Also check out my articles on the Westside Home & Garden Blog:
Also check out my articles on the Westside Home & Garden Blog:
The Pacific Northwest is ideal for growing many kinds of edible berries. There are many native species that produce delicious berries that people go out of their way to collect. Many people have favorite berry patches that they return to year after year to harvest nature’s bounty. By planting these species in your landscape, you can have quick access to these flavorful treats!
Native peoples ate berries fresh and dried (like raisins), cooked, mashed and dried into cakes, or they preserved them in fats such as oolichan grease made from a small, smelt-like fish— their olive oil! Today we may eat them fresh, in desserts, baked into muffins or pies, or made into jams, syrups or wines.
Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis, is one of the earliest berries to ripen; some patches have tastier berries so keep sampling! Blackcap Raspberries, R. leucodermis, are good in jellies and syrups. Thimbleberrries, R. parviflorus, are seedy, but can be eaten fresh or dried. Dewberry or Trailing Blackberry, R. ursinus, is our only native blackberry, its small, sweet berries are refreshing in late summer.
Oval-leaved Blueberries, Vaccinium ovalifolium, are highly regarded; they fruit early in July after Salmonberry. Black Huckleberry, V. membranaceum, is one of the most delicious, found mid-summer to fall at middle to high elevations. Cascade Huckleberry, V. deliciosum, also found in subalpine meadows, is worthy of its species name. Dwarf Blueberry, V. caespitosum, found in low elevation bogs and subalpine wet meadows is said to be the “most preferred” blueberry. Red Huckleberry, V. parvifolium, is a favorite, on-the-trail, snack for hikers. Lingonberries, V. vitis-idea, are well-liked by natives of Alaska and BC as well as Scandinavia. Small Cranberries, V. oxycoccus, are found in bogs along the coast. Evergreen Huckleberries, V. ovatum, although usually small and black, some are bigger, like blueberries; they are said to taste sweeter after the first frost. All are good baked in muffins or they can be collected along the trail for a great addition to your morning pancakes when you are backpacking!
Along with Evergreen Huckleberry, Salal, Gaultheria shallon, is one of our most plentiful natives. It is very sweet, but its texture is rather mealy. It is good mixed with other, tarter berries in jellies or preserves.
Saskatoon Serviceberries, Amelanchier alnifolia, are sweet, eaten fresh, used in baking or made into jams or jellies.
All of our strawberries produce edible berries, albeit smaller (but often more flavorful) than commercial strawberries. Coastal or Beach Strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis, is used in hybridizing and is a parent of many cultivated varieties. Many prefer Wild Strawberry, F. virginiana. Wood Strawberries, F. vesca, are somewhat dry, but are good added to rhubarb pies!
Currants native to the east side of the Cascades such as Golden Currant, R. aureum, and Squaw (or Wax) Currant, R. cereum, are good-eating. Black Swamp Gooseberry, R. lacustre , Wild Black Gooseberry, R. divaricatum, and Stink Currant, R. bracteosum, are also edible.
Blue Elderberries, S. caerulea, are used to make a tangy jelly or wine. Because raw berries cause nausea, the berries should always be cooked.
Pacific Crabapple, Malus fusca, and Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum edule, were both harvested by natives in fall and stored in boxes with water and oil, the tart fruits became sweeter over time. Highbush cranberries can be blended with other cranberries to make sauces and preserves.
Soapberries, Shepherdia canadensis, although bitter, can be mixed with water, whipped to a froth, and then sweetened with salal berries.
Always be careful when eating wild berries. Make sure they are identified correctly before you enjoy the eating any of these flavorful fruits!
Of the about 150 “Species of Concern” (Endangered, Threatened, Sensitive, or Candidate Species) listed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, 25% are birds, 21% are mammals, 21% are fish, 15% are insects (10% butterflies or moths), 7% mollusks, 6% amphibians, and 5% reptiles, with one listed annelid: the Giant Palouse Earthworm! These are just the species that people have noticed, either because of their economic significance, their “cute and cuddly” factor or simply due to the fascination of individual hobbyists and scientists. You can visit the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife for a complete list.
Botanical gardens and arboreta perform the same functions as zoological gardens (“zoos”). Although historically, they both were primarily created by avid collectors for amusement, now both strongly focus on education and conservation.
