosystem requires a combination of strategies including seed propagation and removal of nonnative species. In addition, semi-annual burnings in grassy areas with hard woods is supremely beneficial to ridding the area of exotic pests and plants. The native grasses have extensive roots that allow the grasses to grow back up through the ashy fertilizer. In areas with soft wood trees like willows and pines, a prescribed burn would cause more damage than good. Some of the native hard wood trees are maples and oaks.

Spring Valley has 135 acres of land to work with and the conservation work does not go unnoticed. Spring Valley is a true gem that represents what Schaumburg’s landscape looked like only a century ago.

Melanie Blume, submitted 15 Feb 2015

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