The Native Plant Society of Oregon had its annual meeting 35 miles outside of John Day, up in Logan Valley, last weekend. Mark is a botany geek—he wrestles with Latin names and family relationships and laughs at their jokes—and I go along for the ride and keep the plant lists. There are usually other spousal types at the meeting who are willing to chat about gardens or books on the hikes, so it’s all good. This was a pretty good meeting in a gorgeous setting, even if many of the hikes were still inaccessible because of snow and potholes and the bloom had not yet reached its peak.
There are three distinct levels of Native Planters. The first are the “Gods” of plant identification. They can name a plant, in Latin 85% of the time—although they will engage in endless discussions over minute details—it could be a Gray’s Lomatium but it doesn’t stink, so maybe It’s a fennel leafed lomatium—but do they grow here? I thought there were only in the northern Cascades…. Many of these attendees are paid to go out in the field and identify species and, sometimes, they discover a new one, which is quite cool. They present their findings in the evenings, usually with endless slides of plants. Everyone wants to travel with these folks on Saturday, when the entire camp heads out on botany tours.
Then there are the accomplished amateurs, like the elementary school teacher in Tualatin who is a member of the Penstemon Society (yes, there is such a thing) and acts as Botanist in Residence for several preserves in her town, because they cannot afford a paid position. She actually has discovered an new Penstemon in the past year and is worried that they will become extinct before they are identified in the books, so she recruited for local Penstemon spotters at the conference. They will be out for the next month searching for a tall blue plant. Citizen Scientists, Mark called them, and they do a huge amount of the data collection work, turning in plant lists, photographs, and locations to the Oregon Flora Project, an attempt to map all of the plants in the state. They can give the Latin names about 70% of the time and understand the obscure language of plant keys. I’m impressed.
However, most of the people at the annual meeting don’t remember the Latin names, but they are very good at the excited squeal when a new plant is introduced. They like to travel and camp. They like to eat and chat over a bottle of wine. They are retired folk who want to keep their minds active. They like wandering through fields, looking at plants. They also like to look at birds, but plants stay still, so that is where they focus their energy. Mark is in this category-- he is interested and recognizes family traits, but mixes Latin and common names, botanical and “good to eat” lore. He is really good at the educated “harrumph” when the head botanist points out a small distinguishing feature and learns three or four new plants on every trip. Me, I’m along for the walk. I like common names, not Latin. Hot Rock Penstemon—a lovely cream colored plant—and Tidy Tips—a small white one—are far easier to remember than whatever their official names may be.
Next year, they are meeting in the Siksiyous, an exciting region of great biological diversity—and not far from Ashland, home of the Shakespeare Festival and excellent restaurants. I think we’re going…which play shall we see before we come home?