Through outreach and school programmes, the Kootenay Native Plant Society in British Columbia, Canada,
brings awareness to the high cultural and ecological significance of camas (Camassia quamash, itxwa) in
May when this flagship species is in full bloom.
Photo courtesy of Mike Graeme.

By Brenda R. Beckwith, Eva M. Johansson, and Valerie J. Huff .

Read the full paper here.

Native plant gardening is promoted in popular media and the scientific literature as an easy way for people to protect biodiversity, support pollinators, conserve water, and maintain healthy ecosystems. There are, however, significant obstacles for people wanting to connect with native plants, in their home gardens and in nature. Home gardeners expect plants to be readily available in nurseries, garden centres, and other retail outlets, but very few native plants are sold commercially. Wild plants are expected to look and act like their domesticated cousins who have been bred for traits seen as desirable in gardens such as pretty flowers and reliable growth. Native plants are not as predictable as typical garden plants and may be perceived as weedy or untidy. Finally, a general lack of plant knowledge and limited exposure to wild plants in their natural settings has led, in general, to an underappreciation of plants and their conservation needs.

In British Columbia, a small environmental non-profit organization, the Kootenay Native Plant Society, has been working to address these barriers and strengthen people-plant connections for the past ten years. Our programmes developed from outreach and educational activities to more place-based and interactive programs. Initial outreach activities including wildflower walks, school field trips, and public talks did not result in people’s adoption of native plants and deeper plant engagement was needed.  We implemented a flagship species approach showcasing a charismatic native plant, camas (Camassia quamash, itxwa), resulting in greater appreciation for camas, though this strategy rarely translated to broader native plant conservation by residents. We then developed more specialized programmes that trained participants in native plant propagation and gardening and supported collective learning as co-contributors in the development of people-plant connections. 

We learned that our journey to connect more people with native species and get the plants into West Kootenay gardens was a pathway toward a community of practice. Building long-term people-plant connections required us to adapt and provide of a wide variety of activities developed over time. The issue was not simply a lack of locally available native plants and people’s lack of native plant appreciation and knowledge. Our learning process was more complicated, requiring us to better understand people’s relationships with plants. The cultivation of a community of practice is a shared pathway that supports a community of people who practice good stewardship and are empowered to advocate and grow native plants.