Book Review – Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

— This review by Anne Raver first appeared in WildfloraRI, Spring 2019

Robin Law Kimmerer begins Braiding Sweetgrass with the story of Skywoman, who falls from a hole in the Skyworld, clutching a bundle of branches with many fruits and seeds. She hurtles downward, in a shaft of light, where there was only darkness before, toward the murky water below. Many eyes in the sea are watching, and geese rise up to break her fall, holding her in their soft feathers. A great turtle offers his back for her to step upon, a muskrat dives deep into the water to bring a handful of mud from the depths below. Skywoman spreads the mud on the turtle’s shell, scatters the seeds in her hand, and dances the world from brown to green.

Kimmerer, a botanist and member of the Citizens Potawatomi Nation, combines science and the knowledge of her indigenous ancestors to contemplate the devastation that we humans, particularly descendants of the first white settlers, have wrought since first setting foot in the so-called New World (which, as Kimmerer points out, was only new to Europeans and other immigrants; to native inhabitants, it was as ancient as the creation story).

Kimmerer is a distinguished professor at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY, where she also founded and directs the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment. The center works with tribal partners and students to integrate traditional ecological knowledge with scientific research for restoration and sustainability projects.

Kimmerer also is a poet and a storyteller, and Braiding Sweetgrass weaves together many threads– stories of her childhood, of her own children, of her graduate students, of desecrated lands and healed ones—with the page-turning power of a beautifully written novel. At the same time, her mind, sharpened by both science and the observational skills of her tribal elders, is constantly analyzing the particulars of any given situation, be it the near extinction of wild salmon in the Northwest, or the chemical toxins that Allied Chemical poured into Onondaga Lake, or the day her daughter refuses to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school. (Kimmerer recalls her own childhood participation in the puzzling ritual, with its reference to God and the republic: “And you didn’t have to be an eight-year-old Indian to know that ‘liberty and justice for all’ was a questionable premise.”)

As a Potawatomi, Kimmerer considers plants and animals her teachers; she was listening to the trees long before scientists discovered how they communicate through pheromones in the air and mycorrhizae, a vast symbiosis of fungi and roots beneath the forest floor. Sweetgrass, or “wiingaashk, the sweet-smelling hair of Mother Earth,” was one of the plants that Skywoman clutched in her hand, the day she fell out of that hole in the sky. It was a gift, just like all the other plants, just like the land itself, to be passed from hand to hand shared but never sold. A metaphor for sharing and reciprocity, rather than taking from the earth and others, Sweetgrass calls for a radical shift in consciousness.

As a teacher and activist, Kimmerer offers many examples of people working together to restore balance to the earth—to bring back salmon to their spawning grounds, to restore polluted lakes and salt marshes, to simply learn to listen to the plants and animals.

Rhode Island Wild Plant Society sponsors pollinator garden at Kelly House Museum

LINCOLN – Walkers and cyclists will have something new to see as they pass by the Kelly House Museum in Lincoln after members of the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society planted more than 160 native plants in a new pollinator garden at the site last Friday morning.


How Native Plant Cultivars Affect Pollinators – Lisa Lofland Gould Lecture

How Native Plant Cultivars Affect Pollinators

This lecture was originally scheduled in November.  It has been rescheduled for Sunday, January 23, 2022 at 3:00pm. The webinar will now be via a Zoom Webinar platform. If you registered for the original session you need to reregister.  New registrations are also welcome.

Click here to REGISTER

Native plant species are often recommended to provide optimal foraging and nesting habitats for pollinators and other wildlife. The growing demand for native plants, coupled with the horticulture industry’s desire for plants with unique characteristics, has led to the increased breeding and availability of native cultivars or “nativars”. But do native cultivars provide the same valuable habitat as the straight native species? Annie White will share her field research on this topic and discuss the complex benefits and challenges of using both native species and native cultivars in landscape design.

