Native Plant Workshop held at Chachalu

02.12.2015 Michelle Alaimo Culture, History, Natural Resources

By Ron Karten

Smoke Signals staff writer

To a small group interested in fostering native plants in the area, and maybe growing a few of their own, botanist Larkin Guenther said, “Don’t worry … native plants know how to grow here.”

On the other side of the coin, she added, “You can’t work against nature.”

Guenther is Ecological Education coordinator for the 17-year-old Corvallis nonprofit Institute for Applied Ecology. She was joined by Ecological Education Director Stacy Moore to lead a Native Plant Propagation Workshop, an education about how to plant and harvest trees, shrubs and seeds native to the Willamette Valley.

The workshop was held Thursday, Jan. 29, outside in a chilly, sunny area behind Chachalu Museum and Cultural Center. Funding for this and other projects comes from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. The grant incorporates traditional ecological knowledge into restoration sites: one at the Tribe, another at Champoeg State Park and a third at Herbert Farm in Corvallis.

“We are looking at introducing traditionally cultural significant plant species into these restoration efforts,” said Moore. “As part of this, Grand Ronde Elders have come out to Champoeg and Herbert Farm where they spoke about culturally significant plants and those they would like to see planted at these sites.”

The institute also is collaborating with the Tribe to create a Tribal plants materials program. 

Those attending this workshop – Tribal and community members, and employees of the Natural Resources and Land and Culture departments – used the hands-on session to build on the Tribe’s early successes.

First contact between the institute and the Tribe occurred in 2008 when the cooperative effort prepared almost two acres behind the Tribal Housing Authority office for what became the Tyee Nature Preserve. Clearing the land of unwanted species, the partners’ work has blossomed into a field where 40 native wildflower and grass species now grow. Once abundant in the area, many of these plants have been sparse for a century or more.

Among plants making a comeback in the preserve today are traditional camas roots and the threatened Nelson’s checkermallow.

The Tribe’s work has focused on “propagating and spreading the populations of camas and other plants crucial to our identity,” said Jordan Mercier, Cultural Protection coordinator, acting with the institute in a technical advisory capacity.

Creating access to native plants and increasing their availability is a barrier at the moment, he said.

In that effort, the Tribe is in contact with federal agencies to give better plant access to members of the Tribe.

At the same time, said Bobby Mercier, Cultural Outreach specialist, “We’re finding thick patches of native plants to gather from, and we’re working to improve them.”

The population and diversity of native plants “will never be like it was before,” Jordan said, “but we can do what we can.”

Moore and Guenther shared the science of restoring native plants and habitat, but the Tribe, Moore said, shares the “cultural aspect.”

Institute staff brought many native trees and shrubs for the workshop. Those attending planted some in flower pots during the workshop and took the rest home.

Tamping down the soil mix around a start, Cultural Education Specialist Brian Krehbiel wanted to know if his plant needed more water.

This was the kind of hands-on work the institute fosters. When not in Grand Ronde, the institute brings workshops like these to two state prisons and more than 40 schools in Oregon.

Dormant branches of Indian plum (one of the first to bloom in spring), dogwood (distinctive red stems that stand out in winter), salmonberry, twinberry (the flower is a source of nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies), snowberry, Douglas spirea, mock orange (long-lasting, citrus-fragrant, white blooms), Pacific ninebark (believed to have nine layers of shreddy bark on the stem) and oceanspray were available.

Three different starts (lupine, checkermallow and sea blush) and packets of six different seeds (some the same as the starts, and also including willowherb and wooly sunflower) were up for grabs.

Tribal Elder Terri Wood, who attended with her daughter, Stephanie, came to get native plants for placement around a pond on her Dayton acreage.

Information for planting included three ways to propagate new plants: collecting seeds in the wild for planting, taking cuttings from existing plants and layering, a process that uses a branch from a tree like the dogwood and runs it underground for a short distance. Roots develop underground and the branch can then be separated to allow the new plant to grow independently.

Cuttings may look much the same on both ends during the dormant period. Moore advised cutting the bottom at an angle when the cutting is first taken as a reminder later on.

She also suggested that diehards go to the national forests where collecting is allowed. (Taking cuttings in federal or state parks is not allowed.)

“Mark the plants in the summer and fall when the leaves are still on the trees,” Moore said. In winter, during the dormant period when it is time to take cuttings and the leaves are gone, this may be the only way to identify the desired plants.

“Don’t take whole plants out of the wild,” said Moore. It risks both a dead plant at home and a shrinking species in the wild.

Re-establishing native plants as the Tribe is doing here, said Chris Adlan, a biology and botany student, is “really, really cutting edge.”

“The more diversity of plants,” said Guenther, “the bigger the service we are doing for the community.”