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Native Plant Center gets help from community

TRIBUNE PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - Metro's Jennifer Wilson, left, gives guidance to Portland State student Jeremiah Green.Oregon, and more specifically the Portland area, has changed drastically in the past couple centuries or so. With the area’s beautiful architecture, expansive bridges and ever-growing population, it’s easy to forget that before the massive buildings and crowded roads there was simply nature.

And while the area has continued to evolve during the years, it’s often been at the expense of some of Oregon's natural ecosystems, such as Portland’s Smith and Bybee Wetlands Natural Area.

Oregon Metro’s Native Plant Center in Tualatin, worked Saturday, May 21, to help restore some of Oregon’s original native beauty with one of its bi-monthly volunteer ventures.

Led by Metro’s Jennifer Wilson, about a dozen volunteers spent the day collecting and tending to seeds of the native Columbia River sedge, which was once the dominant plant at the Smith and Bybee Wetlands. Today, the area has become overgrown with canary reed grass, causing harm to the natural habitat.TRIBUNE PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - Volunteer regular Pat Worsech sorts Columbia River sedge seeds Saturday, May 21.

“The seeds that we’re working with today are all collected from Smith and Bybee Wetlands area, which is one of the largest urban wetlands in the United States and is managed by Metro,” Wilson said. “There’s a variety, a lot of different isolated populations of this plant throughout the site, and they’re all in slightly different micro-habitats.”

Wilson and her crew of volunteers sorted seeds into seed lots at the Native Plant Center to be planted, grown and tested for research. Eventually the varied seeds will be planted in the appropriate micro-habitats at Smith and Bybee Wetlands to repopulate the area with its intended and once dominant plant.

“We’re keeping track and are going to grow those various seed lots this year and just kind of see if their growth patterns are different, and basically all the seed is going to benefit the Smith and Bybee Wetlands area,” Wilson said.

Wilson said reed canary grass was originally planted all over the state throughout the 20th century for a variety of reasons including soil stabilization as well as for its use as a cover crop. The result over time, however, was the plant overtaking other native plants entirely. TRIBUNE PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - The Metro Native Plant Center will research varieties of the Columbia River sedge over the coming year in hopes of repopulating Smith and Bybee Wetland Natural Area with native plants.

“We’re trying to bring back these native populations or recreate the natural habitat that used to be there, which was more beneficial,” she said.

With Wilson’s guidance volunteers sorted seeds and prepped them to be planted in various beds at the Native Plant Center. The volunteer ventures occur twice a month, providing multiple opportunities for community members to help their local environment and learn about Oregon’s natural history in the process. No experience is necessary and all ages are encouraged to participate, making for a diverse group of volunteers. About half of Saturday’s group was returning members, while the other half was first-timers.

“This is my first time volunteering and I came through an environmental science management class I’m taking at (Portland State University),” said Jeremiah Green. “I had no idea what I was going to be doing, but it’s nice to help out.”

Other new volunteers said they enjoyed the experience and plan to return in the future, categorizing the hands-on work as both fun and rewarding.

“I’m retired and was looking for some volunteer work, and I stumbled across this and I’m glad I did," said Connie Levesque. “I wasn’t sure what was involved necessarily, but it’s a good start. … I’m interested in doing this on a regular basis so this is an orientation day for me. I have a background in biology, and I have a large yard where I’m trying to use native plants more often. I just really enjoy working in dirt.”TRIBUNE PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - Portland State students Kristina Rissetto, left, and Coleman Lafazio weren't afraid to get their hands dirty Saturday, May 21.

Veteran volunteers helped newcomers learn the ropes during the five-hour session. While it’s hard work, long-time volunteer Pat Worsech, who has volunteered at the Tualatin location off and on for the past five years, said helping out at the Metro Native Plant Center is always rewarding and worthwhile.

“I love the native plants and I wanted to do something that helps with that, and also I have a granddaughter who is genuinely interested in everything to do with nature,” she said. “She loves plants, all kinds of plants … so I thought it would be really nice if I could come volunteer and help her to get opportunities to be exposed to those things as well.”

While the impact of Saturday’s efforts won’t be seen immediately, Wilson assured that the volunteers’ efforts won’t go unnoticed. She said the Native Plant Center is thankful for the consistent help it receives from the community and that she’s confident the Smith and Bybee Wetlands will benefit from all the hard work in the future.TRIBUNE PHOTO: ANDREW KILSTROM - Volunteers braved the rainy elements during Metro Native Plant Center's May 21 volunteer venture in Tualatin.

“A lot of the really good work we do here is through volunteerism, so the Native Plant Center has benefited from community volunteers since 2006,” she said. “A lot of what we do here wouldn’t be possible without volunteers participating.”

Contact Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281, ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..