April 11, 2023

UCalgary alumna aims to preserve and educate people about the importance of native plants

Time spent in the herbarium gave Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed the tools needed to run a company
Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed at work for ALCLA Native Plants.
Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed at work for ALCLA Native Plants. Tatiana Losev

Did you know that native species of plants are the main supporters of biodiversity and wildlife, including pollinators and birds? 

Native plants are plants found on the landscape prior to European contact, and they are ideal to plant in Alberta because they are climate adapted and drought tolerant. 

Due to the tremendous impact native plant species can have on the ecosystem, a University of Calgary alumna is doing her part in preserving these important species. 

Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed, BSc’09, has been running ALCLA Native Plants with Red Seal journeyman horticulturalist Ben Hartney since 2019, when they took over the business from Dr. Al and Pat Fedkenheuer.

“We have over 150 species of grasses, wildflowers and shrubs,” says Pelletier-Ahmed. "We source a lot of seeds regionally and we are interested in preserving local genetic material and being as ethical as possible in our sourcing."

Botany degree critical to career success

The company sells the live plants and seeds in person by appointment and through its website, and also provides consultation and educational services for people looking to put together gardens or learn about native plants. 

Pelletier-Ahmed credits her botany degree from UCalgary as being critical to her career success. 

“I’ll never forget Taxonomy 441; without that class, I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing now,” she says. 

Pelletier-Ahmed does the plant identification for ALCLA, and it was through her UCalgary course and her experiences in the herbarium that gave significant skill in the field. 

Along with plant identification, understanding plant biology and morphology were all foundational skills she picked up during her Bachelor of Science degree that have come in handy in her career, and she also passes them along to others by teaching around the city.  "All those foundational skills, those are things that are in my mind every day."

Keen on plants

She still maintains a connection to the school and the herbarium as well, having recently used it to help identify a rare species of arnica in the ALCLA collection. 

UCalgary was where Pelletier-Ahmed realized she was keen on plants as well, as she recalls the time in an introductory biology class where she found her passion. 

“I’ll never forget being in that class learning about plant cells, and everyone around me thought it was so boring, but I was riveted,” says Pelletier-Ahmed. 

She acknowledges the importance of trying new things in science, as taxonomy and plant identification are things she never would have thought of as being areas of interest coming out of high school. However, a project researching wild bergamot, or bee balm, opened her eyes to all the uses of plants, including their edible and medicinal purposes. 

“I’m really into ethnobotany,” she says.

I love teaching people about the edible uses of the plant and the medicinal uses of the plant and learning from Blackfoot Elders and Knowledge Keepers about it.

“It was this one project that really was the spark for a lifetime interest.”

She feels a sense of place at the university thanks to the knowledge gained here and the relationships she made with professors, like Dr. C.C. Chinnappa, PhD, director emeritus of the herbarium and a professor emeritus of plant biology who she keeps in touch with. 

“I have such a sense of care for the U of C, and the herbarium and those spaces,” says Pelletier-Ahmed. “The U of C was a home for me, and it still feels that way.”

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