One of the joys of Nantahala is experiencing the change of seasons – waking up in winter to the brightness of a snow-covered landscape, or in spring when you have to watch your step as you ramble in the woods because of the emerging plants, so tiny and so quick to poke through the ground through the fallen leaves. Even summer with its wild turkeys, wild hogs, rabbits, deer, and groundhogs destroying those plants you were thinking of transplanting in the garden, or gobbling up the seeds you were going to harvest and plant, you take delight in watching the insects and butterflies buzz around the many sunflowers in the area. Summer, with its long evenings and beautiful sunsets just over the next mountain are good for the soul.
But nothing quite surpasses autumn to really bring home the fact that the seasons have changed. Beginning in late August neighbors will say to each other on a particular day, “fall is in air, isn’t it?” just wishing that fall would hurry up and get to us, because there is nothing quite so glorious as waking on a fall morning to the view of the changing colors.
But there is another reason that I love fall, and that is because in a small way, it is harvest time – or at least a time to gather the last seeds of the season and move plants around. Some of the beds get overgrown, some of the summer seedlings need to be put in beds for the winter, and some lucky plants on the property get moved from simply being on the property to a place of honor in the beds. And, as always, it is a time to share seeds and plants with neighbors and friends.
One of my favorite plants is the Butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and every year I catch its seeds and plant them in my seed bed. The seeds lay there dormant (which means, sleeping!) all winter and then emerge in summer. I leave them in the seed bed the first year and then when they are 2 years old I put them in pots to give to friends. They are fairly good germinators. I don’t plant all the seeds available to me, just a row of them, and have noticed that some seeds sit out that first year and don’t come up until the second dormant season. Sleepy-heads.
Another chore I enjoy besides gathering seeds and planting them is digging up plants and noticing their root structure. Most plants don’t mind being moved in October if they are placed in a similar environment from when they were plucked.
This time one of my friends had asked me for a yellow lady slipper plant and as I have a couple of patches and one of them needed thinning, I dug one up, wrapped it in damp leaves and mailed it. He said it arrived in good shape. The earth was loose and rich where it was planted the plant came right up without any damage to the roots.
Notice the three little white buds already preparing to emerge next spring.
The native plants on the property and in the beds put out seeds at different times. Some seeds are ready to plant in early summer and some seeds do not mature until late in the season, sometimes not bearing mature seeds before frost. An example of an early blooming flower is wild oats (Uvularia sessilifolia).
Wild oats sort of announce that Spring has come. Forming little colonies among the dried leaves these thin, small plants with their dangling little flowers settle in for the duration and change from skinny little things to branching out and producing an interesting seed pod where the little flower once was. Whereas most of the spring plants produce their seeds by early or mid summer, the Uvularias take their time and among the 4 different types on the property, the sessilifolias are the latest in releasing their mature seeds.
Below is a photograph of seeds I harvested from one of my Uvularia sessilifolia plants.
I also harvested other seeds…Veratrum latifolium, whose seed pods I had been photographing because of their interesting shape was also ready for harvest.
The last native plant seeds I harvested were of the Sundrops which are mid summer flower. Their seeds are tiny! To harvest them you have to smash the hard little nut with a hammer, careful not to smash the little seeds in the process.