Tribal Nursery Raises Plants and Awareness

Pre-schoolers and children from the Elementary Chinuk Language Program had a great day digging up bulbs at the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde nursery in early November.

The Natural Resources Department tribal nursery is part of the “Plants for People” project, funded by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, which is improving access to culturally important plants for tribal members and restoration projects on tribal lands and elsewhere.

The nursery is proving to be a great educational resource, as it helps bring chinuk wawa alive for the children.  Teacher Ali Holsclaw has been bringing her class during the year so that the children can follow the progress of the native plants that are growing in the raised beds.  They have been learning about great camas (lakamas, Camassia leichtlinii), and its importance to their culture.  For example, the nutritious bulb was traditionally cooked in large earth ovens for 1-3 days before eating, drying, or pressing into cakes, which stored well for the winter, and for traveling and trading.

The Chinuk wawa class digging for camas bulbs at the Grand Ronde nursery.  Jeremy Ojua, nursery manager, said “It was great to see the kids having so much fun digging in the dirt, and seeing how excited they got when they pulled up a camas bulb.”

Riker Bailey having fun harvesting camas.  “I got one, I got one!” was a cry that was heard from the children over and over again.

The purple flowers of great camas (lakamas) made a great display in June.

Camas bulbs were originally donated by the Corvallis Plant Materials Center and have grown huge and further multiplied in the raised beds.

Jeremy Ojua planting at Herbert Farm and Natural Area.

The bulbs were harvested for planting at a prairie at Herbert Farm and Natural Area, near Corvallis – the area was historically an important food gathering area for the Kalapuya people, but tribal connections have been lost and natural habitats degraded through conversion to agriculture.  IAE is helping partner agencies (City of Corvallis, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bonneville Power Administration and US Fish and Wildlife Service) restore the property, and the Plants for People project is integral in the process, particularly in bringing culturally important plants to the site.

On November 3rd, a keen group of volunteers planted the camas, in addition to extra bulbs collected from the Corvallis Plant Materials Center, and Gairdner’s yampah (sawash-lakHarat, Perideridia gairdneri), also harvested from the tribal nursery.  Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), grown at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, was also planted to attract Monarch butterflies.

Volunteer planting day at Herbert Farm and Natural Area, left to right: Deborah Clark, Suzanne Ortiz, Peter Moore (IAE), John Criscitiello, Avery Pheil, Jeremy Ojua (CTGR) and Karl Hartzell, November 3, 2017.

Volunteer Avery Pheil planting camas bulbs at Herbert Farm

Suzanne Ortiz and Deborah Clark enjoying a day's planting at Herbert Farm.

Camas bulbs ready for planting.

“Participating in the Plants for People project was a wonderful experience,” said Deborah Clark, IAE’s Board Secretary. “Planting camas under sunny skies on a crisp fall day, enjoying the company of other volunteers, and making a positive difference in native habitat restoration – what could be better!”

“The nice thing about this project is that we are combining cultural and ecological elements into restoration”, says Peter Moore, IAE restoration ecologist. “Hopefully in the future, tribal members will be able to harvest plants here.”