Native Plant Propagation
My spring internship with the STELLAR Program has been both enjoyable and educational; I have become more aware of the biodiversity in the Walla Walla vicinity and the steps it takes to restore riparian areas. STELLAR stands for Science Technology Environmental Land Lab and Research. The STELLAR Program focuses on a hands-on environment that incorporates natural sciences and math into the curriculum. Working together with the school, the STELLAR Program is able to bring this hands-on learning experience into the classrooms in the Milton-Freewater area. With the help of Bob Chicken, I was able to successfully plant cottonwoods and willows in a greenhouse. Some of these trees were later transplanted to a riparian area near Harris Park, Oregon by fourth and fifth graders. I also participated in creating a curriculum for children to learn about the importance of native plant propagation in riparian areas and how to propagate trees.
The original objectives of my internship were to successfully propagate cottonwoods and blue wildrye for use in the classroom. Willows would be included in the propagation if so desired by the teacher. The main idea was to propagate native plants so they would be available for use in the classroom. The extra plants would be used in restoration along streambeds in the Milton-Freewater area. After two weeks into the project, I shifted from blue wildrye and cottonwood to willows and cottonwood due to the low percentage of germinated blue wildrye. Though the original plan was to propagate blue wildrye, the underlying goal to help children become more aware of the environment was achieved; after the fourth and fifth graders transplanted their trees, they were able to hold a discussion about propagation of cottonwoods and the importance to the environment.
My main tasks included collecting black cottonwoods and willows, and replanting these trees in planting containers in a green house. The containers were then placed in water baths to allow for proper root growth. The following two months were crucial to root development and to the trees’ survival once replanted in the outdoors. After two months, when sufficient root growth was present, fourth and fifth grade students planted almost half of the trees in a riparian area that had lost most of its vegetation due to a flood a couple of years ago. The rest of the trees will be planted in mid-May by a group of fourth grade students at Ferndale grade school.
To propagate plants one must know the proper procedure to assure a successful outcome. Though I had been told by a couple of people how to propagate plants, part of my internship was to research this information to see if our planting procedures matched up with other sources. Only after a day of collecting information, it was clear that there were many steps that I was bypassing in the propagation procedures listed on the internet and in propagation books. For example, it is important to paint the tops of the branches with paint thinner to lower the chances of diseases and to help prevent excess water evaporation. Some of the information obtained from the internet and books appeared to be contradictory to each other. Bob Chicken and I decided to use the procedures for propagation that were most prevalent. I made an outline of the procedure we agreed upon so that it could be used for future interns at the STELLAR Program. I also created two booklets, one on cottonwood propagation and one on willow propagation, for fourth grade students.
Though creating a curriculum for fourth grade students may sound easy, this proved to be one of my more challenging tasks. It is difficult to write a reading curriculum with simple words on a subject so detailed. Some of the words were added to their vocabulary list, but the number needed to be limited. The kids were then able to apply what they have read by helping to collect cottonwoods and plant them in planting containers. In mid-May the kids will then use the trees I have already planted, with root growth to use in restoration of riparian areas.
Finding places where people will allow propagation can be difficult. Rather than deal with the details, some people just say no. These places also need to be close to Ferndale grade school and accessible to children. The watershed council in Milton-Freewater helped Bob Chicken and I gain access to a riparian area next to Harris Park, which is on the south fork of the Walla Walla River in Oregon. The other riparian area that will be replanted in mid-May is located on property belonging to a fourth grade student. Both of these places are good for the children to learn about transplanting trees in riparian zones.
Another difficulty I was faced with in this internship was that the entire project depended on what the teachers wanted to focus on in the classroom. The teachers were continually changing their mind, which makes it difficult to prepare material. It takes two months for the trees to develop roots, which is too late by the time the teacher has decided on the project for the class. Thus I planted many trees to meet requests by teachers.
