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Plant people

Julie Spelletich recalls floating in a kayak and loading buckets of yellow floating heart lily that had taken over a pond near Little Squaw Lake.

Beneath her, two divers worked underwater to pull the plants. They were accompanied by Forest Services employees and local volunteers.

Spelletich says she didn’t know much about the group, but they all came and worked together with one purpose — to restore the pond so native plants could thrive.

”I had so much fun working on this project,” Spelletich says. “It’s something I will never forget because the results were so blatant, we could see our accomplishments by the end of the day.”

She says she found a sense of community after the trip — to be able to help conserve a local wild area with others who believed in the same cause. Spelletich says that’s when she decided to join the Siskiyou Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon, based in Ashland.

The Native Plant Society of Oregon was established in 1961 in Portland so local botany enthusiasts could gather and learn from each other about all aspects of flora in the state. Since then, the group has grown into 13 chapters in Oregon.

“We have people from all walks of life,” Spelletich says. “Some are interested in gardening. Some want to learn about pollination. Some never come to our events; while some have stayed with us for decades.”

The second-largest chapter at 100 members — Portland’s chapter is the biggest — the Siskiyou Chapter has been around for at least 40 years, Spelletich says.

Its mission is to educate the community about “the gems in their backyards” and help preserve and conserve the richness and uniqueness of wildflowers in Southern Oregon, board member Suzie Savoie says.

What makes NPSO stand out from other environmental organizations in the area, Savoie says, is its emphasis on advocating for native plants.

“Sometimes when we talk about environmental preservation and conservation, wildlife tends to overshadow native plants, making them an afterthought,” Savoie says. “I don’t think that should be the case. And we are the only group in the valley specifically focusing on native plants.”

The nonprofit group, currently served by seven women board members, collects an annual membership fee of $25 to maintain a budget for local preservation projects such as weed eradication.

“We host work parties that include weed eradication and bring out a different set of people, including families,” Spelletich says. “This helps reduce weeds in our native landscapes and enhances its natural beauty.”

An annual scholarship, and sometimes community grants, are available for college students who have projects in mind. The group recently funded a project for a kindergarten teacher to help restore Ashland Pond, Spelletich says.

The club has a long history with Southern Oregon University. The chapter is currently helping SOU purchase a new specialized cabinet for its arboretum.

The club holds monthly chapter meetings at SOU’s Science Building, with a wide variety of speakers, Spelletich says. Topics range from fungi to fire resilience and pollination.

By advocating through public comments and partnering with other local nonprofits, Savoie says, the chapter recently persuaded local government agencies to drop two projects — one in Grants Pass and one in a post-fire area on the Siskiyou Crest — that would have disturbed native plants.

“There’s a lot of things that we comment on to add our voices and hope to push things in a direction that will preserve and protect our area,” Savoie says. “We focus on advocating for native plants and take a stance when necessary through a number of avenues.”

The club offers educational and recreational activities throughout the year, included guided hikes.

“The idea is to get them out into the native vegetation to learn,” Savoie says.

The hikes, which range from an hour to four hours long, give participants a peek into an area with some of the richest biodiversity in the United States, especially when it comes to wildflowers.

“This area is a highly sought-after location because of that,” Savoie says. “There is always something to learn.”

“Some people go through life without knowing or being able to identify common trees surrounding them — we want to change that,” Savoie adds. “When you start learning about plants, it opens up a whole world of knowledge of what’s out there.”

“There’s a misconception that members of our group are all retirees,” Spelletich says. “But, in fact, we have members of all ages who took up the passion for botany.”

“It also helps that the Siskiyou Mountains are such a hot spot for botany,” Savoie says. “It’s a botanical destination.”

For information about club outings, see the events page at www.npsoregon.org/chapters/si.html or the Facebook page at facebook.com/SiskiyouChapterNativePlantSocietyOfOregon.

Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or tnguyen@rosebudmedia.com.

Botanist Kristi Mergenthaler, a member of the Siskiyou Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Oregon, hikes in the Jacksonville Woodlands, where she led a guided hike for the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.
Botanist Kristi Mergenthaler points out red bells, often confused with the rare Gentner’s fritillary, in the Jacksonville Woodlands.