Zion's secret weapon

SILVER REEF, UT. Margaret Malm is hard to stop. The retired chemist has volunteered at Utah’s Zion National Park for 28 years, and she just keeps going.

Malm was a Southern Californian who first discovered Zion on a visit. She began working as a seasonal volunteer, leading nature walks and slide shows for 12 years, then was hired as a paid ranger-naturalist. When cutbacks eliminated the position, Malm returned to volunteering. “I fell in love with Zion,” she explains.

Over the last few years, her work has taken a particular focus: botany. Zion is a botanical treasure chest, with more than 900 plant species. “Most of these plants are pretty tough,” Malm says, “but they often get squeezed out by exotic species.”

That’s why Malm now spends much of her time on native-plant restoration. One of her first big projects was reducing an exotic species called mullein (Verbascum thapsus) from Zion’s beautiful Kolob Terrace. Armed with a shovel, gloves, and clippers, she fought this pest for two summers, digging up tenacious taproots and lugging out bags full of the plant ― an astonishing 50,000 mulleins in the end.

Since then, Malm has regularly collected seeds of native species, germinated them in the park nursery, and planted them. In her spare time, she leads plant walks and has authored a guide to Zion’s plants.

“I feel that I’ve at least slowed the progress of some of these really bad, invasive exotics,” says Malm. “I’m just balancing the scales for native plants.”

Zion National Park, (435) 772-3256. Sustainable Obtainable Solutions , Box 1424, Helena, MT 59624; (406) 459-3486.

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