OSU Extension forester pivots to video to share wildflower walks

CENTRAL POINT, Ore. – Through the lens of her iPad, Rachel Werling sees blooming wildflowers lining a winding path. Her virtual hike allows everyone to watch as she walks through an oak woodland near Emigrant Lake in Jackson County.

In a normal year, Werling, coordinator of Oregon State University Extension Service Land Steward Program, would be leading people in hiking boots with camera at hand. Not this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Extension’s temporary restriction on in-person events to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Werling had to find another way to teach participants about natural history, fire safety, healthy streams, identifying plants and more. She had thought about incorporating video into her program and this was the perfect opportunity. She posted her first video to YouTube on April 3.

“I’m thrilled,” said Werling, a botanist and natural history enthusiast. “I love our field work and person-to-person sessions, but it was great to have the motivation and space to burnish our online elements. I’m learning to do something we can use for future online educational efforts.”

The wildflower walks are for anyone, but accessibility can be problematic, which was another incentive to make the video. Werling wants everyone to see what she sees and once it’s online she’s met her goal.

“Botany is my dear love,” Werling said. “I love increasing people’s awareness of how important native plants are in the wild and when you grow them in your garden. The hikes came to a screeching halt, but I can still walk on my own and take video.”

Normally, she would be leading an 11-week training – eight sessions in the field, three face -to-face – for rural landowners on how to take care of their land. The Land Steward course uses a multi-disciplinary approach with natural resource professionals contributing to some of the classes. At the end of the training, participants will have created a personalized management plan for their property. Another 16 to 25 classes a year are separate from the Land Steward program. The three to four wildflower walks she gives are part of those classes and open to the public.

“Thank you. Thank you,” said one viewer. “I am disabled and cannot (yet) hike to see these and I am thrilled to see new and old flower friends. This means so much that when I saw the lupins, I cried!”

On her first video, Werling concentrated on shooting the biscuitroots (Lomatium genus), which are in the carrot family (Apiaceae). She identifies fernleaf biscuitroot (L. dissectum), rock parsnip (L. californicum), desert parsley (L. utriculatum) and nine-leaf desert parsley (L. triturnatum).

Werling also taped a few plants not in the carrot family, including Pacific hound’s tongue (Adelinia grande) and western buttercup (Ranunculus occidentalis).

She chose to shoot Lomatium because they are an early spring blooming plant that are an important host plant for pollinators such as swallowtail butterflies. Many plants in the genus were important food sources – thus the common name biscuit roots – and medicinal plants for indigenous people. Their starchy roots go down as far as 18 inches and easily withstand a summer without water, making them a great choice for waterwise gardens. Aromatic foliage and architecturally interesting flowers called umbels are a bonus.

“The video is an uplifting thing,” Werling said. “It’s nice for people to see the wild world out there. I will keep making videos. Depending on how long the pandemic lasts, I plan to possibly post webinars online, too.”

Next Werling hiked the East Applegate Ridge trail (also called East Art), also in Jackson County. It’s spectacular now, she said, with lupins (Lupinus), California poppies (Eschschoizia californica), red bells (Fritillaria recurva) and balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea) in bloom and the vibrant green oak trees glowing in the sunshine with the snow-covered highlands of the Siskiyous in the background.

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