I can’t help but notice in my quest for Native Northwest Plant material that if I CAN find it in a standard nursery, then usually there isn’t very much of it–and it’s often rather expensive. It has to come from somewhere…but where?
Prior to the Native Plant Society’s sale, I would have thought native plant lovers a cultural subset as foreign to me as people who care about the difference between a Furry and a Plushie, or people who drive with the hood on their sweatshirt up: not weird, just…erm… different. Then I realized I was one (a native plant lover, not one of the other things). And just as that epiphany came over me, I had another bit of insight: there are Native Plant Nerds, like me, who give up a Saturday morning to shop for those plants, and then there are the Native Plant Growers: the nerds behind the nerds. In my mind they work in crisp white coats and protective eyewear, working in sterile garage nurseries and clean-room-style backyard greenhouses, with painstakingly collected seeds, tip cuttings and rooting hormone, or air-layering plants in their test garden-slash-laboratories. Whether or not they are truly mad scientist-types or just guys and gals who like to grow plants makes no difference to me; I’m going to keep my mental image, and feel confident that if there is a congregation of Native Plant Lovers, then there has to be a Priesthood of Native Plant Propagators. I want to become one…at least a little bit.
The plants that cover most of my property had to come from somewhere; they did not all just lay dormant in the clear-cut earth, nor did anyone plant them (apart from the Mitigation Plants and the 150 or so I have planted since then). How does ‘nature’ do it? Because if Nature can do it, so can I…and more importantly, I can cut out the middleman and their $10 -$15 per seedling in a gallon pot. Using the magic of the
Armed with my seeds, some soil, some nursery trays, and enough knowledge (push seed into dirt, water, and wait)* to either magically succeed or to waste $50 on failure, I will have my daughter and her dainty fingers assist me in the planting. A 50% germination rate will give me a fifty or so seedlings of each plant to set out in when they are ready–at an expense comparable to five starts in 1-gallon pots. It’s worth a try. Perhaps some years from now
I’ll be in my garage, lab coat on, hybridizing a Noble Fir to grow GMO corn instead of cones–a Christmas tree to feed the songbirds through the winter, and I will be the High Priest of Plants.
*A nice fellow from the Washington Native Plant Society told me that Salal is dependent on mycorrhizal symbiosis–a relationship with a sort of fibrous proto-mushroom that lives underground among the plant’s roots and helps it to absorb nutrients. I will find a place in my forest with a nice patch of Salal and mix a few handfuls of that soil into my planting mix. Can’t hurt. Whatever seeds don’t fit into my planting trays will be direct sown in the fall, just to try another method.