Annie White is an Ecological Landscape Designer and the owner of Nectar Landscape Design Studio in Stowe, Vermont. She is also a full-time Lecturer of Sustainable Landscape Horticulture + Design at the University of Vermont.  Annie earned an MS in Landscape Architecture from the University of Wisconsin—Madison in 2005 and a PhD in Plant & Soil Science from The University of Vermont in 2016. She is passionate about designing cutting-edge and science-based ecological landscapes at all scales—from urban backyards to rural agricultural landscapes.

This lecture is underwritten by the Lisa Lofland Gould Native Plant Program Fund and sponsored Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, Rhode Island Natural History Survey and University of Rhode Island, Master Gardener Program. 



Workshop: Create a Terrarium with Native Plants

Have you ever seen a terrarium built from native evergreens?

Now’s your chance to make one for your own holiday table.

In this workshop learn how to make and cultivate a mini-ecosystem with native evergreen plants. Your terrarium will be an actual living mini-cultivating garden to be enjoyed throughout the winter and either planted outdoors in spring or kept to enjoy as a treasured indoor native plant terrarium. The native species being used in the project include ethically harvested native mosses, and partridgeberry plants cultivated from bare-root specifically for this workshop.

This workshop leaders, RIWPS members; Jennifer Fallon, Nathan Lamb, and Pat Cahalan, will cover the habitat, growing conditions and general characteristics that made some of our native plants, ferns and mosses, suitable for terrariums.  They will explain how to create a natural filtration system using charcoal as well as different materials and techniques. Additionally they will discuss container options including open vs. closed systems.

Location: University of Rhode Island Greenhouse

Limit 20 participants.  Registration required.  See below.

Fee: $50.00 members, $60.00 non-members

All materials will be provided.

  • 3 quart Apothecary glass container with lid
  • Pea gravel
  • Activated charcoal
  • Barrier filter mesh
  • Potting soil
  • Mitchella repens, partridgeberry plants – 1 per terrarium
  • Assorted native mosses

A reminder e mail including directions to the workshop will be sent to participants a few days before the workshop.


Workshop: Become a Citizen Scientist for the Bumblebees

Join Dr. Robert J. Gegear from UMASS Dartmouth for a workshop on what you can do to maximize biodiversity conservation in your own backyard by creating and sustaining pollination systems at risk of local extinction.

Dr. Gegear, who spoke at the Lisa Lofland Gould Lecture in the fall of 2019 about his research on the decline of bumblebees, and how citizen scientists can contribute to his Beecology Project, will lead this four-hour workshop on how to collect data on these species, take photos and/or videos of them, as they gather pollen from native plants, learn to identify them and note their behavior.

Participants will also learn how to assess the ecological value of pollinator and plant assemblages at different spatial scales, select native flowering plant species that maximize biodiversity, and hone their skills for contributing to the Beecology citizen science project.

The workshop will be in the meadow of long-time RIWPS member, Susan Marcus. Bring your lunch. We will provide iced tea, lemonade and water.

Rain Date. September 26, 2021 at the same time, 10 am to 2 pm.

Suggested resource: The Plight of the Bumblebee, article by Anne Raver about Dr. Gegear’s Lecture

Fee $25.00 RIWPS members, $33.00 for non members.  Not yet a member? JOIN NOW
Limit of 15 participants

Registration required.



Beechwood Lecture: Capturing the Native Garden in Art

Journal Sketch, Frances Topping

The Beechwood Lecture Series returns!  The first speaker in this 2021 series, offered jointly by the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society and University of Rhode Island Master Gardener Program is Frances Topping, naturalist, artist and educator. She will focus on why nature journaling and sketching are perfect for naturalists and gardeners to record finds and explore items and fix them in your memory. Observation is key to learning about a plant, animal or place, and sketching encourages us to really look and awaken an interest in the diverse areas of the natural world. We need to know our native plants and where they live in order to preserve their habitats and sketching can aid that exploration.

