Outdoor Storytellers: Native Plant Woman Lillian Pethtel

SPOKANE — Have you ever wondered how and why a plant is distinguished as a native? KXLY 4’s Dan Barth has the answer in outdoor storytellers. Native plant woman Lillian Pethtel

It makes a lot of sense, as it relates to this story, that flowering plants greet you while driving into the town of Kamiah, Idaho.  There is a 96-year-old woman living here that can tell you which plants really belong. 

“A native plant is a plant that has grown in the state of Idaho that has no contracted origin in any other place,” Native plant woman Lillian Pethtel says

Lillian Pethtel was born in 1912, graduated high school in 1929, settled in Kamiah with her husband Tom in 1945 where she continued chronicling her passion of native plants and wildflowers.

“I needed the loneness. It was a part of my life, you see.  It was one of the reasons I expect that I took to the garden because the plants don’t talk back to you. They don’t sass you,” Lillian laughs.

It was 35 years ago that Lillian began her most ambitious project.

“In 1973 I was appointed by the national garden clubs to be indigenous plant chairman.  The first thing that I did was to list all the states and all the plants that they had chosen,” Lillian recalls.

Lillian went out collecting each plant and finding a sample then recording it in a pressing.  She officially registered over 2,000 plant, listing each native species, and learned a few things along the way.

“The apple itself has Kaopectade. It’s a medicinal, one of the most medicinal things in the fruit line. So an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” Lillian laughs.

So the adage goes, but because of Lillian Pethtel, the official state and federal listing of what is and what isn’t a native plant, can be traced to its roots thanks to her work.

In Kamiah, Idaho for Outdoor Storytellers, I’m Dan Barth KXLY 4.