Family-friendly environmental service in Portland

Education and accessibility make Metro’s Native Plant Center the perfect fit for Earth Month!

Volunteers play a significant role at Portland Metro's Native Plant Center. Founded from the beginning as a combination of staff and volunteer efforts, the Native Plant Center is committed to involving all ages and abilities in their efforts to propagate native species and restore sensitive Pacific Northwest habitats.

The Center was established by scientist Marsha Holt-Kingsley as part of her Americorp Program goals. Today, the Center employs only two full-time staff year-round and otherwise relies upon the community to grow and care for the plants that eventually find their way to Oregon's critical wetlands, forests and other protected natural areas.

Everyone is welcome

All ages and abilities are welcomed at the Center which offers a flexible and rotating roster of volunteer activities. “What I love about Volunteer Ventures, Native Plant Center’s volunteer hours on Saturdays, is how family-friendly they are,” says Metro Volunteer Coordinator, Bonnie Shoffner. “One of the unique qualities of the Native Plant Center is our age range capability.”

At the Center’s Volunteer Ventures all ages and abilities can:

·       Get outside

·       Choose activities at their own ability

·       Enjoy flexible scheduling

·       Bring their whole family!

What you’ll learn at the Native Plant Center

The Center starts plants at the very beginning of the seed propagation stage, so volunteers learn about the whole life-cycle of Oregon’s native plants. “Some of these wild-flowers take three to five years to go from seed to a start ready to be planted,” said Shoffner. “We’re kind of like a boutique nursery that gives you a chance to see some plants you wouldn’t otherwise ever see at a regular nursery.”

The team at the Center are working on preserving two endangered plants – the White Rock, or Pale Larkspur and the Nelson’s Checkermallow. Volunteers at the Center have the satisfaction of seeing their work in the field, and the benefit of the Centers work on preserving our local biodiversity. Between the seedlings started at the Center and a combination of bare root native species and donations from local nurseries, the Center is able to return over 1 million plants to their native habitats each year.

"I also see volunteers learning so much from the knowledge sharing that goes on during work sessions," said Shoffner. "Everyone brings their own experience to the table, and because of the wide age range, the intergenerational sharing is amazing." 

Ways to dig in at the Native Plant Center

After spending some Saturdays at the Center, families, and kids ready to kick it up a notch can consider the Center’s Volunteer Seed Scouts opportunity. Applicants to this seasonal position receive training on identifying and collecting wild seed for the Center. Shoffner likes to call this “nature’s Pokemon." The native seed collection is about 30 percent of the Center's propagation and keeps the plant's genetics hardy. Volunteers not in school are also called during the week to the Native Plant Center Assistance Program.

"We are blessed with volunteers at the Center," says Shoffner. "The Youth Charity League teams have been a wonderful addition to our drop-in Saturday program – enriching the age range of our volunteer core and improving our overall volunteer numbers. We encourage folks of all ages to come check us out – even a toddler can move mulch with a toy dump truck!"

The next YCL team efforts at the Native Plant Center are April 27 and May 4. Click to Register!

Emily Zahniser