Home gardeners are also often motivated by the urge to collect beautiful, interesting, or exotic plant species. The cultivation of rare plants in home gardens can help preserve species as long as it is done responsibly. The well-known Gingko tree, probably would not have survived if Chinese monks had not started cultivating them in their monasteries over 1000 years ago!
Rare species are not often found in nurseries, except in states where they are more common. Gardeners should purchase plants, bulbs or seeds only from a reputable nursery (one that documents the sources of their stock). Many of our favorite cultivated flower bulb species are now rare or extinct in their native lands (mostly Eastern Europe) due to overcollection. Collection of wild plants should be done sensitively. Some plants such as many of our native orchids, have complex, semiparasitic life strategies and will not survive transplantation, so are better left alone. Others can be propagated by judicious collection of seeds or cuttings. The digging of a whole plant should only be done if it is in danger by development, or if other methods are not viable—as long as there is a large enough, sustainable population at the collection site!—and you have permission of the property owner.
There are over 400 rare vascular plants tracked by the Washington National Heritage Program of the Department of Natural Resources. Listed separately are about 80 mosses, 130 lichens, 30 marine algae, and 60 macrofungi. It is important to note that even though a plant is listed as rare in Washington, it may be common in other states. Of the 31 rare plants listed for Pierce County, 16 are only known due to historical records.
About 10% of the rare plants in Washington are sedges, rushes and reeds with another 5% miscellaneous water plants; 9% are grasses; 7% are ferns. Few are woody species: several willows, a raspberry, some alpine heather-relatives, a currant, a gooseberry, a hawthorn, and a species related to chestnuts: the Golden Chinquapin. Many rare plants are weedy-looking species that would have very little appeal to the home gardener, however many species are related to well-known cultivated species: several daisy-like fleabanes and asters, campanulas and lobelias, lupines, gentians, blue-eyed grasses, alliums, evening primroses, saxifrages, monkey flowers and penstemons, a nicotiana, and a violet. Click here for a complete list and more information on each species.
The listing of endangered species is useful to help us identify critical habitats. Although the extinction of any single species is a sad event (excluding diseases and certain “pest” organisms), even more important is preserving habitat. As humans continue to encroach into “undeveloped,” wild areas, habitat preservation and restoration become more and more important to preserve the “web-of-life” on which we all depend. That is why growing and planting native plants is one of my passions!
(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on June 16, 2010 as Should gardeners grow endangered species locally?)
Native plants may be propagated by seed or by different methods of asexual propagation. A little bit of research can help you to determine the best method for each species. Learning and using methods that have been used successfully by others, will increase the chances of your own success.
Seed propagation is the preferred method to ensure genetic variability, or when greater numbers are desired. Many seeds, however, are not ready to germinate directly after ripening on the mother plant. They often need to go through chemical or physical changes before they are able to grow.
Stratification: Many of our native plant seeds need to go through a cold period before they will germinate. Some need a warm period prior to the cold period (especially those that ripen earlier in the summer). This kind of seed treatment is called stratification from the Latin “to layer.” The easiest way to stratify seeds is simply to mimic the conditions the seed would encounter in nature. For many plants, simply sowing the seeds in the fall and leaving them out through the winter will work. If you need to, you can stratify seeds by placing them in a moist media, in a partially open bag (for gas exchange) in a refrigerator for the appropriate amount of time, but seedlings that germinate in the bag before planting, often do not fair well.
Scarification: Some seeds have a very hard seed coat that prevents them from absorbing water or oxygen. In nature, these seeds would go through a process that would break through this hard seed coat. Often seeds that are contained in a fruit would pass through the digestive system of an animal. Some seeds, where forest fires are common, need heat to melt resins to be released from their cone or they need to be burned slightly to weaken the hard seed coat. The word scarify, means “to scratch” in Latin. To mechanically scarify seeds, you can rub them with sand paper, notch them with a file, or crack them with a hammer, being careful not to damage the embryo. Seeds are also sometimes scarified by soaking them in acid or hot water.
Seeds that you have sown often need to be protected from foraging rodents and birds. Covering them with a floating row cover may discourage birds and keep out weed seeds, too. Covering the trays with hardware cloth or another tray with small mesh openings may also help discourage birds and rodents; it may be necessary to set out traps, bait or repellents. Emerging seedlings and cuttings may also need protection from slugs and rabbits.
