By: Perin McNelis, BRN Assistant Manager Nursery & Seed Curation
“Slow and steady.” The old adage has never been more true than in describing the steadfast and patient work of Cuenca Los Ojos (CLO). BRN’s third annual collaboration with the University of New Mexico’s Land Arts of the American West (LAAW) program took place during the second week of October at CLO’s El Coronado Ranch property in the Chiricahua mountains.
On day one, after a brief introduction to the biotic communities of the Madrean Archipelago and the work of BRN by Perin McNelis, Assistant Native Plant Program Manager who coordinates the annual collaboration, the cohort set out with Valer Clark, founder of Cuenca Los Ojos, to view a few of the many restoration sites on the El Coronado property. We hiked to three or four sites with different types of rock structures in various stages of their process catching sediment to reduce erosion, slowing flood waters, and infiltrating rain to recharge groundwater.
On the morning of the second day, the cohort shared their individual explorations and responses from the previous day, which included a recipe for a “soil sponge”, prose, prints and more. We then met with Jose Manuel, the director of CLO’s sister organization in Sonora by the same name and manager of their San Bernardino ranch property, who gave a presentation on CLO’s binational work to protect and restore habitat along a critical transnational migration route for numerous terrestrial and avian creatures.
Jose Manuel talked about the successes of CLO at San Bernardino in raising the water tables 30 feet in the middle of a 15-year drought, bringing back at least 15% of the historic wetland with six miles of perennial river flow that has positively affected surface water availability well beyond the boundaries of private property lines, encouraging the neighboring ejido that had been suffering from the same intense drought to implement these water harvesting techniques in their collective lands. Jose Manuel also spoke about the deeply ingrained culture of ranching in Sonora and Arizona and the importance of building relationships with ranchers in order to begin a dialogue about shifting approaches to allow for the rest and recovery of pastures to better support grassland health.
That afternoon, the cohort met with BRN’s Seed Curator, Allegra Mount, to discuss how climate change is affecting habitat connectivity by fragmenting resources and prohibiting necessary movement. She discussed the central role of plants in holding soil in place, preventing erosion with their roots, and pulling water down into the aquifer. We went on a plant walk and the cohort dispersed to spend an hour of intimate meditation time with one plant being of their choice, and then responded creatively.
On the third day, we were visited by Todd Miller, journalist and author of “Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security”. We discussed climate change projections made by our federal defense agencies for many years into the future and the following militarized response to the expectations of mass migrations resulting from extreme weather events. These border reinforcing efforts further fragment habitat and limit movement necessary for life, both human and other species.
The cohort then got to get their hands dirty. We discussed seed collection protocols and “the honorable harvest” philosophy with Allegra, then collected camphor weed seeds at the ranch house and went out to the Barboot ranch to collect grass seeds and other early successional forb species that survive in disturbed, compacted, and exposed soils.
Over the next couple of days, we tried our hands at building rock structures in an eroded road-side gully that Valer showed the group, we pelletized the collected seeds while telling stories, our hands covered in clay and plant matter, and we dispersed the seeds, looking for areas that seemed to need some ground cover and a little tender care. On the final day of the collaboration, the cohort dispersed into the neighboring forest land to delve deeper into the themes of the week and to explore those themes individually using their own practices, but always allowing their bodies to be in relation to the land around them.
Photo credits: Perin McNelis & Jeanette Hart-Mann
By: Perin McNelis, BRN Assistant Manager Nursery & Seed Curation
The BRN Native Plant Materials program staff had a great time working with field botanists from the USDA Forest Service’s Enterprise Program last week to survey the presence of wild Chiltepines (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum) and other crop wild relatives and sensitive plant species in the Wild Chile Botanical Area of the Tumacacori Highlands.
This work is a part of a project started by the US Forest Service, the Agricultural Resource Service, and Gary Nabhan, with the goal to track the changing presence of plant populations that have ethnobotanical significance, are threatened or sensitive, or are related to cultivated plants.
BRN’s specific role in this project is to focus on collecting voucher specimens to send to the University of Arizona Herbarium and scout for populations to collect seed from for germplasm banking.
Protecting and maintaining healthy populations of arid land adapted wild crop relatives is so important for future food security in the face of climate change.
Thank you to our wonderful partners Gary Nabhan, the USDA Forest Service, and the USDA Agricultural Resource Service for making this work possible!
By: Allegra Mount, BRN Seed Curator
While the BRN horticulture team collects seed year round for restoration projects, the bulk of the work definitely happens during the fall season. As our monsoons draw to a close, warm-season native plants finish flowering and complete the ripening process on their precious fruit while preparing to disperse it across the landscape. Our focus during the post-monsoon collection season is always set on one kind of plant in particular: native grasses!
