A Passion for Native Plants: Hamilton Native Outpost Celebrates 40 Years

Our story began with an interest in warm season grasses for forage, but we quickly saw the beauty of the native wildflowers and began landscaping with them.  Then came the realization that wildlife and pollinators, of course, love the native plants and the native ecosystems, so we began to restore and plant glade, prairie, savanna, and woodland ecosystems.  Native plants are the common thread between these diverse land uses, and from this passion our expertise of establishing native plants from seed grew. 

Rex Hamilton planted his first warm season grass pasture in 1972, shortly after warm season grasses were “invented” for forage (the irony is that bison grazed these grasses long before humans ever thought of planting forages).  The standard forage had become fescue, an introduced cool-season grass, and planting pastures of warm season grasses really made sense.  In 1981, he married Amy and they began to harvest and sell seed of the warm season grasses under the company name of Hamilton Seeds. 

 

In search of seed to harvest for the newly created Conservation Reserve Program’s (CRP) efforts to reduce soil erosion during the mid-80’s, Rex and Amy found themselves exploring Missouri’s remnant prairies.  These unplowed grasslands, they discovered, contain a multitude of beautiful native wildflowers, and this led to harvesting wildflower seeds and creating a wildflower meadow in their backyard.  This was 1987, and all the wildflower seed harvest was done by hand under the hot, summer sun.  They also began to sell wildflower seed and plant tiny plots for seed production.  The seed from these tiny plots was then harvested and it allowed them to plant a little bigger plot, and eventually they were able to scale up and plant many acres.  Many things change and some stay the same, and today some wildflowers are still harvested by hand but most are machine harvested. 

It just makes sense that native wildlife and pollinator species would like and even prefer native plants and ecosystems.  In 1989, Rex and Amy found themselves doing a native planting on their own property for the benefit of wildlife.  While doing native plantings, they also began to gain an understanding of restoring savannas, woodlands, and glades and they began to restore these across their farm. 

 

The seed business continued to grow, and more species of native grasses and wildflowers were produced.  Somewhere along the way, they also began to dig and sell bare roots of native plants from their production fields as well as produce potted plants for sale, but at some point, both of these efforts stopped to focus on seed production.  Also, along the way, the company’s name changed to Hamilton Native Outpost.   

 

A unique and exciting learning experience came with the planting of a Diverse Native Grassland for the purpose of grazing.  For many years, Rex and Amy’s cow herd had grazed cool season grasses in one pasture and warm season grasses in the next, but the idea dawned to basically recreate a native grassland like the bison would have grazed for the purpose of grazing cattle.  So, in 2012, with the help of an NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant and the MO Department  of Conservation, our first Diverse Native Grassland was planted, and it has been a success from the forage standpoint as well as wildlife, pollinators, and soil health.      

In 2019, a new chapter began as Rex and Amy’s son, Colt Hamilton, took the reins of leadership.  Rex and Amy now enjoy focusing their attention on diverse native grasslands, improving the health of the land and streams, and working with the cattle.

There are many Hamilton Native Outpost team members who do and have contributed to the knowledge about natives, seed production, and quality customer service.  To this day we have the same passion for using natives for forage, landscaping, wildlife, and restoration.  And our staff still loves to share the expertise in establishing native seeds for these purposes.

 

 




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