Although the Next Epoch Seed Library usually focuses on urban habitats, we are interested in any environment changed by humans. This week, I've been paying attention to this cornfield. Having been left fallow for two years, it is undergoing old field succession and hosts several species of grasses and wildflowers.
NESL, a collaborative project by myself and Ellie Irons, re-imagines the traditional seed bank for the oncoming Anthropocene. Rather than gathering and preserving agricultural heritage from the pre-Monsanto era, this seed bank focuses on weedy species most likely to survive and thrive in a landscape dominated by human excess.
Here's a great description of old field succession, from a Rutgers Biology teaching site:
"When a plowed field is abandoned, it represents a new habitat for plant and animal species to colonize, but because it is basically bare soil, it is a stressful habitat for many plants...This environment is first colonized by a group of species called pioneer species. Pioneer species are usually characterized by having long-lived seeds capable of remaining dormant in the soil for many years, long-range dispersal ability, and the ability to utilize resources rapidly, allowing them to grow and reproduce quickly. Many of them are included in that group of species commonly called weeds. Among the earliest species to arrive are ragweed, crabgrass and foxtail. After a year or two, these are joined by various species of asters. These pioneer species change the environment; as they die, dead plant material (plant litter) accumulates on the soil, and this helps to hold water in the soil."
I've assembled a special, site-specific collection of seeds from seven species, and I'm installing a permanent, outdoor library "branch" at the eastern end of the cornfield to house these seed packets. Next post, I'll describe each species!