Wonderful World of Native Plants

Annual conference explores history, future of seeds

By Charlene Johnson
Posted 8/10/17

The chapter in Taos of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico is hosting the annual state conference Sept. 14-17. “The Seed: Past, Present and Future” is the theme of the …

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Wonderful World of Native Plants

Annual conference explores history, future of seeds


The chapter in Taos of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico is hosting the annual state conference Sept. 14-17. “The Seed: Past, Present and Future” is the theme of the conference.

It will be based at the Fort Burgwin campus of Southern Methodist University-in-Taos, located about 8 miles south of Taos. A book by biologist and author Thor Hanson, our keynote speaker, “The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History,” prompted the theme for this year’s conference.

Any or all three of the sessions with guest speakers in the Fort Burgwin Auditorium are available for a fee of $10 for one session, $15 for two or $25 for all three. See the schedule on this page. Email taosnps@gmail.com or call (575) 751-0511 to reserve a space, then pay by cash or check at the door.

Two special plant events

NPS-Taos announces several special events in August. On Aug. 12, Wendy Whiteman will host a hands-on opportunity to learn about the big sagebrush, or Artemisia tridentata, plant that covers much of Northern New Mexico.

This workshop includes a lecture and participation in steam distillation of freshly harvested sagebrush, which will yield both the sage essential oil and a hydrosol. Whiteman will talk about the plant’s physical characteristics, signatures, herbal uses, local folklore and history. Participants will take home samples of the essential oil and hydrosol. Instructions on how to use them will be included. This workshop is limited to 10 people and there is a fee of $8 per person. A reservation is required. Contact Jan Martenson at (575) 751-0511 or taosnps@gmail.com. 

Artemisia tridentata is an aromatic shrub from the Asteraceae family. This sagebrush grows in arid and semiarid conditions in deserts and around our mountains. Native Americans used this sagebrush as an antirheumatic, an antiseptic, digestive aid, disinfectant, poultice and sedative. The poultices can be applied to sore eyes. Its antiseptic properties make it good as a wash or poultice on cuts or wounds. Both the leaves and seeds can be eaten, the leaves generally cooked as a tea while the seeds can be ground into a powder.

Other uses include creating an infusion of the leaves to use as a hair rinse for dandruff. Stuffing pillows or mattresses with the aromatic leaves can also keep bugs away. And a golden dye can be obtained from the plant. If you like the smell of the sagebrush all around Taos after a rain, you should try the essential oils from the plant.

On Aug. 23, Olivia Carril, co-author of “The Bees in Your Backyard” (a book), will be the guest speaker at the Taos County Agricultural Center conference room at 6 p.m. She will discuss the biology of native New Mexico bees and provide tips on encouraging and providing food and nesting sites for these species. On Aug. 26, she will also lead a pollinator walk to show us some of these bees and teach us how to tell them apart.

Carril has been studying native bees for more than 20 years. She received her Master of Science degree from Utah State University, where she studied the bees of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the southern portion of Utah. She received her doctorate from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, where she studied a specialist bee, Diadadasia, and its host plants. Most recently, she and Joseph Wilson wrote “The Bees in your Backyard,” celebrating the diversity of bees found across North America.

Though less known than the honeybee, the native bee species of New Mexico are important pollinators in both natural and agricultural settings. Carril will introduce native bees, giving an overview of their life histories, discussing our knowledge of native bee populations and her ongoing work here in New Mexico. She will also describe the valuable role these insects play as pollinators in our ecosystems.

Carril is a lively and humorous speaker you won’t want to miss. Come early, as seating is limited.

‘The Seed: Past, Present and Future’: Conference agenda

Friday (Sept. 15): 8:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m., “Seeds of the Past”

• Opening keynote speaker: Thor Hanson, author of “The Triumph of Seeds”

• “Seed Dispersal from Ants to Us: Plant Seed Evolution to Animals and People,” Richard I. Ford, professor emeritus, University of Michigan

• “Cotton Domestication in the Prehistoric Southwest,” Glenna Dean, New Mexico state archaeologist (retired)

Friday: 1:15-4:15 p.m., “Seeds of the Present”

• “Close to Home: Seeds of Success in Northern New Mexico,” Lillis Urban, botanist/ecologist, Bureau of Land Management-Taos Field Office

• “A Passion for Piñones,” Kate Cisneros, community organizer and storyteller, Questa

• “The Story of the Piñon Pine,” John Ubelaker, professor emeritus, SMU, Taos

• “More Native Seed Coming to New Mexico! What’s New with the Southwest Seed Partnership,” Melanie Gisler, Institute of Applied Ecology, Santa Fe

• “NPSNM/NM Department of Transportation – Changes in Seeds for Restoration,” Steven Ginsler, DOT liaison to NPSNM, Santa Fe

Saturday (Sept. 16): 1:30-4:30 p.m., “Seeds of the Future”

• “The Target Plant Concept: A Southwest Restoration Perspective,” Joshua Sloan, John T. Harrington Forestry Research Center, Mora

• “The Seeds that Feed Us in Taos County,” Miguel Santistevan, Taos farmer and educator; Daniel Martinez, manager, Taos Pueblo’s Red Willow Farm

• “Project Baseline, a Time Capsule of Seeds,” Julie Etterson, professor, University of Minnesota Duluth and director of Project Baseline (seed bank for native species)


Monthly meetings are the third Wednesdays at 6 p.m. in the boardroom at Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, 118 Cruz Alta Road.

Aug. 19 (Saturday): New Mexico Native Plant Day. Visit our table in front of Cid’s Food Market for information, as well as a book and plant sale.

Aug. 20 (Sunday): Williams Lake hike. Meet at 8 a.m. at the KTAOS Solar Center parking lot to carpool to the hikers’ parking lot at the trailhead to Williams Lake. We’ll walk 2 miles to Williams Lake, focus on subalpine and alpine plants and eat lunch at the lake. This is a moderately strenuous hike with an elevation gain of 1,000 feet. Wear appropriate hiking gear and sunscreen. Bring a lunch and water; walking stick optional. Advance reservation is required. Contact ubelaker@mail.smu.edu or (214) 726-5014 to make reservations.

Aug. 23 (Wednesday): Lecture, 6 p.m. Olivia Carril, co-author of book “Bees in Your Backyard.” Location: Juan I. Gonzales Taos County Agriculture Center, conference room, 202 Chamisa Road.

Aug. 26 (Saturday): Bee walk with Olivia Carril, 10 a.m.-noon (location to be determined). Learn to appreciate and identify our local species of bees. Email taosnps@gmail.com or call (575) 751-0511 for location of bee walk.

Sept. 14-17: “The Seed: Past, Present & Future,” annual conference of NPSNM, hosted by the organization’s chapter in Taos at SMU-in-Taos/Fort Burgwin. See the website for more information: npsnm.org/events/2017-annual-conference. Per-session fees are available for the speaker presentations. (See article.)

This column is printed every second Thursday of the month. For suggestions or questions, email TaosNPS@gmail.com or call (575) 751-0511. Chapter webpage: npsnm.org/about/chapters/taos. Facebook page: Search for “Native Plant Society New Mexico Taos Chapter.”

Johnson is an active member of the national Outdoor Writers’ Association. She writes this column on behalf of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico – Taos Chapter.


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