Asexual propagation: The most common method of asexual propagation is by stem (sometimes root) cuttings. Cuttings may be dipped in a hormone treatment such as IBA (indolebutyric acid) to aid in rooting and then stuck (right side up!) in an appropriate media, such as sand, peat moss, vermiculite, perlite or regular potting soil. More difficult plants may be propagated by layering; where a branch that is still attached to the tree or shrub is bent down, and covered with soil to encourage root growth. Wounding by scarring or notching the bark prior to burial may aid this process. Division: Plants that produce many stems or spread by rhizomes may simply be dug up and divided as long as each piece has sufficient roots to sustain it.
All of these propagation methods require the appropriate temperature, moisture and light levels. Misting and bottom heat may be beneficial.
Growing new plants that will enhance your landscape or revegetate natural areas is very rewarding. Especially when you can watch the plants grow through the years! Unfortunately, I do not get to see many of the plants that I grow at the nursery mature; but I have the satisfaction of knowing they are helping to improve the ecology of our region by providing food and cover for wildlife, helping to combat pollution by filtering our watersheds and reducing global warming by sequestering CO2!
My native plant encyclopedia, http://nativeplantspnw.com gives some basic propagation procedures for each species that had been uploaded so far. For more detailed information, a link is given to the Propagation Protocol Database, http://www.nativeplantnetwork.org/Network/ if available.
(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on November 10, 2010 as Propagating native plants for your backyard habitat.)
People rely on plants for many things. We use them for food, building materials, medicine, clothing, dye, cosmetics, in rituals, and more. Ethnobotany is a branch of anthropology that studies the use of plants by native peoples. Unfortunately, historically, western civilization has horribly mistreated many herbalists, usually women, who used their knowledge to benefit their community. Due to their position of respect and power, they were often looked upon with suspicion by church leaders and branded as witches. Conquering armies and colonists also had little respect for the knowledge of “primitive” native peoples.
Erna Gunther’s “Ethnobotany of Western Washington” was the first and is still an often used resource on the use of plants by Pacific Northwest natives. In the 1930’s, she interviewed both women and men. Women knew the food and medicinal plants; men knew the materials in nets, fishing gear, and woodworking. Another good resource today is the University of Michigan database of Native American Ethnobotany.
The northwest could be called the “berry capital of the world,” due to the preponderance of berry bushes. Native peoples ate berries fresh, dried like raisins, cooked, mashed and dried into cakes, or preserved in fats such as oolichan grease extracted from a small fish. The most important berries for eating were Salmonberry, Salal, huckleberries, Thimbleberry, Oregon Grape, Serviceberry, elderberries, and strawberries.
Bulbs and roots were also important foods; the most important was camas. Except for Salmon, no article of food was more widely traded. Bulbs were dug in the late spring and cooked in a pit, sometimes dried after cooking and cached in baskets in trees. Undercooked camas causes severe gas & flatulence, as members of the Lewis & Clark party painfully discovered; cooking breaks down the complex sugar, inulin, to fructose. The roots of Wapato was also cooked, dried, and eaten with fish.
Western Hazelnuts were readily available if a person could beat the squirrels to them. Native people that lived near Oregon White Oaks would soak acorns to leach out the tannins or they would bury them in baskets over the winter and eat them in the spring.
The most important tree for native people was the Western Red Cedar, also known as Giant Arborvitae or “tree of life.” The wood was used for building long houses, totem poles, canoes, cradles, etc. The bark was made into clothing, mats, diapers, etc. Limbs were twisted into rope. Baskets were made from the roots. Alaska Yellow Cedar was used similarly by natives in BC and Alaska. Douglas Fir, Western Hemlock and alder were also used for making tools and for firewood. Yew wood, prized for its strength and elasticity, was used to make tools and weapons, particularly bows. Oceanspray, known as “Ironwood” in English, was used for tools and utensils; it was made harder by heating it over a fire and polishing it with horsetail stems.
Many plants were used in basketry and for making mats and rope including Vine Maple, willows, Red-twig Dogwood, Trumpet Honeysuckle, Beargrass, Slough Sedge, Cattails, and Tule or Hard-stemmed Bulrush. Large leaves such as Thimbleberry, Big-leaf Maple, and Sword Ferns were used as containers or to line cooking pits or drying trays.
