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Oregon's future field biologists

Four SMS students produce and publish a guide to Oregon's native plants

Some Sherwood Middle School students got a chance take their accumulated knowledge and share it with the masses in the form of a unique booklet on native plant identification and characteristics.

Recently, last year's sixth-graders in the Science Discovery class had their "Oregon Native Plant Profiles" booklet published. Each contains a full-color photo of the plant and loads of information.

Overseeing the project and putting the finishing touches on the project were Debbie Frankel, a science teacher at the middle school, and Janet Bechtold, a TAG advocate at the middle and high schools.

The finished product, actually all 85 laminated full-color booklets -- "they're practically indestructible, says Bechtold -- came out last month.

Bechtold said The FedEx Kinko's in Tualatin provided a huge discount on the printing.

The inspiration for the booklet came from several sources.

"We went on a trip to Magness Tree Farm so that's how we got started on the project," said Haley Fabian, now a seventh-grader.

Fabian said the overnight stay at the farm got students talking about all the plants they saw there.

Frankel said Steve Moore, who works for the National Fish and Wildlife, was instrumental in helping the students as well.

"He helped us formulate the grant," said Frankel.

It was a grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation that made publication of the booklet, which features 14 native plant species, possible.

It contains extensive information about each.

An example is the Kinnikinnick shrub:

"Medicinal Use: The Kinnikinnick is an edible plant and an even fight off diseases such as kidney diseases or it will help infections of the urinary passage.

"Native American use: "Kinnikinnick is an Indian word meaning smoking mixture. The dried leaves were smoked by many coastal peoples."

While putting the booklet together, the students discovered they needed some identifying icons to highlight such things as whether the plants were edible, their separate growing conditions and whether explorers Lewis and Clark encountered them on their Northwest trek.

For that, they turned to fellow student Macaihah Denham who took pencil to paper.

"We just said what do you think?" said Bechtold. "He came out with really wonderful things."

Bechtold and Frankel helped out with the photos, all shot around Sherwood and at Bosky Dell Natives Nursery in West Linn.

The students worked in teams of two to learn as much about their plant as possible. Much of the information was gleaned from the book, "Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast" as well as other sources.

Seventh-grader Rebecca Brennan relied heavily on her mother for information on her study, Western red cedar. Her mother is an employee of Pacific Gateworks, whose business deals extensively with Western red cedar.

"She knew a ton about it and we had wood samples at home I could use," said Brennan. "It's better than most woods because it doesn't rot or mold as bad."

When researching her plant, Kylie Thalhofer was surprised to learn that the sword fern contains rhizomes on the back of the plant's leaves that are edible after they've been cooked. Also, she discovered that the long leaves provide great shelter for birds.

The completed project drew rave reviews. One of the admirers was Oregon SOLV, the non-profit organization that enhances the state's livability.

Judi Mahoney, a SOLV program coordinator sent a personal note telling the teachers and students how much she liked the booklet. The organization liked it so much, that they asked permission to reprint it, which was granted.

"They'll be using it in their education outreach throughout the Metro area," said Bechtold. "They thought it was the best thing they've ever seen."

Other separate laminated pages will be on display during the Friends of the Refuge Native Plant Sale scheduled for the spring.

Meanwhile, the students said they're glad the hard work is over and the finished product is printed.

"I was surprised it actually got finished," she Brennan.