Lessons Learned from the Bastyr University Sacred Seeds Ethnobotanical Trail

We began the work to implement our Sacred Seeds trail vision in 2011. We already had some trails in our surrounding woodland so it seemed a relatively simple matter of creating a link between the woodland space to an open space. We had a nice space that would serve as a potential subalpine meadow representing more of the open space native plants, like bulbs and grasses. To create this we had a consultant come and take a look at it to see what sort of landscaping might help us with drainage and soil issues. We wanted to create a landscape that mimicked the Mima Mounds in the southern part of Washington State where an abundant amount of bulbs and grasses flourish but we also wanted to have boulders to create heat sinks for some of the more heat loving open-area plants like Ligusticum spp. As with most projects of this nature, the landscaping and associated rock wall that helped it blend into the current landscape and the creation of a linking walkway to the trail continued to add costs to the project. Fortunately with donations from a variety of sources we were able to get this foundational piece into place. Having patience while waiting for our meadow to begin to look like a meadow has also been difficult, but will be well worth the wait.

Since then we have focused on putting signs up to identify the plants as well as to mark the trail and tell a little bit about the Sacred Seeds Sanctuary project and to thank our sponsors. We have developed an internship program to support the ongoing maintenance of the trail and continued development of our project as we moved through phase 2 and 3. We have been blessed with some good resources of native plants and mentors to guide us in plant purchases and to help us learn a bit more about their cultivation.

Here is an overview on what our Assistant Gardener, Michele Milligan, has learned about the Camas lily and its cultivation:

Two species of camas that have been chosen for the meadow portion of Bastyr University Sacred Seeds Ethnobotanical Trail are : Camassia quamash (Pursh) and  Camassia leichtlinii. Camas is one of the predominate species of plant the will fill the boundaries of the Sacred Seed meadow due to its importance as a food crop for the Native Peoples of the Puget Sound.  Both species were obtained from bulb transplant and seed has been collected from the Camas donated by a student in 2009.  The general shape of the seed is tear drop, medium size, a rough finish and deep blue in color with an iridescent shine when held to the sunlight. The seeds are easy to harvest out of the four chambered capsule by simply turning it over in your hand.  Interesting the dried capsule provides shelter for burrowing earwigs but they do not appear to eat the seed.

 The first attempt at growing camas from seed has shown to be a slow process with specialized timing.  When harvesting the seeds in September, they were scattered in the bed surrounding the stand of Camas to increase the population and see how Camas does with self-sowing.  Second, in early February a 50 cell flat was planted with Camas seed and placed into a warmed greenhouse. After one month of no action of growth further research showed that the seeds like colder weather and take up to 100 days to germinate.  Camas seed should be harvested before they completely dry out and place in a growing medium in fall to have a cold cycle to go through before above ground germination can occur. The plants take 2 to 3 years to reach flowering stage so the plan is to keep growing camas from seed each year and continue to scatter seed throughout the meadow until we have a strong population.  Eventually the bulbs can be divided by removing the bigger sized bulbs to be transplanted throughout the meadow.  Once camas is well-established it can be harvested for food and shared with the community.”

As part of our next phase we will begin to work on removing invasive plants from the woods, plant new plants in the meadow and on the fringe of our woodland in hopes of repopulating many of our forest edge trees and shrubs.  We were again blessed with a local native plant nursery that was able to get us many of the plants we wanted at a much reduced cost.  It is wise to seek out these types of nurseries because they are more than willing to share their expertise. We will continue to work on adding more signs and embark on aspects of phase 3 by developing outreach projects with our interns, sponsors and local community.  We are working hard to obtain funds necessary for a teaching greenhouse which could be used to teach members of our community about cultivation of native plants, which was one of our long term goals.  The trail already provides us with the ability to educate our students on native plant identification and will eventually also allow us to teach cultivation of these native plants, as well as seed-saving.  The project has already begun to give our students a way to communicate with the public on the Sacred Seeds Sanctuary project, native plants from the Pacific NW and the variety of ethnobotanical uses of the plants which reflects a large part of what they learn in their academic programs.  This will be an extremely valuable tool for their education as well as for developing their professional skills.