North Coast Chapter - CNPS

Pacific Union Native Plant Arboretum

by Carol Ralph

In the spring of 1994 a group of inspired volunteers undertook to transform a portion of the playing field behind Pacific Union School into a patch of native habitat. We wanted a place for students, teachers, and community members to become familiar with local, native plants, to observe things in nature, and to enjoy a natural setting for relaxation or inspiration.

Guided by the expertise, vision, and aesthetically pleasing plan of Tom Stafford, we sculpted hills of topsoil donated by Miller Farms, lay a winding path of pea gravel donated by Redwood Empire Aggregates, and installed native plants donated by and bought and collected from various sources. In a triumph of organization and coordination, students did the planting during school time.

From the scruffy, little plants you could accidentally step on that spring we now have significant shrubbery and a real profile over the 100 x 130-ft triangular area. About 120 species are growing here, from trees and shrubs to ferns and grasses. The richer habitat hosts an increasing abundance and diversity of wildlife: pocket gophers, moles, garter snakes, tree frogs, and over 30 species of birds, to mention just the vertebrates.

Thanks to a suggestion from local CNPS member Bob Wunner after the initial planting, we started to group plants by habitat, all found in Humboldt County. We now have dune mat, dune forest, coastal scrub, riparian forest, redwood forest, tanoak-madrone forest, oak woodland, and coastal prairie. The last two habitats have been hard to develop, partly because I personally am not very familiar with them. Each habitat has developed somewhat serendipitously depending on what species became available and which species survived in the soil and climate we provide.

Today we still try to involve students as much as possible in the on-going maintenance and improvement of the Arboretum. This requires adult volunteers to take small groups of kids out of the classroom, and teachers to schedule appropriate times for them to leave. These are not small requirements, but they are met by 6-10 classrooms each year.

Besides helping with the gardening aspects of the Arboretum students hopefully get some exposure to the place during class or small-group visits to observe, study, or create. Parent Mary Stuart composed a list of possible class activities taking advantage of the Arboretum. This, along with very basic habitat information, a map, and a plant list were given to each teacher. Needless to say, some teachers visit the Arboretum more than others. Often, a little volunteer, adult expertise and assistance is all a teacher needs to make something happen.

Pacific Union School welcomes visitors to its arboretum. In our vision it is a community resource. You can find it straight east behind the bus barns, in the northeast corner of the school’s property, adjoining Mad River Hospital. If you come during school hours (8:30 am - 3:00 pm,), check in at the office. We welcome your suggestions, advice, or plants in developing the habitats listed above. If you want to share your expertise with students, kindergarten through eighth grade, we can find a way for you to do it, on a repeating basis or one time. If you just enjoy a session of rooting out sheep sorrel, in solitude or in company, we want to meet you! If you would like a personal tour, I would be happy show you this exciting place. For any information call me at 822-2015.

The Pacific Union Native Plant Arboretum clearly furthers the goals of the California Native Plant Society, especially on the education front.

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California Native Plant Society - North Coast Chapter
P.O. Box 1067 Arcata, CA 95518-1067
Last updated February 4, 1997