Most of our native grasses are warm-season, meaning they do most of their growing, flowering, and seeding during the hot, rainy monsoon season. Our southern Arizona grasslands are unique ecosystems that are valuable to wildlife as habitat, to ranchers as forage, and to the world as a form of carbon sequestration. In restoration, grasses have tremendous value for their ability to grow and establish quickly from seed and hold soil in place on steep slopes. Native grasses also have extensive, fibrous root systems that allow them to withstand periods of drought by staying dormant.
In 2019, our goal is to collect over 200 lbs of seed from native grasses and forbs from over 40 different species! This seed is slated to be used in restoration projects across the borderlands on public lands, as well as being added to our ever growing seed collection. Public lands projects of note include over 150 lbs of seed collection for the Mansfield Mine Restoration Project in the Coronado National Forest’s Santa Rita Mountains, and grass seed collection on the National Park Service’s Coronado National Memorial in Hereford, where we are removing invasive species and revegetating an area that supports the struggling species Pectis imberbis, beardless chinchweed.
The 8-person crew will be working full days Monday-Thursday collecting starting in October; in September, a smaller crew is making collections on specific species like Cane Beardgrass, Bothriochloa barbinodis, that ripen much earlier than other species.
We’re looking forward to a great season ahead! Due to time and staff constraints, we’ve had to postpone our planned seed collection workshop until this winter, but if you’re interested in volunteering with us for seed collection we’d love to have you.
Volunteers should be able to walk on steep, uneven terrain and work in full sun. Contact email@example.com if you’re interested in volunteering with us. Otherwise, just get out and enjoy this lovely fall weather and appreciate our beautiful grasslands!
By: Audrey Rader, BRN Restoration Project Manager
Allegra, Randi, and I spent the morning identifying plants in the gently sloping hills of the Wildlife Corridor, still dewy from rainfall the night prior. Over 600 species of native bees, 300 types of butterflies and moths, 14 hummingbird species, and two nectar-feeding bat species call the Madrean Sky Islands home.
Some of these pollinators buzzed around our heads and others flew out from underfoot as we spent our morning cataloging and classifying the region's flora. We are reminded once more of how vital it is to conserve and restore the resources that allow the Sky Islands to host such incredible biodiversity.
We encountered many charming plants, including agaves (Agave sp.) that attract the migratory Lesser Long-nosed Bats (Leptonycteris curasoae yerbabuena) and vibrant camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris), whose aromatic flowers even we relished.
After creating a robust list of what plants are available across this bountiful landscape, we'll investigate flowering sequences, diversity, and abundances that could potentially create resource gaps. Then the BRN Native Plant Nursery will grow out and plant species that address these gaps.
The Frances V.R. Seebe Charitable Trust is generously funding us to trek across BRN partner, Wildlife Corridor and National Forest lands to assess existing nectar and fruit resources for a variety of pollinators and frugivorous birds. As always, BRN's goal is to sustain this precious landscape we're so fortunate to call home. The days we spend botanizing with friends is just icing on the cake.
By: Audrey Rader, BRN Restoration Project Manager
Historically, Pectis imberbis (beardless chinchweed) has been found in the Atascosa-Pajarito, Huachuca, Patagonia, and Santa Rita Mountains in southern Arizona. In recent decades, only six U.S. populations have been located, five of which have fewer than 50 individuals in the population. Of the six surviving populations, Coronado National Memorial has one population that accounts for over 62% of the total population.
Last week BRN worked in Coronado doing some preventative care, hand-pulling patches of invasive grasses before they grew any larger or any nearer to the beardless chinchweed. New individuals were located and we established 48 monitoring plots. The plots will help us to better understand beardless chinchweed and inform future restoration practices. These plots will also be utilized by researchers at Northern Arizona University who are interested in pollinator-plant interactions with this very special plant.
By: Arriana Ochoa-Tovar, BECY participant
Monday morning week five started with a gorgeous morning in the Wildlife Corridor. The BECY Patagonia crew met with Ron at the main entrance to get some background info on the area being worked on. Important things that stuck out to me where that the Arizona Game and Fish says the area is the most important wildlife corridor to a number of species including jaguars, over 10 million dollars has been put into the property, and it's also what links Mexico to the Sky Islands. (To know more about the Wildlife Corridor visit that section of the website.) After talking and walking with Ron, the group started work on staged rock for new erosion control structures and repairs on past structures. The work day went well despite missing a few crew members and feeling a bit weighed down by the weekend.
Tuesday's writing workshop with creative writing students from the University of Arizona with the crew looking forward to sleeping in and getting to wear 'normal' clothes, Tuesday seemed promising. Walking into the conference room that morning, I didn't know what to expect. I wasn't sure how serious the group would take the writing workshop. I was very surprised and impressed at the vulnerability and honesty of the group in their writing.