The biggest challenge was trying to propagate native grasses. Native grass seed is very expensive and hard to come by. Not only do the seeds have to be removed from the grasses in a particular manner, but also the seeds must then be treated and heated depending on the plant and prepared for sowing. The STELLAR Program retained some left over grass seed from previous experiments. The problem with the seed was that it was eight years old. Most seeds are considered unproductive after four years. One batch of blue wildrye had been planted before we came across this information. Not only was it old, but planted in a soil medium that was not optimal for its performance. The seeds were supposed to germinate within the first week. After the first week only four seeds had germinated out of 98 planting containers containing three seeds each. The next week, twelve plants were present. This is a good example where research before the experiment should have taken place.
From the results of the first batch of blue wildrye, I decided that it would not be worth the time to pursue future propagation of the blue wildrye with the seeds that were available to me. Furthermore, for me to collect new seeds, I would need the resources necessary to prepare and sow the seeds. This would be both expensive and time consuming. Buying the seeds from a producer would be even more expensive. Working with a small budget I had limited options. Thus, Bob Chicken and I decided that cottonwoods and willows would be sufficient and we would no longer need to use the blue wildrye. Other grass seeds considered were the blue elderberry, Columbia brome and posa, but they all need to be planted in the fall and would not work for this semester.
The time commitment of three or more hours a week was at times difficult to balance with all of the other work at school. Furthermore, every time I went to my internship, I had to add on an extra 40 minutes on for the drive. When I first started driving to the internship this concerned me not because of the time, but rather the gas I was using and pollutants I was creating. Is driving all that way worth what I contribute to the program and what I take away from the program? The internship was a very enjoyable experience and feel that it was worth the drive for one semester, but I do not know if I would do it for another semester due to the driving distance. Another time conflict was that I was unable to participate in the planting projects when the kids collected and planted the trees due to class conflicts.
I would recommend doing research ahead of time. Bob Chicken was very excited to get started, as was I, so we began planting trees rather than reading ahead to see if our procedures were optimal for plant growth. For example, I cut many cottonwood branches without paying attention to the age of the wood or how many buds were present. After some research, I found out that the basal ends must always be trimmed because it requires a lot of energy, which then cannot be used for root growth. Only one or two buds should be present for the same reason. If the wood is older than four years old the stored energy will be used for stem growth and if it is younger than one year old the energy will be used for apical growth. Also, all cuts on the branches should be covered with a sealer to prevent transpiration of water and disease. These steps are crucial to the survival of the cuttings, so I sealed the tops of willows and cotton woods two weeks after being planted.
Another recommendation would be to keep very good records and allot plenty of time for the days designated to collecting and planting branches in the greenhouse. I experimented with a couple of different planting mediums and cutting heights to see if these changes would have any affect on how well the trees fared. Not all plants were planted at once due to time limitations, which caused for varying conditions of the plants; some plants were planted later and exposed to a warmer climate right away. Also, some cuttings soaked in water longer than others. I did not plan ahead to allot enough time to plant all of the trees. I feel that this would be very challenging unless a Saturday was set aside to planting the trees. Then clearly label each batch of trees with date and type of soil medium, starting height and how many buds were present. I could not see a difference between the different plantings with the exception of the cottonwoods without buds present. These cuttings began to grow roots but died shortly afterwards. These steps were not pertinent to the final outcome of providing trees for the STELLAR Program, but I feel it would be good information for future use. Thus, if someone would like to carry out the same procedures, more time should be allotted to finish the task in one or two days.
Although there have been some challenges associated with this project, I have gained new information that is applicable to the trees I plant with my family at home, and I have become more knowledgeable in ways that I can help the environment. I am also very interested in how environmental studies can be incorporated into all curriculums of grade school students in the future; the children are the future and should learn how to take care of it at a young age. In this respect, I believe that this project is very beneficial to the students. Not only do they read and learn about ways to help the environment, but also they get to apply this knowledge through hands on experiences that are good for the environment.
Bob Chicken is in charge of the STELLAR Program and is my key contact. If anyone would like to contact him, his email is firstname.lastname@example.org. The watershed council has been a great source of information not only for possible riparian areas that need to be replanted, but also on how to go about replanting trees and where the trees can be collected. Bob Chicken works with them closely and they can be contacted through him.