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Evening with the Experts

Are you curious about the native plants growing around you? “What is this species, and what do I need to know about it?” On Sept. 26, 2014, OHA invited the community to bring photos and/or samples to our “Evening with the Experts,” event, along with observations about the plant. Community members were encouraged to bring digital photos on USB flash drives, SD memory cards, or email in advance to The event was open to everyone, whether they brought in a mystery plant or not. There were plenty of examples available for everyone to learn from.

The event began with a brief overview provided by the panel of botanists. Dana Visalli presented on what flowers are for, how their shapes and colors function, and how they reproduce. George Thornton presented on habitat types, followed by Erica Heinlen’s brief overview of bryophytes (mosses, lichens, etc.).

Participants were then invited to bring plant specimens and photos to the panel of experts, and plant enthusiasts were also on hand to assist with plant identification using field guides and keys. Samples of interest were projected onto a large screen for the whole group to see, and specimens, as they were labeled, were made available for display on tables.

Download the event handouts:

About the Experts:

George Thornton, retired Oroville high school teacher, long-time local botanist, and President of OHA’s board, will spearhead the event. Thornton grew up in the Okanogan and raised his family here, contributing to the community as a teacher and a botanist, and volunteering with a wide variety of community organizations. His interest in plants began at an early age and developed throughout this life; on Sept 26 he will share from his wide-ranging experience with unique and rarely seen Okanogan Highland plants, as well as the more common species. Thornton provided the first Highland Wonders presentation in November of 2010 on “Botanical Gems of the Okanogan Highlands,” and has also lead an OHA outdoor Native Plant Hike at Lost Lake and a Cedar Ecology event near Chesaw.

Dana Visalli contributed his knowledge on the panel, returning to Highland Wonders after his initial presentation on Highland Wildflowers in November of 2012. Visalli has worked for the last 22 years as a professional botanist and naturalist. He has published the quarterly natural history journal, “The Methow Naturalist” for the past 19 years, and has directed a summer ecology camp for children for 22 years. He lives in the Methow Valley, where he is an organic market gardener, and maintains the regional species lists for flowering plants, mosses, lichens, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. “I am becoming increasingly entranced by the story of the journey that life is on,” Visalli says. “Plants are a big part of that story, becoming more complex over time. There are 300,000 different species of plants on earth, each one of them intricately adapted to a particular environment. They are beautiful and intriguing in their own right, and of course they make our lives, and all animal life on land, possible. So let’s get into them!”

Erica Heinlen joined the Highland Wonders team for this event, sharing her unique specialty in mosses. The community is fortunate to have a mosses expert living in Tonasket, and OHA is pleased that she generously shared her skill and understanding at this event. Heinlen studied botany at the University of Washington and worked for the local Forest Service for several years doing vascular plant surveys. She caught an interest in bryophytes (mosses) on the job and so attended the University of Alberta and obtained her Masters degree in bryophytes in 2002, focused on mosses of the Okanogan Highlands. She has been working part-time for the Forest Service and contracting other bryophyte work since then. Heinlen was also available to help identify lichen, in addition to mosses.

Do you have a mystery plant you’d like to bring to a future event? Please follow these important guidelines: Download and print Guidelines for Plant Photos & Specimens

All Plants

  • Record the date and your name; write notes about the plant’s location, elevation, habitat (surrounding plants including trees, site characteristics such as wet or dry soil, southern or northern exposure, etc.), and any other helpful or background info. Take notes on general plant information such as growth habit (tree, shrub, grass, herb), general size, leaf pattern (opposite, alternate, rosette), and anything else of note.
  • GPS if possible, definitely optional

Taking Photos

  • Include something for size perspective (pencil, ruler, coin are common examples).
  • Take multiple images from a variety of angles and distances.
  • Digital images at highest pixel density available so they can be enlarged.
  • Try to get a good, focused close-up of flower or other reproductive organ, if available. A close up of the leaf, including the leaf edge, is also helpful. Also show a broad perspective where the plant grows.
  • If the plant is easily accessible, you may want to take photos at various stages of growth.
  • Photos need not be printed out; you can bring them in on a digital device (preferred), such as your camera, flash/thumb drive, or SD card. If you don’t have a digital device, prints are fine.

Collecting Specimens

  • Never, never take a specimen sample unless there are ample examples – a minimum of 20 in the immediate vicinity, but 50 or more is better.
  • If the plant is abundant, take roots and all, if possible and practical.
  • Alternately, consider taking a single flower and then notes and photos. If it is an unusual plant, you run the risk of harming a very small population.
  • Be careful if collecting seed heads. Invasive non-native plants can be transported inadvertently, or you may introduce a native species that could become “weedy” to you, once growing in a different habitat. Plants with seed heads should be pressed with the book or press sitting in an open plastic bag that will capture released seeds. Once the plant is thoroughly dried, close the bag securely.
  • Let the specimen partially wilt – it presses and dries much more easily. Usually you collect in a plastic bread sack or similar bag that is large enough, so you don’t have to bend or crush it too much. Do not leave the specimen in plastic for more than a couple of days, or it may begin to rot.
  • Use a stack of material, an old phone book, or something that is relatively rigid and large enough to press without a lot of folding or bending of the specimen. 8.5 X 11 is minimum, larger for larger plants.
  • Spread out the specimen on newspaper or other absorbent paper with minimal overlap and all parts as flat as possible – particularly the flowering or reproductive parts of the specimen.
  • Use newspaper layers with rigid material (cardboard, tag board, or other heavy duty water absorbent papers) below and above the specimen. Use multiple layers to make a sandwich for multiple specimens over time.
  • It takes practice to lay out specimens, so practice on common material. They also make great pressed arrangements.
  • Include an ID note or paper with notes as described above.

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