We wrote about childhood memories. BECY, wrote a poem as a group, and learned new ways to get creative juices flowing in the mind. The leader of the workshop, Logan, facilitates youth slam poetry and other writing programs, so he was a natural leading the group and encourage raw creativity. Tuesday was definitely a bonding moment for the group, full of emotion and acceptance of one another.
Wednesday at Deep Dirt Farm at the Deep Dirt Institute are always very impactful for the group. Kate gives us so much information to soak in and take away with us. To start the day, she shows us around. Intern McKenzie shows the group how to use the composting toilet and then we get to work.
We're digging holes for railroad tie posts for a fence and gate around an area in the institute. We start the work day learning how to use an auger; it was a fun time for all of us.
Then comes the digging contest! We need to dig holes 30 inches deep for the railroad tie posts. The group has a hard time reaching that depth, so we soak the holes dug and allow them to percolate while a rock edge is built onto the side of a path. Kate decides the project will be finished by Field School students later this summer and our work for the day is done.
At the end of each day Kate asks the group what they took away from the day, and what they plan to put into action. It was inspiring to hear what everyone said. All learned to be more conscious of everything they're consuming. Kate's projects are expanding!! (To learn more, visit the Deep Dirt Institute.) It's incredibly inspiring and an honor to get to come back year after year.
Thursday-July 4th, Day off.
Friday's Workday Friday started in the area of the Wildlife Corridor Ron named BECY Gulch. We quickly analyzed the area and resources available, and got straight to work. Three erosion control structures were completed. Later in the day, before lunch, we were asked to locate and analyze three different sections of BECY Gulch and report back to Ron. He needed to know how much rock would be needed, what kind of erosion control structures would be made in what areas, and the time it would take to complete all necessary work on the areas.
We were invited back to Ron's residence for a lovely lunch and we gave our reports on BECY Gulch for future work references. It was an amazing learning experience for the entire group. We were able to show Ron our abilities to read the land, which can be the hardest part of restoration work. The work week was extremely successful, rewarding, and education filled.
Written By: Andrea Bond, BRN Intern
Hello, Andrea here! Borderland’s BECY program recently did a planting project at Patagonia Flower Farm, planting native plants for both use and appearance. One of the most abundant species they planted was the Arizona Milkweed, definitely a plant worth a blog post! So this weeks blog is about the genus Asclepias--The Milkweeds.
While some may call this plant a weed or dangerous, those are both misconceptions. First, the Milkweed is a necessary native plant with a nice appearance, not a weed. Second, it is possible to eat too much milkweed and be harmed by the toxins inside, but it takes a large amount and animals don’t like to eat this bitter plant. Small children should be warned about the potential danger, but the danger is not so large that the milkweed should be outed from your yard or garden.
So why is the milkweed so necessary? Monarch butterflies only lay their eggs on milkweeds, meaning the survival of the monarch is directly tied to the survival of this plant! Monarch populations are decreasing alarmingly, so having milkweeds in your yard or garden is one of the best ways to support these beautiful creatures. Milkweeds are also used by many, many other pollinators, and are an important part of supporting all pollinators in our area.
Milkweed is not only useful for pollinators, but also humans! Herbalists have used milkweeds for everything from chest pain to fever, warts to indigestion. Saying it has widely varied uses is an understatement! However, while these are traditional uses, milkweeds are strong enough that they are not good for tonics. Leave this one to the professionals.
The steroids called cardenolides are thought to be the root of many of the milkweed’s uses. Different milkweeds have different levels of these cardenolides, and there are many different milkweeds across the United States. Here in Arizona, there are at least 29 native species, though the one the BECY students planted was the Arizona Milkweed.
Another special part of the milkweed is that Native Americans traditionally used milkweed for repelling insects, and the fiber inside milkweed stems and seed pods to create products like bowstrings, nets, baskets, and more. The milkweed was also used by the United States during World War II to line life jackets and flight suits, serving an important role in wartime shortage.
Perhaps in the future we will see more uses for milkweed, in pest control, down substitutes, or more! It’s always fun to have plants with stories in your yard or garden and milkweed has many and many great uses.
We will have several different kinds of milkweed available at our Monsoon Plant Sale tomorrow 9 - 3PM. Perfect time to pick a few up for your yard!
Written By: Andrea Bond
Hello! I’m Andrea, a veteran of BRN’s 2018 Field School, currently interning with the Seed Lab and Nursery. Part of my internship is to write a few blog posts focusing on native plants we’ve been working with, and how these plants are good for human uses, as well as ecologically.
That’s me on the right!
(Please note that I am not an herbalist or medical doctor. I am only conveying information I learned from various references.)
