The South Puget Sound Prairies

Volunteerism Takes Root

Much of the heavy lifting falls into the hands of dedicated volunteers, who are doing yeoman’s work making the South Sound prairies a place where nature thrives.

“Our group is a group of retired people and we work every week on the prairie as well as once a month on Saturdays when a lot of other people come out and join us,” said Kathy Whitlock, a long-time volunteer from Friends of Puget Prairie. “It’s a whole array of different people – all ages and all types.”

Often the group pulls scotch broom, an aggressive invasive species that once dominated the South Sound Prairies. “Ten years ago it was hard to look at any spot on the prairie and not see Scotch Broom,” said Marion Jarisch, another Puget Prairie volunteer. Now, however, “in the areas where we’ve been pulling, we’ve probably gotten rid of 90 percent of the scotch broom and that really feels good.”

Kathy Whitlock likes “gathering seeds and recognizing the different plants in seed, which look a lot different than they do when they’re in bloom.” Whitlock and her fellow gatherers start collecting seeds in May and continue into the fall. Winter is seed cleaning season, “a social time when we sit inside and clean seeds and just talk and visit with our fellow workers.”

Twelve year-old Tosh Hickman is something of a volunteer superstar. “My Dad and I have been coming out here since I was 8 years-old…every Tuesday rain or shine.”

Conversant in both the common and Latin names of most prairie plants, Tosh is fond of seed collecting and planting prairie grasses and wildflowers.

“I like to watch the seasons. We see the plants in spring when they bloom. Then they dry up and we see the seeds. Then we propagate them. Then we plant them out on the prairie. Then we do it all over again. It’s pretty neat to see the whole cycle.”

One phase of the cycle unfolds at the Conservancy’s nursery on the Black River, where native seeds germinate, take root and grow. Thousands of plants, representing 75 species, are propagated there each year. The nursery cultivates seed beds to reproduce more common prairie plants, while the seeds of endangered species, such as Golden Paintbrush, are preserved in seed banks. Western Buttercup, Yellow Violet, Upland Larkspur, and Small-Flowered Trillium are just a few of the species cultivated. Looking ahead, the Conservancy plans to grow 400,000 new native plants from seeds collected by volunteers.

Igniting Restoration

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