Oregon Sustainability in Prisons Project yields threatened plant harvest!

by Tom Kaye — last modified Jul 29, 2013

Adults in custody at Oregon State Correctional Institution grow threatened plants for seed

Kincaid's lupine and golden paintbrush in seed production beds inside the prison fence at the Oregon State Correctional Institution. Photo by Chad Naugle, Oregon DOC Sustainability Coordinator.

Kincaid’s lupine and golden paintbrush in seed production beds inside the prison fence at the Oregon State Correctional Institution. Photo by Chad Naugle, Oregon DOC Sustainability Coordinator.

Nearly two years ago inmates at the Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI) started an experimental garden to produce seeds of Kincaid’s lupine, a threatened plant species that is the primary host of an endangered butterfly, Fender’s blue. The butterflies lay their eggs on this lupine and the larvae that hatch feed on the lupine’s leaves. Establishing more and bigger populations of this lupine may be crucial to the survival of both species, and lupine seeds are urgently needed to help with that recovery effort.

Last year the lupine plants grew well and became established inside the prison fence, but they did not flower. This year the same plants flowered copiously and that bounty led to a fine production of seeds, the first harvest of threatened plant seeds in an Oregon Department of Corrections facility. The project has been going so well that the adults in custody, in addition to planting even more lupines, started another plant species this year, golden paintbrush, which grows faster than the lupines and is already headed for a seed crop this summer. The work is overseen at OSCI by DOC staff member Don Coons.

Connecting Oregon’s prison population with opportunities to support environmental conservation is a key goal of the Oregon Sustainability in Prisons Project. The therapeutic value of caring for these organisms, combined with the chance for inmates to give back to society and the earth, become more educated about science and the environment, and reduce the burden on taxpayers for endangered species recovery, creates a multi-win situation.

Adults in custody showing their harvest of Kincaid's lupine seeds.

Adults in custody showing their harvest of Kincaid’s lupine seeds.

“I’m super excited for this first seed harvest,” said Institute for Applied Ecology’s Executive Director, Dr. Tom Kaye. “It represents a first for the Oregon Sustainability in Prisons Project and demonstrates how effective this program can be.”

The seeds from this year’s harvest at Oregon State Correctional Institution (OSCI) will be used this fall to seed Kincaid’s lupines and golden paintbrush at restoration sites in western Oregon.

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