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A Visit to the Redwood Creek Native Plant Nursery

  • Jeanne Price
  • by Jeanne Price

    In early May I visited the Redwood Creek Native Plant Nursery near Muir Woods with my friend Nancy who volunteers there. Manager Chris Friedel had what he called an atypical day planned for his volunteers. For the first half of our three-hour stint, we were to collect native wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) slips for propagating in the nursery greenhouse. The new plants would be used in Muir Woods as a ground cover to restore areas previously trampled by off- path visitors.
    We collected about 300 slips in two locations and returned to the nursery to begin potting them up, but not before we took a little break. Afterwards we began washing pots, preparing our slips for potting, filling and planting the pots with the rooted runners we had collected. Planting seeds and pulling weeds are more typical volunteer work.
    Wild ginger is a good ground cover along the coast and grows in part shade and works well under redwoods. It likes an acidic soil. The root stock can be used as ginger in cooking. Its small reddish flowers lay on the ground where they attract insects into their “urns.” The insects then act to disperse the seeds. Wild ginger also propagates by runners that stretch out under the leaf litter and put down roots.
    The Redwood Creek Nursery is one of five native plant nurseries operated by the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy whose mission is three fold: to produce high quality plants needed for park restoration collected from native seed or propagules (runners or suckers used in the asexual propagation of plants); to create and foster a volunteer program; to educate community members, especially youth, about ecology and horticulture. The other four sites are in Tennessee Valley, Marin Headlands, the Presidio and Fort Funston. The five nurseries propagate over 400 of the 622 species native to the 75,000 acres of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA).
    The Parks Conservancy began professional support in nursery management and restoration in 1997 through a financial partnership with the GGNRA.
    The Redwood Creek Nursery works on the restoration of the creekside plants in the lower watershed and the redwood understory of Muir Woods. The watershed extends from Mt. Tamalpais to the creek’s outlet at Muir Beach and includes the old Banducci Flower Farm site. The watershed is home to some of the West Coast’s most imperiled species, including coho salmon and steelhead trout, the northern spotted owl and the California red-legged frog.
    Native plants are the base of habitats and food chains. These plants have evolved in conjunction with the area’s wildlife. Invasive plants disrupt that special relationship. Native plants must remain strong so that the rest of the ecosystem does not weaken. Plants are the first building block in restoring a native habitat.
    In his nursery Friedel grows everything from “trees to grasses to bring back the structure of what’s missing,” he said. The site grows 10,000 plants a year, about ten percent are used in Muir Woods, another ten percent go to Stinson Beach and the balance is used in the lower creek area near Muir Beach, he explained. All the plants are native to the area within the past 200 years, he answered when asked about how long a plant had to be here to be considered native. The lower creek area is currently the major restoration project for Friedel and his volunteers.
    A tour of the greenhouse revealed blackberry (Rubus ursinus), twinberry (Lonicera involucrata), elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) and dogwood (Cornus sericea)—plants in various stages of growth. In addition there were ceanothus, sticky monkey flower (Mimulus aurantiacus), coyote bush (Baccharis pilularis) and cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum), all grown mostly from seed Friedel had collected. Outside the greenhouse are potted native Rhododendron macrophyllum. “These are rare,” he stated, “I know of only three populations here.”
    Freidel, originally from the Chicago area, graduated from Stanford University in 2001 with a BS in Earth Systems and has been the manager and restoration field coordinator for the Redwood Creek Nursery for the past three years.
    The Native Plant Nurseries pamphlet notes it takes a million seeds, over 91,000 native plants, 38,000 volunteer hours from almost 6,000 community volunteers, plus 246 native species at 49 restoration sites, five nurseries and “tons of love” every year to “grow a national park.”
    If you’d like to help “grow a national park” log onto www.parksconservancy.org and click on “Volunteers” for your choice of site and day, or call Chris Friedel on Tuesday to Saturday at 415 383-4390 to volunteer at the Redwood Creek Native Plant Nursery.