Here & Now: Bioregionalism

Adrienne Domingus
17 min readOct 8, 2022

We all might do well to remember that names are one measure of how one chooses to inhabit the world. — Lauret E. Savoy

Salal leaves and berries

Three years ago, I didn’t know any of the plants that live around me. The plants, more accurately, that I live among. I didn’t know them by name, by sight, nor by their place in an ecosystem. After deciding it was time for me to learn, I spent some time on the internet — as one does. I learned that English Laurel was a common choice for evergreen living hedges and had become invasive. It has broad, flat green leaves, and I mistook salal for it. Salal is a native shrub that is also evergreen with broad, flat leaves, though less shiny and oblong than laurel. It’s subtle though, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, to the brain that has not yet built the inroads for pattern matching. I learned that English Holly, also invasive, has waxy, evergreen leaves, sharply pointed, and mistook Oregon Grape for it. Oregon grape leaves are similarly sharply pointed and can be waxy, though it doesn’t grow to be a tree, and its leaves are directly opposite each other, while holly leaves alternate on a branch. I mistook salmonberry for Himalayan blackberry — at least those are both in the rubus genus. It’s interesting to look back and realize that the only plants I knew the names of were invasive ones: education and outreach programs by the county and parks departments were working, I suppose, and this is good, but it does make you wonder. Wonder if there’s a more holistic picture that could be drawn and shared instead, one that doesn’t leave the people who are willing to learn only knowing what doesn’t belong without knowing what does, or could.

Soon after we moved out of the city, to a place where plants seem more relevant (their relevance actually unchanged, only their prevalence, and therefore their visibility has changed), a woman from the county agriculture extension office came and walked around our land with us and taught us about the plants. Most of her job was to visit homeowners who wanted to cut down a tree to open up their view of the water or build a new garage and were begrudgingly complying with the requirement that the environmental impacts be considered, and the project aborted if the impact was too great. The extension agent seemed delighted to be able to teach us things like “sedges have edges, rushes are round, grasses have…