Scientists at the Chicago Botanic Garden are investigating a new approach to improve degraded landscapes for pollinators and other wildlife. In 2018, the Donnelley Foundation awarded $66,000 to investigate how well seed collected from native plants along roadsides and other tough habitats can germinate and persist in degraded, minimally-managed sites. Using these “native winners” could improve habitat and be a first step toward full-scale restoration. Garden scientist Kayri Havens, Ph.D., director of plant science and conservation, who leads the project, said, “We have millions of acres in the United States that would benefit from restoration with native species, but we currently lack the resources, including native plant seed, to fully restore them. We think the native winners approach will benefit wildlife at relatively low cost and get degraded sites on the road to recovery.” Havens, with Jacob Zeldin and other Garden colleagues, is using the grant to test this novel restoration method in the Forest Preserves of Cook County, which has 8,000 acres of meadows of non-native grasses. Trials were sown this pastsSpring, and the first seedlings appeared this summer.
Photo: Garden scientists investigate the degraded habitat before planting with the mix of “native winner” seeds. Photo by Dr. Andrea Kramer.