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Metro's Native Plant Center protects watersheds and wildlife with native plant restoration

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - Metro's Native Plant Center restores native plant species populations. On a one-acre lot tucked behind Athey Creek Middle School and Stafford Primary, a small group of volunteers and employees are working hard to restore native plants and rehabilitate ecosystems across the Portland metro area.

The workers at Metro's Native Plant Center collect native plant seeds, bring them to the center for cleaning and either take them out to restoration projects or replant them at the center to increase the plant population.

While there are hundreds of plants native to Oregon, the Native Plant Center has between 70 to 100 plant species on location at any given time. According to Metro, it doesn't have the resources for much more. And not all native plants are in danger. The Oregon Department of Agriculture has listed 59 protected plant species.

According to Marsha Holt-Kingsley, a natural resource scientist for Metro, the plant center takes a systemic approach to deciding which species it will propogate next.

"We have a team of scientists and managers and technicians who have projects that they're working on and we work with them to see what they're going to need in the next few years," she said. "We have a decision-making tree, and through that we can determine the plants and trees and species they need, whether we are best to do it in house or we go to commercial growers and do the work and have them provide the materials for us."

"We really focus on the uncommon species, ones that aren't commercially available or are really specific to a certain watershed. We want to those genetics preserved," she added.

Because there isn't room at the Native Plant Center to grow towering native trees, it focuses more on smaller, flowering plants. The center turns to commercial growers for help growing the native shrubs and trees it doesn't have room for.

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY BARTHOLOMEW - A group of volunteers enjoys the opportunity to get outside and get their hands dirty. 
When plants leave the center, they go to nature parks and restoration lands like Cooper Mountain in Beaverton, Graham Oaks Nature Park in Wilsonville, Clear Creek in Clackamas, Quamash Prairie in Sherwood and the St. Johns landfill.

The landfill has been capped for years, Holst-Kingsley said.

"Now, we're taking what is just grass basically and turning it into native grasses and forbs (flowering plants that are not grass-like) so that there's habitat for bees and birds," she went on describing the work at the landfill.

In addition to rehabilitating native plants, the plant center workers also remove invasive plants.

"A lot of the work that we do is removing invasive plants, things that don't belong here like ivy and blackberry and weeds that the Oregon department of agriculture says are problematic and impact the habitat," Holst-Kingsley said. "We remove those and put in the native plants."

Native plants are critical to water quality and animal habitat, she explained.

"The diversity of native plants provides all sorts of habitat for anything from our amphibians and our insects to our butterflies and the bees to little mammals to big mammals. All these things add up and it provides nesting and food and shelter through all the seasons."

Recently, the plant center began working with Portland State University on a seed bank to preserve native seeds.

The Native Plant Center has been in between West Linn and Tualatin for 14 years. Holst-Kingsley started the center as an AmeriCorps project and from there, it's grown into the large-scale plant restoration facility it is today. Metro owns over 17,000 acres in and around Portland, though not all of it is in active restoration, Holst-Kingsley said.

The center hosts family-friendly volunteer events Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A few of the center's regular volunteer said they come for the Goldfish crackers and the chatting, and because it's cheaper than a gym membership and therapy.

More information on the Native Plant Center can be found at https://www.oregonmetro.gov/how-metro-works/volunteer-opportunities/native-plant-center.


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