Wonderful World of Native Plants

Resolving 'plant blindness' at the time of light


Plant blindness is the inability to see or notice the plants in one's own environment, leading to the inability to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs.

You have doubtless heard the terms, "circle of Llfe," or "food chain." The idea is that everything in our ecosystems is dependent upon something else to survive. We are not a closed system. Humans, top of the food chain, eat animals and plants. Animals eat other animals, insects and plants. Plants also put oxygen into the air that we breathe. Plants are pretty darned important. Yet, some people seem to be "blind" to the existence, much less the importance, of plants. This is a term coined by scientists that recognize the danger of not appreciating plants.

People love animals. The study and pursuit of animals in some form or another is a common activity, yet trees and bushes are taken for granted. Wildflowers are appreciated when in their crowning glory, and vegetables and crops only for how they fill our bellies.

While plants make up 57 percent of the endangered species in the United States, they receive less than four percent of endangered-species funding, according to a study published in the journal, Conservation Biology. And yet animals and humans would all die off if our plants died off.

Some scientists think that this inability to "see" plants is based on their lack of motion and anthropomorphism. We can't tell how a plant is "feeling" as we think we can with animals. However, when we think of all the oxygen producers we are losing to fires in California, drought in the Southwest and development nearly everywhere, it becomes a cause for concern.

New Mexico's high desert, especially during a warm, snowless winter is a premier palette for a lack of appreciation when plants seem brown and dismal. "From Ponderosa to Prickly Pear" is a program developed by the Institute for Applied Ecology in Santa Fe. This program hopes to connect high school students with native plants as a means of combating plant blindness. At this season of light, we encourage you to notice, even seek out, our backdrop of plants that make this environment unique and beautiful.

Coyote willow, Salix exigua, is one of those plants worth looking for even when we think we should be seeing snow. This plant is a hardy, adaptive species, common to much of North America, including our high, dry climate, although how large it gets depends on how much water it gets. It is a deciduous shrub with narrow, silvery leaves, which also give it its other name of Narrowleaf willow. It can form a thicket when desired, and it's great erosion control for stream and river banks.

Native Americans use the many different species of willow as building materials since their flexible branches can be bent into dwellings, sweat lodges and baskets. The bark also can be stripped into cordage.

An infusion of the bark is also good for coughs and sore throats. When the roots are mashed, it can treat toothaches and dysentery.

The use of willow bark as a medicine dates back to the time of Hippocrates. Willow bark has long been known to contain a compound known as salicin, which is effective as an anti-inflammatory and pain reducer. In the 1800s, salicin became the basis of a pill called aspirin. Some still claim that while the bark may not act as quickly as aspirin, its effects last longer and it is gentler on the stomach.

Coyote willow is a common enough plant that a musical duo has even taken on the name. Their "rockabilly to a lyrically moving folk style," as the band's website claims, might help make that plant at least a little more visible.

A grant opportunity for teachers

From the initial keynote presentation to the final field trips, the September state conference of the Native Plant Society in Taos was a tremendous success. We want to pass along that success to our local teachers and students by offering two $250 grants for education relating to native plants in the fields of botany, biology or ecology.

Grants will be awarded to any school or teacher in Taos County who keeps the mission of the Native Plant Society of New Mexico in mind. That mission is listed below. Awarded funds can be used anytime in 2018.

Also, a hard copy of the grade 9-12 curriculum guide, "From Ponderosa to Prickly Pear," will be awarded to each grant recipient. Teachers are encouraged to download a PDF of this science curriculum for New Mexico from the welcome page of the website: www.npsnm.org

The Taos chapter will ask for a short letter or email describing how the funds were used and photos (with photo releases) to be used in print media, social media and the society's website. The deadline is Feb. 28.

To apply for a grant:

• Submit the proposal in Word or PDF format to: TaosNPS@gmail.com.

• Type "NPSNM Taos Grant Application" in the email subject line.

• Do not exceed two pages.

• Funds to be used in 2018.

• Multiple applications for different purposes or projects in the same school are welcome.

NPSNM Mission Statement

The Native Plant Society of New Mexico (NPSNM) is a non-profit organization that strives to educate the public about native plants by promoting knowledge of plant identification, ecology and uses; fostering plant conservation and the preservation of natural habitats; supporting botanical research; and encouraging the appropriate use of native plants to conserve water, land and wildlife.

NPSNM - Taos Chapter, Upcoming Events

Meetings are held on the third Wednesday of the month in March, April, May, June, Oct., and Nov. All meetings are free and open to the public. Please check our Facebook page for updates.

How to contact us

For suggestions or questions, please contact us at TaosNPS@gmail.com, or call (575) 751-0511. Chapter webpage: npsnm.org/about/chapters/taos. Facebook page: "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.