Native plants are the foundation to an ecological landscape that supports all types of life—including humans.
To support our ongoing salmon habitat restoration projects, promote biodiversity, and encourage schools and homeowners to garden with plants native to their community, SPAWN grows more than 100 species of locally native plants in our native plant nursery. From trees such as coast redwoods to shrubs such as canyon gooseberry, every seed is collected within the watershed to ensure we grow the locally native ecotype. We typically have around 8,000 native plants and plugs in our nursery and plant out thousands of plants in restoration projects each year. Additionally, we work with several local schools and community partners to provide shelter and food for wildlife, and support to pollinators which are vital to the balance of ecosystems as well as the production of food.
Native plants provide multiple benefits to aquatic species like coho salmon, a critically endangered species. Water temperature is one of the most critical factors in salmonid incubation and development, and trees provide shade to keep temperatures cool in the summer. Vegetation also helps to stabilize banks, preventing fine sediment from accumulating in the stream, which is another critical factor for spawning as adult female coho need gravel beds to lay their eggs, and fine sediment can smother redds. Native plants, especially those planted close to the water such as willow and creek dogwood, attract insects, the dietary staple of juvenile coho, to the water. Vegetated corridors improve water quality by filtering pollutants from stormwater before it flows into the nearest body of water, provide protection from flooding by slowing water velocity down, and help recharge groundwater by infiltrating water back into the ground.
In addition to growing plants which provide bank stabilization, our native plant nursery is focused on growing plants that provide direct benefits to all wildlife species that utilize the riparian corridor, or the plant habitats and communities along river margins and creek banks. Nearly all wildlife species utilize riparian corridors during their lifetimes. Restoring land, or gardening, with locally native plants provide benefits for multiple species of wildlife. For example, creek dogwood has adventitious roots systems that provide food and cover for the endangered California freshwater shrimp, flowers which provide nectar for a variety of pollinators, and a berry which is coveted by many species of birds. Creek dogwood is also the host plant for the spring azure butterfly and many species of moths. Other plants, such as California aster, yarrow, and grass-leaved goldenrod, provide nectar to many species of butterflies including the endangered monarch.
Our volunteer-powered native plant nursery was created in 2006 when SPAWN volunteers—who were already doing restoration work within the San Geronimo Watershed—decided to start meeting every Friday morning to experiment with propagating native plants. According to Mel Wright, volunteer and former nursery manager, “When SPAWN started as an organization it was clear that restoration work was needed to provide better habitat for the salmon. We used to purchase the plants we used to stabilize the creek banks from local native plant nurseries. We realized that we could grow our own plants and so we decided to give it a try. It was all experimental but we had some good luck and we learned a lot over the years. We had a lot of fun with it, too.” A dedicated group of people, led by Mel, Bill Teufel, and Nancy Hanson—all of whom still volunteer at the nursery each Friday—created a small nursery in the backyard of another volunteer in Forest Knolls. The nursery moved to its present location at 9255 Sir Francis Drake Blvd in 2008 and has organically grown in size and sophistication each year. Today we are joined by hundreds of volunteers, interns, and students every year who help with every aspect of growing native plant species in the nursery.
SPAWN’s nursery is a unique, community-based nursery that depends on the support of hundreds of volunteers who contribute their time and energy to the care of native plants. The nursery is a place where people come together to learn how to grow native plants and how to restore land to create habitat for wildlife. In addition to the support of our volunteers, the nursery works closely with several local schools and with partner organizations including California Native Plant Society Marin, Home Ground Habitats, Broom Service, and Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Additionally, we work in collaboration with and are grateful to the following organizations for the contributions they make to habitat restoration in Marin County, California and beyond: Larner Nursery, Hedgerow Farms, Fibershed, Xerces Society, California Invasive Plant Council, Marin Master Gardeners Native Plant Guild, and Inverness Garden Club of West Marin.