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  • Platteville Community Arboretum

Ron Endres is a Seedy Guy

Verbana hastata. Solidago ulmifolia. Eupatorium purpureum. Recognize any of those names?

How about calling them by their common name, like Blue Vervain? Elm-leaved Goldenrod? Sweet Joe Pye Weed? Now maybe you spot them in a field?

It’s okay if you’re not sure because the names of native plants can be tricky. There’s just so many of them. Now, imagine knowing over 200 of them, and what their seeds look like. That would take years of know-how and hands-on experience. Ron Endres has lived and worked with seeds for decades.

Over 30 years ago, Ron first showed interest in prairie and oak savanna restoration efforts. That’s when he and his wife moved to a spot in Verona with 21 acres of farmland after retiring from a career in Information Technology (IT). That’s a lot of area to walk in the Driftless Region. The Ice Age Trail runs right next to their property, and he started volunteering to learn more. He gave his time to the Ice Age Trail, Prairie Enthusiasts, and Dane County Parks, and in return he learned how to properly burn prairie land, remove invasive species, use a chainsaw and how to collect and process seeds.

The seed collecting interest came from within. He realized the cost for prairie seeds was too high for nonprofits, parks and schools to afford. Ron initiated the idea of collecting seeds by himself and then helped these groups by giving the seeds away for free. That’s how it started.

Of course, there was still plenty to learn about harvesting seeds. He learned how to dry and process seeds so they could be properly stored and planted. Ron did this by hand. One can imagine how labor-intensive and tedious it is to handle very small seeds. He set-up this operation in his garage for a while, but finally asked Dane County Parks if he could use their equipment and store seed at their warehouse. That was a monumental partnership.

Ron Endres

So, for over a decade, Ron volunteered immeasurable time collecting, processing, and distributing native seeds to numerous nonprofits all over the Driftless Area for habitat restoration work. He gave to projects like schoolyard gardens, parks and arboretums (like the PCA), marshes and preserves, and acres and acres to Groundswell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Driftless Area Land Conservancy. To put a number on it, over 70 towns, cities, state park friends’ groups, land trusts, and conservation organizations have received seeds. The Driftless is the primary area, with many seeds making it to properties along the Ice Age Trail as well, but he has also given to places in Iowa, Illinois, Milwaukee, and Madison. Native plants are now back in places they should be because of Ron.

Luckily, the PCA has received 35 pounds of seeds in the past two years from Ron. This donation of over 25 species is worth over $16,000. However, the numbers are more staggering for other groups, and it all comes from Ron’s dedication. During busy times, he puts in over 10 hours a day, seven days a week. Ron can harvest over 150 species each season. In 2021, the combined pure seed collected by Ron and Dane County totaled over 1,200 pounds, accounting for over 220 species, and was worth about $1.3 million. However, he operates like a foundation and does not accept money. Instead, groups submit grant proposals and then he tries to help as many as he can.

Early winter sowing in Reclamation Area

The bottom line for his unique endeavor is that seeds are spreading to the right places. Many of the seeds are too expensive to buy commercially, or just unavailable, which puts nonprofits in a bind. Ron knows all these species play a crucial role in establishing habitats that support native pollinators, birds, and animals, as well as restoring historic ecosystem processes like absorbing water and carrying fire. All his time and effort has made a huge impact and is an amazing accomplishment. He’s literally changed the landscape.

Ron came to our welcome back luncheon this past April for PCA volunteers and spoke for a few minutes about all his efforts. He applauded our efforts, and it was an education to hear him speak. Currently, Ron has taken a break from the seeds due to health reasons. Time will tell if he gets back into it. It’s unfortunate because he’s the only person around here who does this type of thing. The PCA is grateful for his assistance in our restoration efforts, and we hope his idea of helping nonprofits will continue in the near future.

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