Albuquerque Journal

FRIENDS TO WILD PLANTS

NM Native Plant Society offers workshops, guidebooks

- BY THERESA DAVIS Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environmen­t for the Albuquerqu­e Journal.

Organizati­on works to protect, restore habitats for native plants across New Mexico.

When Tom Stewart moved to New Mexico from Long Island, New York, he was amazed by the variety of wild plants blooming in the deserts and forests. Now, the current president of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico said he appreciate­s more than ever the biodiversi­ty of the state’s 3,000 native plant species. “Native plants are essential,” said Stewart, a former environmen­tal scientist at Sandia National Laboratori­es. “They evolve with the landscape, and they are the basis of our watersheds and wildlife. They’re part of our traditions.” The Native Plant Society’s seven chapters span all of New Mexico and include El Paso. Chapters host monthly meetings, restoratio­n projects and occasional field trips. The society has published guides for gardening with native plants, and field guides for spotting native plants on public lands. Before the pandemic, the group hosted workshops and classes. Now, those events are mostly conducted via online webinars.

The group’s focus on education and plant protection means local chapters play an important role in conservati­on projects.

“We’ve been doing this since 1976, when people first came together to form the society here,” Stewart said. “It started with mostly academic people and gardeners. But as time has gone on, our mission has expanded in response to the threat of climate change and the greater awareness of the environmen­t.”

The Albuquerqu­e chapter is working with the Friends of Valle de Oro on the Backyard Refuge program. Participan­ts make their properties welcoming for pollinator­s and wildlife, and native plants are key in that effort.

The chapter also helped create a pollinator habitat garden east of El Oso Grande Park. Once a dusty patch of land dotted with scraggly prickly pear cacti, the space now boasts colorful native plants that attract bees and butterflie­s.

In Silver City, the Gila chapter helped transform an old equipment depot near an elementary school into a botanical garden.

The Las Cruces chapter paid for signs at a native plant garden outside the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument visitor’s center.

Each year, the society presents awards to New Mexico teachers who educate about native plants. The group also gives small grants for school and park projects, education, and invasive plant species removal.

In New Mexico, even urban areas like Albuquerqu­e showcase diverse flora for native plant newbies.

“If you take the (Sandia) tram and just walk in either direction, you can see a whole different environmen­t of native plants,” Stewart said. “If you’re really curious, get a book to learn about their history, how people have used them in the past and how they support other wildlife.”

Stewart recommends the book “Common Southweste­rn Native Plants: An Identifica­tion Guide,” by Donna J. Stevens, Jack L. Carter and Martha A. Carter.

The plant society’s meetings are opportunit­ies to connect with plant enthusiast­s, gardeners, hikers and birders.

“Everyone’s welcome on field trips, or to just drop by at a meeting. You don’t have to be a member,” Stewart said.

The society’s annual conference is scheduled for August in Alamogordo. The event may be held in person or virtually, depending on state virus trends. The conference’s theme is “People and Native Plants: A Journey through Time.”

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 ?? ROBERTO E. ROSALES/ JOURNAL ?? A Parkland Hills resident waters her front garden along Ridgecrest drive in southeast Albuquerqu­e.
ROBERTO E. ROSALES/ JOURNAL A Parkland Hills resident waters her front garden along Ridgecrest drive in southeast Albuquerqu­e.
 ?? ROBERT BROWMAN/JOURNAL ?? Cactus flowers bloom along the Quebradas Backcountr­y Byway in Socorro County.
ROBERT BROWMAN/JOURNAL Cactus flowers bloom along the Quebradas Backcountr­y Byway in Socorro County.
 ?? JIM THOMPSON/JOURNAL ?? Paloma Garcia and her dog Alaska look for the perfect bouquet of sunflowers in the Los Poblanos Fields Open Space next to the Community Gardens in the North Valley in August 2020.
JIM THOMPSON/JOURNAL Paloma Garcia and her dog Alaska look for the perfect bouquet of sunflowers in the Los Poblanos Fields Open Space next to the Community Gardens in the North Valley in August 2020.
 ?? EDDIE MOORE/JOURNAL ?? A honeybee feeds on an Apache plume plant in Santa Fe County’s Arroyo Hondo Open Space.
EDDIE MOORE/JOURNAL A honeybee feeds on an Apache plume plant in Santa Fe County’s Arroyo Hondo Open Space.
 ?? JIM THOMPSON/JOURNAL ?? A hummingbir­d heads towards a desert willow for a meal at an Albuquerqu­e park.
JIM THOMPSON/JOURNAL A hummingbir­d heads towards a desert willow for a meal at an Albuquerqu­e park.
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