Cascara bark has long been known as a laxative, willow bark a pain-reliever. Yarrow and Devil’s club, a relative of Ginseng, were both used for various medicinal purposes.
It is sad when knowledge of the cultural uses of native plants is lost and not passed on to younger generations—we need to thank ethnobotanists for preserving a treasure trove of historical plant knowledge and lore.
(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on June 6, 2012)
We share many of our Washington native plants with British Columbia and Alaska, and/or Oregon and California. The ranges of some species extend to the Rocky Mountains; others reach across North America to the east coast. A few are circumpolar, found throughout the northern latitudes of Europe and Asia, too. Historical distribution, geographic features, climate, and competition all influence the current distribution of species.
Fossil evidence indicates that 50 million years ago the climate of the Pacific Northwest was warmer, much like the tropics of today. 15,000 years ago, there were huge floods as ice age glaciers melted. Changes in the earth’s climate directly influence the number and distribution of species. There have been many extinction events in the past 4.5 billion years; there will be more in the future.
Global warming is a concern due to its potential impact on human populations and the agricultural crops and livestock on which we depend upon for survival. No one can predict the ultimate consequences of climate change, but we should try to make smart choices regarding food security and limiting population growth. Hopefully, our children, grandchildren, and future generations will not have to fight, tooth and claw, for limited resources. – And be able to experience the beauty of the natural world–however changed it might be.
By planting a diversity of landscape plants, including those tolerant of warmer temperatures, such as California species, you may be creating a habitat that could be a refuge for many wildlife species so that they can survive climate change, too.
Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, and Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron gigantea, both grow well here in the northwest. Incense Cedar, Calocedrus decurrens, looks a lot like our Western Red Cedar, but with coarser branchlets and a narrower crown. California Nutmeg, Torreya californica, is a slow-growing conifer related to the yew with longer needles and a greenish to purple fruit.
There are many California oaks, Quercus sp., both trees and shrubs, including the “live oaks” (evergreen oaks). A related tree is the Tanbark Oak, Lithocarpus densiflorus; it has leathery leaves and acorns. The Golden Chinquapin, Chrysolepis chrysophylla, is an evergreen tree related to chestnuts.
The California Bay Laurel, Umbellularia californica, also known as Oregon Myrtle, is a tall evergreen tree with fragrant, lance-shaped leaves and wood used for carving. –Not to be confused with Pacific Wax Myrtle, Myrica californica, a fragrant evergreen shrub.
The California Buckeye, Aesculus californica, has fragrant, candelabra-like, cream-colored flower plumes. The California Sycamore, Platanus racemosa, is a large tree with maple-like leaves, and smooth, twisting branches. Silktassel, Garrya elliptica, has long greenish-yellow catkins in early spring; male plants have longer, more impressive catkins.
California is home to most Manzanitas, Arctostaphylos sp., and Wild Lilacs, Ceanothus sp., both are mostly evergreen. Manzanita species vary from groundcovers to large shrubs. All have the characteristic urn-shaped white or pink berries, followed by red or brown berries. They are well-known for their red to purple peeling bark. Wild Lilacs also vary from low, spreading species, to upright shrubs. As the common name implies, most have powder-blue to deep violet-blue flower clusters (some are white).
Western Azalea, Rhododendron occidentale, has fragrant, white to pink blossoms. Spicebush, Calycanthus occidentalis, has brownish-red waterlily-like flowers with the fragrance of “an old wine barrel.” Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, has small, magenta flowers in early spring, followed by reddish-brown seed pods.
It may be difficult to find some of these plants—if you get any from Oregon or California, it is important to buy nursery plants that are certified free from “Sudden Oak Death Syndrome.”
(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on June 16, 2010.)
What is a native plant? Native plants are plants that grew naturally in a region prior to possible introduction by settlers during territorial expansion. They were not brought here from other countries or regions either intentionally or accidentally. Depending on the scope of the discussion native plants can have a wide definition, including the entire United States or a narrower one including only those native to a particular region. For our purposes, we will concentrate mostly on those native to the northern Pacific Coast from sea level to the Cascade Mountain Range (northern Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and southern Alaska).
