The Grow Native! Professional Member Conference, held virtually this year on November 4, 2020, is an annual gathering of Grow Native! professional members and their staff to learn about current native plant-related research, projects, and opportunities. During the event, Grow Native! Chair Ronda Burnett recognized Mary Voges of Litzsinger Road Ecology Center (LREC) with the 2020 Grow Native! Ambassador Award. The Grow Native! Ambassador Award recognizes an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the advancement of the use and promotion of native plants and native plant landscaping in the year the award is presented.
“Mary will retire later this year after 19 years of service at LREC. But her real love through the years was being responsible for native plant horticulture at the site,” said Dr. James Trager, who was one of many who nominated Mary for the award. As Dr. James Trager wrote in his nomination, Mary always strove to learn more about the native plants in her care and their roles in native plant communities. Her success at LREC came from her passion and dedication to producing diverse and abundant native plant material from seed every year. In addition to material used directly at LREC, particularly important to her was providing plants to teachers that could be used to develop schoolyard prairies and native/pollinator gardens, but beyond this, Mary always planted extra, with the thought that these could be given to LREC’s dedicated volunteer corps. The volunteers always appreciated the plants and gave them good homes in their own yards, where the plants and their spokespeople could serve as native plant ambassadors in their own right. Thus, LREC became an educational site whose influence reached far beyond its borders, to become an educational resource for the greater St. Louis and suburban community.
The Grow Native! program is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020. Although the conference has been offered to professional members only in previous years, the event was open to all in 2020. Attendees heard from five speakers about the carbon storage capacity of prairie plants, native landscaping with trees and the ecological value of trees, and native landscaping challenges for municipalities.