Marin groups tend to natives nursery


A spray bottle filled with alcohol lies near the entrance to a new plant nursery at the Point Reyes National Seashore headquarters, in Bear Valley. The spray is used to disinfect the soles of shoes and defend against phytophthora tentaculata, a deadly plant pathogen that has alarmed Bay Area nurseries over the last few years. 

“There’s a fear of phytophthora tentaculata spreading,” Roxanne Foss, the range management specialist for the seashore, said at the outset of a tour of the nursery’s 20 native species. To prevent the introduction of the water mold, the nursery brings only seeds and cuttings into its operation; roots, bulbs and other underground parts that could be carrying the pathogen aren’t allowed.

Twinberry, red alder and coyote brush are just a few of the native species growing at the operation, a partnership between the seashore, the Marin Resource Conservation District and the Point Reyes National Seashore Association. The plants are meant for use in riparian restoration efforts where factors such as phytophthora tentaculata and eroding creek beds have disrupted certain West Marin environments. 

“It’s a perfect union,” Sarah Phillips, the Marin R.C.D.’s urban streams program manager, said of working with the seashore. The Point Reyes National Seashore Association provided two interns this last year and helped with volunteer outreach. 

In 2014, Ms. Phillips began interviewing homeowners living along the San Geronimo Creek to understand the issues they’re facing; she quickly found a

 “One of the main goals a lot of people shared was to restore streamside property,” she said. Her solution: replenish the areas with native plants. “The more native riparian vegetation we can plant, the healthier the watershed and its inhabitants will be,” she said.

Enhancing riparian habitat comes with a bounty of benefits: reduced erosion, stabilized creek banks, more habitat for local fauna, sequestration of carbon and expanded buffers to help filtrate pollutants from runoff, to name a few.

Initially, Ms. Phillips created a guide to introduce homeowners to native plants and how to bring them onto their properties, but doing so proved pricey for some homeowners. 

“Then I tried to grow native plants myself in my kitchen,” she said. “My landlord probably thought that…I was a crazy plant lady.”

Her efforts faltered, and she realized she needed to establish a proper nursery. For advice, Ms. Phillips turned to a University of California Marin Master Gardener. That’s when she learned the seashore was also looking into starting a nursery. 

Shaded beneath a large, white barn at Bear Valley headquarters, the space had served as a storage area. Now, it’s outfitted with a robust irrigation system and a freshly built shed to house reference books and seeds. 

Ms. Foss, the range management specialist, said the seashore will eventually transport the nursery plants to creek banks in Lagunitas and Olema, where restoration efforts are underway. Erosion in the San Geronimo Valley has led to an abundance of sediment in the creek, harming the nests of coho salmon and steelhead trout. The native plants introduced around Olema Creek will enhance salmonid habitat by bringing vegetation cover on creeks, filtering pathogens and reducing erosion. 

With the seashore managing the nursery’s daily operations, Ms. Phillips has turned her attention to developing a series of free monthly native plant propagation classes. The six-class series will be taught by Charlotte Torgovitsky, a Novato resident and founder of a nonprofit native plant nursery, and will run from May to October. The first class, slated for May 20, will explore pollinators. 

Ms. Phillips said she designed the classes chronologically,  to help people effectively grow native plants one step at a time. She said participants will take home seedlings after each class.

“You’ll never leave empty-handed,” she said. 


The first native plant propagation class, titled “Integrated Pest Management: Good Bugs, ‘Bad’ Bugs and Pollinators,” will be held from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 20 in the Red Barn Classroom at the Bear Valley Visitor Center. The class is free, though donations will be accepted.