tending to a forest

The first time I visited the Black Creek Seed Orchard, Tate Thriffley drove me in his air-conditioned Forest Service truck. He unlocked the steel gate and in we went, driving past the first orchard of pines.  We were looking to see if this field could become a collection site to harvest source-certified seed for this forest’s restoration. We moseyed along chatting about what we saw and then we’d stop and with a close eye try to figure out what plants we were seeing. We got out of the truck a few times and made some short loops into the landscape in knee-deep vegetation. I was looking at meadow species, but more carefully scanning for invasive species that might render the site off-limits as far as collection goes. You only want to spread the good seed around, not the bad.


Black Creek Seed Orchard is one of the many unassuming treasures of the DeSoto National Forest, and there are many. The seed Orchard grounds have been maintained by mowing for all these years but there was never a plow layed to it. The Orchard has been in existence since the Forest was established in the 1930’s, used for producing seed of different southern Pine species. The near by maintenance facility has on-site,  a pine cone drying contraption that is massive and there are other impressive and wonderful facilities there to do big foresty things with. The Orchard itself is a total of maybe one hundred and fifty acres of mature tree plantings with several hundred acres of open fields surrounding the tree plantings (I was told its about seven hundred acres).  In these surrounding fields are some of the most wonderful associations of meadow plants. The vegetation there has a very significant level of integrity. The dominance in species changes from one area of the field to the next. By species dominance, I mean the plants that are most common through a given area. And the number of high-conservancy species of wildflowers and native grasses is something to see. While working there, I often want to lead into a Julie Andrews-inspired rendition of The Hills are Alive, with the Sound of Music……    Its really hard to resist. The only thing missing besides the song is the Alpine peaks in the distance (oh, and in the case of Monday’s weather, the cooler temps of the Alps were definitely missing).


above: the walls of my office yesterday


above: With aromatic fragrance of monumental proportions, Sweet Goldenrod (Solidago odora), permeates the air of the wide-open fields of Black Creek Seed Orchard, DeSoto National Forest, north of Wiggins, Mississippi. This time of year, the landscape is colored with golden yellow drifts, punctuated with purples, blues, and whites, and a seemingly endless number of plants. The closer you get to the ground, the more you see (click photo to enlarge).  When we collected here in July it was a different-looking landscape then and when we collect again in November it will have changed yet again.

My job is to walk through the creme de la creme of the Ash fields all day. Its a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.

Jim McGee my partner in crime follows, steadily steering the very slow moving prairie seed harvester. My job is to watch for obstacles to the machine and to look for Gopher tortoises or tortoise burrows (yes, I said Gopher Tortoises). Some of the borrows have previously been marked with PVC pipe. When I see a new one, I mark it quickly with flagging tape and keep moving on, guiding Jim along. Its hard to see from the tractor driver’s seat with the harvester in the way and we are required by contract to watch closely for the turtles so I am Jim’s other set of eyes.


above: At the end of our day we drove down to where we’d earlier spotted a nearly solid stand of Narrow Leaf Bluestem (Schizachirium tenerum) and Pine Land Dropseed (Sporobolus Junceus). C’est magnifique! My wildest dream comes true…..    🙂

There were lots of other dominants in our earlier collections for the day, like Prairie Gailarlia (Gailardia aestivalus), Bearded Skeleton Grass (Gymnopogon ambiguus), Slim Skeleton Grass (Gymnopogon brevifolius), Button Snake Root (Eryngium yuccafolia), White-Leafed Mountian Mint (Picnanthemum albescens) and Multibloom Hoary Pea (Tephrosia onybrychoides). 

We are processing the seed with tender loving care and will store it with the rest of the seed in our section of the very amazing “Cadillac” seed storage facility there at Ash.



Its always tundra-cold in the Cadillac seed storage unit. About seventy pounds of our July collection which was dominant in Tephrosia and New Jersey Tea, in two canisters, tagged and ready to go!


above: about a thousand pounds of high-end botanical bliss!

Meanwhile Tate and his colleagues at DeSoto have been busily planting the last year’s crop of nine different dominant-collections of seed, creating more turtle and cockaded woodpecker habitat

It’ll be a good thing to one day walk the fields with Tate when the new plantings have all up-and-grown.

for an insight to the way-cool restoration happenings at DeSoto, just click on the link. pretty neat stuff.

Click to access R8_NFsMS_De_Soto_Final_CFLR_Proposal.pdf