In this presentation Frances will examine some plant specimens together with the group, share some of her sketchbooks, discuss some easy equipment suggestions and sketching techniques, and lead a workshop in sketching for the group. Please bring along some paper and a pencil and a magnifying glass if you have one and join in the fun!

Frances Topping grew up in England and developed a love of nature and art early. She has studied, geography, botany and zoology, graphic design and illustration at the Natural Science Illustration continuing education class at Rhode Island School of Design. She is a member of the Rhode Island Wild Plant Society, the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, American and New England Society of Botanical Artists chapter and the National and New England chapter of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators and several art organizations locally. Her website includes her botanical art, landscapes and sketches.

All talks in the Beechwood Lecture series are offered at no charge and are open to the public but registration is required.  Master Gardeners who attend can receive educational volunteer hours.

To register, contact Abigail Clark, Volunteer/Program Coordinator, at the Beechwood Center for Life Enrichment 401-268-1594 or

Beechwood Center is located at 44 Beach Street; North Kingstown, RI 02852  Google Driving Directions


Upcoming 2021 Lecture


10/20/21            Composting with Worms            Monique Bosch

Signs of Spring: iNaturalist


Even in a normal year it feels like spring cannot come soon enough and in this year of COVID it is even more true.  So, let’s get outside and look for early signs of spring together.  Together?   Well yes, in a way.   You can use the iNaturalist app on your phones to identify plants.

We have created a project on the app RI Signs of Spring where we can share our photos.  It will be fun to see plants as they come into bloom/bud across the state.   The project begins on February 1.

Don’t know how to use iNaturalist?  We have you covered.  Check out the instructions on the iNaturalist site and/or join us for a zoom session on February 4 at 7 pm with Sally Johnson who has been using the app to become a better naturalist.

Register for zoom session

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.


Watch on Recording of Previous Programs/Events

Join a conversation with ecologist Doug Tallamy, as he discusses his latest research and most recent book, Nature’s Best Hope: A New Approach to Conservation that Starts in Your Yard. RIWPS member Anne Raver will lead off with some key questions about Tallamy’s work over the past 20 years, including his vision for a Homegrown National Park, which could grow to millions of acres, if individuals exchanged at least part of their lawns and many of their nonnative ornamentals, for native trees, shrubs, perennials, grasses and groundcovers. These native plantings provide crucial habitat for many endangered species, including pollinators and birds.

But that’s only part of Tallamy’s vision: imagine connecting your yard with your neighbor’s, and on down the street, planting natives in the green verges along the sidewalks, on the edges of public playgrounds, in parks and countless other spaces now occupied by privet, yews, Japanese maples and all the other nonnatives that native insects can’t eat.

RIWPS members will have a chance to submit their own questions to Tallamy, a tireless speaker and educator, and longtime professor in the Department of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware.

Anne has followed Tallamy’s work, since she interviewed him about his first book, Bringing Nature Home, in 2008, during a visit to his 10-acre property in Oxford, PA, where he and his wife, Cindy were then battling invasive species and planting their first natives. (see interview)

Tallamy’s new website,, summarizes much of his research, lists the most important native species to plant for wildlife, offers a collection of essays and videos, and includes an interactive map, in which you can register your own native habitat.

Register below to join A Conversation with Doug Tallamy. We ask that participants prepare for this conversation by  familiarizing themselves with Doug Tallamy’s work, his books, especially Nature’s Best Hope, and watching one or several of his videos, available on Homegrown National Park ,which bring

to life the fascinating relationships between particular insects and the plants they evolved with through the millennia. (Tallamy loves photographing these weird and wonderful caterpillars, moths and butterflies, and his love for them is contagious.) He also recounts gardeners around the country, who report astounding rebounds in insect and bird life, as they transform their yards for native species. (One woman, observed 103 species of birds, including a woodcock, on her one-tenth acre, adjacent to O’Hare Airport, in Chicago.) A recent webinar for Penn State, not on the website.

Sumbit your questions in advance to

• Not a member?  Join now
• Not sure if your membership is current. Contact