One of my favorite rites of spring. The annual moving of native plants out of the bunkers. During the arsenal years, the bunkers stored TNT or finished bombs. The reinforced concrete bunkers, covered with earth, are just as perfect for overwintering plant plugs. The cool, constant temperatures allow the plants to go dormant during the winter, as they need to do, but keep the root plugs from heaving in the natural freeze and thaw fluctuations of winter.
And so, as the sun warms the morning from a start of 27 degrees to what will top out at 50, more than a dozen volunteers and staff pile into trucks and vans and venture deep into the east side of Midewin. Some of the bunkers are open to visitors to explore. But the one we visited has been sealed up since last fall. It takes two pairs of strong arms to unwedge its explosion-resistant locking mechanism. And then, with all the excitement of opening an ancient tomb, the heavy steel door groans open.
But rather than dead things, the bunker is filled with trays upon trays of native plants that are but sleeping. Many hands make light work and soon the bunker is empty and a truck and trailer filled to the brim.
Back at the “Hort Building,” we unload the plants into one of several outdoor shade houses, where diffused sunlight and warmer temperatures, along with a little water, will wake the roots and send new green sprouts into the world.
Over the course of the next couple of months, there will be plenty of workdays to plant these plugs in seed beds or one of several areas under active restoration.