Get to know your native plants at program

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The Native Plant Master Program is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Though the Colorado National Monument class dates have already passed, you can still sign up for other classes on Grand Mesa and at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in June and July, if you do so as soon as possible.

The courses cost $50 per location with a volunteer commitment or $75 without volunteer hours. Contact Susan Carter for information or an application via email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or at 244-1834.



Colorado State University Extension is hosting an open house featuring its native plant garden from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. June 3, at 2775 U.S. Highway 50 at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.
There will be demonstrations of different gardening topics, a seed giveaway, and tours of native plants in the Ute Learning Garden. Call 244-1835 with questions. Please note this event was previously scheduled for June 10 but has been rescheduled.

Mother Nature is an incredible gardener. And if you’ve ever wondered about the hardy fauna of the high desert and wanted to be that person who knows the name of that pretty yellow flower blooming over there, there’s a way to become a master.

A Native Plant Master, that is.

Think of it as a training to help you become that cool person who knows all the names of the flowers on the hikes, so your companions can be awed when you point out a cluster of orange globemallow or educate them on the uses of four-winged saltbush or piñon pine.

In Colorado, you can become a Master Gardener with training and completing required volunteer hours helping the public with gardening issues and questions. But you can also become a Native Plant Master with informative on-site classes with the outdoors as your learning lab, and you commit to spreading the knowledge you learn to a certain number of people each year.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the program, which has a goal of helping people get to know native plants and educate them about sustainable landscapes and weed management. And here in western Colorado, participants get to have Grand Mesa, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Colorado National Monument as their classrooms.

Mike Calabro of Grand Junction is one of the instructors, and he helps teach Grand Mesa classes on three weekend days in July. He took the course himself in 2010, and then returned to help others acquire knowledge about native plants. Each of the locations includes information about at least 60 plants, and participants learn how to identify them, their possible uses, and whether they’re native plants or were introduced to the area.

For Calabro, being a Native Plant Master is about the history of the plants and their place in the environment where they interact with animals and humans. He’s especially fascinated by how Native Americans used plants, as he also volunteers at the museum and loves history.

“I’m not a botanist,” he said. “I like the stories that the plants tell.”

Sometimes, the stories are like that of the yucca, a prolific native plant with many uses.

“You learn that it was kind of like the Wal-Mart for the Native Americans — it had everything,” he said. “You really learn to appreciate it, after you know they used the roots to make shampoo and they ate the blossoms and used the fiber.”

His favorite plant in the program is a little hard to find: a rose-colored plant called prairie smoke found on Grand Mesa that he loves sharing with others.

From mountain mahogany to Indian paintbrush, participants learn about native plants’ many uses and interesting facts about how they fit into the ecology of the area. Overall, Calabro said the classes taught him to appreciate the value of all plants and their place in the environment, and he found it rewarding enough to want to share with others.

“I used to tend to overlook small plants,” he said. “You start noticing the smaller things and the details and the bugs and the different animals that use them. It just makes it so much more enjoyable.”

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener and journalist. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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