Why landscape with native plants? Native plants are better adapted to soils and climate. They usually require less irrigation and less maintenance. With some exceptions, native plants have fewer disease problems. Native plants attract native wildlife. Insects and other invertebrate pests become less of a control problem if there are enough birds, bats and snakes in your habitat to keep them under control. Native groundcovers can discourage the spread of invasive weeds. A natural landscape can also be left alone to regenerate itself through natural systems of pollination, seed dispersal and germination. Native Plants visually “fit” better in local landscapes than exotics; and can be used to create enchanting, woodland landscapes. Many are very attractive. Some native plants, such as the Red-Flowering Currant, have been reintroduced after cultivated varieties were developed in Europe.
If your goal is to improve the ecology of your landscape, then a large percentage, at least 80% or more, of it should be natives. It only makes sense to provide the food, cover and nesting plants with which local animals have co-evolved. Although some exotic plants may be highly attractive to animals, they are the “candy” that can be useful to entice them to check out your habitat. Whereas, the native plants are the “staples” that will keep the animals coming back or staying, including your habitat as part of their territory! You do not need to be a purist and can enjoy a few of your favorite exotics as long as they are not invasive or will otherwise ultimately cause problems. I usually like to plant my summer annuals in containers so they remain separate and easier to maintain.
Purchasing Native Plants: Many retail nurseries now sell some native plants, but they are often limited in the quantity and species available. It is best to find a nursery that specializes in growing and selling native plants. Because some native plants do not transplant well, you will have better success with smaller plants that have been grown in containers. A list of native plant nurseries can be found at the Washington Native Plant Society Website. Many nurseries have websites where they post what they grow and what is currently available, but it is best to call first to verify availability. A reputable nursery will only sell container-grown materials or will let you know if the plants were wild-collected legally with a permit. Many county conservation districts hold annual native plant sales, where larger quantities of small bareroot plants can be obtained relatively inexpensively.
Collecting Plants in the Wild: Before collecting plants in the wild it is important to get permission from the owners of the property. Plant collecting in National Parks is strictly prohibited (permits are issued only for educational or research purposes). In National Forests, you need to check with the local ranger to find out what can be collected and whether you need a permit. State parks generally have strict guidelines that, for the most part, only allow plant removal for maintenance purposes. Whenever collecting in the wild, it is important to be conscientious and only collect where large populations exist and collect only what you can use. The collecting of seeds or cuttings for propagation is preferred over digging the entire plant. Some plants, such as most of our native orchids, are better left alone. Because of complex symbiotic or semi-parasitic relationships, these plants will not survive transplantation. The best places to collect native plants are sites that are soon to be cleared for development. There are native plant salvage organizations that use volunteers to go in and rescue plants from these sites. It is a good way to claim some plants for your own landscape!
Seed collection and preparation: Seeds should be collected at the appropriate time, when pods, cones or fruit have ripened sufficiently. Pods, capsules or cones can be collected just before seeds are released– further drying will often cause them to open so the seeds are easily shaken out and collected. If the seed capsules are already open and still contain seeds, the seeds can be shaken into a bag. The preparation of seeds contained in fruit is more time-consuming. The fruit needs to be macerated (softened and mashed). Sometimes it helps to allow the fruit to begin to rot in a bag or to soak in water. To extract the seeds from the fruit, gently mash the fruit to separate the pulp from the seeds in a bowl of water. Most viable seeds will sink to the bottom and can be separated by swirling the pulp and water mixture and successive decantations, leaving the seeds on the bottom of the bowl. Some seeds, such as Salal, will float and even resist the surface tension of the water, and need to be skimmed off the surface of the water. (Sometimes it is easier just to mash the fruit and spread it, pulp and all, onto the growing media.) For some species, seeds from fruit should not be allowed to dry out but should be planted immediately or stratified as necessary. For plants that produce nuts, such as hazelnut, it is often difficult to find ripe nuts before squirrels or other animals. Sometimes nuts are produced that have no viable seed inside, therefore, before going to the trouble of planting these, the nuts should pass the “float test.” After placing the nuts in a pail of water, only plant the ones that sink to the bottom. You may crack a few open to check to make sure the test worked properly.
(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on Sep 16, 2009)