First up is Monarda fistulosa (var menthifolia), aka: Bee Balm, Wild Oregano, Mountain Oregano. My first day working at the nursery we took cuttings of bee balm plants to further propagate them, which smelled very good!
Image Retrieved from The Xerces Society, check them out at https://xerces.org/
In addition to being used by many pollinators, most notably moths and bees, this plant is also a beautiful addition to a yard/garden. What makes it special is the thymol, carvacrol, and eugenol compounds it contains—similar to its “cousin” oregano (both plants are part of the mint family Laminaceae). Scientific studies have been conducted on these compounds’ medicinal properties that support the traditional medicinal uses of bee balm by Native Americans and oregano by Eurasians.
Like oregano, bee balm can be eaten as an herb either fresh or dried, for flavor and the vitamins and antioxidants it contains. Its herbal flavor is similar to oregano and other mint relatives, and somewhat like bergamot. In teas, poultices (for skin wounds), infusions, and tinctures it is great for immune system support, and to fight bacteria and inflammation.
I was introduced to bee balm by it being infused in honey, which is used for allergy symptoms. It’s a simple preparation using fresh leaves left in honey for a certain period of time (around a month, but it varies depending on the strength you desire and the potency of the leaves), and then strained out leaving the honey flavored and infused with the phenols from the leaves. Remember to completely submerge the leaves in the honey, so that they do not rot. Honey is amazing by itself, but infusing it in this way gives you an extra boost when you need it.
Thanks for reading! Look out for parts two and three of these Plant Power posts!
Written By: Randi Trantham
Hi everyone! My name is Randi and I was recently brought on to the Native Plant Materials Program as a Botany Intern. I am originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico where I attended New Mexico State University and received my BS in Biology with my main focus being on plant science. Meanwhile, I worked at a fisheries lab studying the White Sands pupfish. While on this project I was tasked with creating a protocol for measuring riparian and aquatic plant growth at our field sites. After graduating I went on to get my MS in Curriculum & Instruction for Secondary Science Education. After completing my Master’s my husband and I took jobs as science teachers in Buckeye, AZ. When we left Buckeye and moved to Patagonia I knew I wanted to use my science background again and began actively looking to work with Borderlands.
I am almost a third of the way through with my internship and so far I have gotten to do some pretty awesome stuff. I spend part of my time at the Seed Lab learning to clean and package different types of seed (some more persistent seeds of which I still find in my clothing). The majority of my time is spent at the BR Nursery learning different techniques and practices to grow native plants. Specifically about native plants that we are growing in the greenhouse and the conditions in which they thrive in the wild. In the last few weeks, I have been learning to collect some springtime seeds and how to take cuttings from various plants.
After leaving teaching my mental health was a little beaten up. Teaching is hard! In no rush to return to the field of education I began searching for a job that would use my research background. During my adult life I became concerned with the state of our environment and this became something that was very important to me personally. I love that besides trying to live differently at home in small ways, I also get to make small (but great) differences through my job. I have seen small glimpses of the projects and goals that Borderlands strives towards and I look forward to experiencing them myself. Besides the rewarding work that I have been able to be a part of, the people I work with are so wonderful. I can truly say that I love the people at the Native Plant Materials Program. Everyone I have had the pleasure of working with has been extremely kind and helpful. This really is a great place to work and turned out to be exactly what I needed. :)
Written by: Francesca Claverie
This last Saturday, June 8th, the Native Plant Materials Program hosted our first Native Plant Propagation and Nursery Management class at our nursery space in Patagonia, AZ. Our Native Plant Materials Program management has taught many workshops and classes before on seed collection, and propagation but we usually teach them through a grant, a conference, our summer school, and other consult services. This class was advertised for just over a month, and we are proud to report that we had a full class of 12 people attend the workshop and we couldn’t be happier about it’s success! All the participants were enthusiastic, keen, and asked some wonderful question and participated in fun nursery discussions from clonal propagation to bench-pallet quality.
The mission of our Native Plant Program is to promote biodiversity by providing access to restoration-quality native plant materials. Native plants have edible, medicinal, and aesthetic value and support basic ecosystem function. We seek to heal the land and ourselves by exploring a culture of place, centered on a rich relationship with our native flora. Part of this exploration centers on encouraging native plant interactions, and the creation of more regional programs that use local plant genetics for use in the wild and cultivated landscape. This class specifically covered a tour of our facilities, the importance of the National Seed Strategy, container plant production timelines, species palettes, seed propagation: scarification and stratification, clone propagation: hormone, cuttings types, disease and pest control, soil types, and greenhouse construction.
The next class our native plant program will offer is a 2-day wild seed collection and curation class in September. We are not yet accepting sign ups for this class, but will be advertising it towards the end of summer. Wish us luck on this first nursery class, and stay tuned for more native plant classes throughout the year! If you have questions or inquiries email firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
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