I grew up in this corner of the world, the coastal Pacific Northwest, and did a lot of camping as a kid. One of my most favorite summer memories is picking bright red huckleberries growing on the nurse stumps dotting the campground. I don’t know when I learned the name Huckleberry or her neighbors Sword Fern, Douglas Fir, or Oregon Grape. I’m sure it was from my parents, who had grown up camping in this ecosystem, too, who had learned from their parents or Scout leaders. Those plants have been my friends and teachers as long as I can remember.

Unlike the plants I was taught about and given the opportunity to become friends with, the same can’t be said for the Indigenous people who’s lands those plants evolved on. I knew some of their names, as they had become place names, but as a white kid living in predominantly white communities, my education about native people was limited to learning about how they “used to live,” before white people settled and built “real” cities and states and countries. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started hearing more often about the vibrant, living traditions of Indigenous people.

I know now that I was living and learning on the lands of the Cowlitz and Clackamas; Chinook, Clatsop, and Kathlamet; Puyallup and Nisqually; and Duwamish and Suqaumish tribes and nations. (Indigenous peoples in the US generally self-identify as tribes, though some groups use nation or band.) Today, I am very grateful to live as a settler on the traditional, unceded territory of the Musqueam, Tsleil Waututh, and Squamish Coast Salish peoples. Fresh Roots also operates on the territories of the Kwikwitlem, Katzie, Sto:lo, and Qayqayt First Nations, and we are continually working to be responsible stewards of this land which is not ours.

(If you’re wondering who’s land you’ve lived on in North or South America, Australia, or New Zealand, you can find out at Native Land.)

Indigenous people have lived and learned from the land and the plants that grow there for thousands of years. If you have the opportunity to learn about your local plants directly from the people who know them the best, seek out and take advantage of that opportunity! But this week, I want to share five ways you can learn more about, and from, plants native to the Vancouver area. I hope it’s a good place to start really getting to know this beautiful part of the world.

Make a Plant Friend

This activity is a chance to slow down and really connect with a plant in a different way than we normally do. We often think about what a plant is called, or how it’s useful to us. That can often lead to a very one-sided relationship with plants – they give, and we take. But by making a close connection with one particular plant, we can become more in tune with what it needs and what we can give back. Plus, it’s a great excuse to hug a tree, and trees are great huggers! And don’t miss the video made by Cara at our site at  Suwa’lkh School in Coquitlam.

Meet-A-Plant Activity Guide
Cara’s Plant Friends


Native Plants in Your Neighbourhood

You don’t have to get out of the city of find native plant species! Douglas-Firs, Western Red Cedar, Salal, Sword Ferns, Bleeding Heart, and so many more are beloved plant members of our communities. This Field Guide to Native Plants will help you identify some of the many native species in our parks, yards, and school grounds. Plus, there’s a Bingo sheet to make your next walk even more fun!

Native Plant Field Guide


In Harmony with Nature

In Harmony with Nature is a project by Lori Snyder and Laura Cisneros. Lori Snyder is an Indigenous herbalist and educator, who I’ve been fortunate to learn from and who has helped Fresh Roots maintain the Indigenous Plant Garden at Van Tech Secondary. Laura Cisneros is a Cuban Art Historian and a writer focused in the experience of living and creating in a foreign language. Together, they are 2020 Artists-in-Residence at the Hasting-Sunrise Community Centre. You can learn more about what they are doing and how you can get involved at their website. And check out the blog post linked below to for an introduction to three edible species, Oregon Grape, Blue Camas, and Stonecrop.

Introduction to Three Native Plants


Humans aren’t the only ones who rely on plants for food, shelter, and more. Animals do, too! Native plant and animal species have co-evolved to support one another. Choosing native species for your yard or school garden encourages native pollinators like bumblebees and butterflies (more on those next week!), and native bird species, too! Check out this guide to Birdscaping with native plants from the Environmental Youth Alliance. And if you need some plants, you can order them from our native plant propagation program at Suwa’lkh, where we work with students to grow native species to both reindigenize the forest at Suwa’lkh to sell to the wider community!

Buy Native Plants!


Marije’s back this week for another fantastic recipe. If you liked the Carrot Top Pesto from earlier this spring, you’ll love her recipe for Nesto, AKA Nettle Pesto! And for more nettle info, you can check out the video I made way back in March when the nettles were just coming up at Van Tech.

“Stinging nettles are a delicious and exciting plant to go foraging for. They come in two subspecies: a native species, Urtica dioica gracilis which is the one we see and eat the most often, while another (Urtica dioica dioica) was introduced many years ago but is (so far) happily coexisting with the native plants of this area.

Where to look for nettles: These plants love moist places- look for clearings in a forest where some light is getting through, near river banks, in old fields, or by the sides of quiet roads. Make sure to wear long sleeves and pants, gloves, and bring a pair of scissors.

What to do once you find the nettles: Cut the tops of the plants- these are the most tasty, and this allows the plant to continue growing. Try not to touch them until they’re blanched!

Nettles are good to eat all spring and summer. Like most greens, yhey’re best eaten before they start to make flowers or seeds. Nettle pesto, or “nesto” is a great way to eat nettles – it tastes fresh, clean and green; a little bit like cucumbers! ”

Nesto Recipe Card
Kat’s Nettle Video

Plants are great teachers – get out there and learn from them!


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