Archive for b) Native Plant Gardening

Using Native Trees and Shrubs in the Landscape,

*Plant Selection is the Key!

Complex historical interactions of climate, soils, pollinators, seed disseminators, and herbivory on native flora created the great forest ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. Ecologists call our region the “Western Hemlock Zone.” The idea is that barring any type of disturbance, long-lived Western Hemlock trees will come to predominate as shade-tolerant young trees grow up to eventually replace other trees such as Douglas Fir. Open areas are usually caused by disturbances such as fire, windfall, flooding, logging, etc., but soils may play a part, too.

Sunset Western Garden Book calls our coastal climate zone in the Puget Sound Region “Marine Influence along the Northwest coast.” We have what is called a Cool Mediterranean Climate; relatively warm, wet winters and relatively cool, dry summers. People are often surprised to find out that summers in the Seattle area are usually dry. This is what helps to make Washington “the Evergreen State.” Other regions have rain in the summer. which would usually be considered the growing season. But when water is limited, plants are unable to grow. Having evergreen leaves make it possible for trees and shrubs to photosynthesize whenever temperature and moisture are suitable.

Most of our native deciduous trees and shrubs grow in moister areas near wetland habitats, which could be swamps, bogs & marshes; seasonal ponds; and lacustrine (along lakes), riparian (along rivers), estuarine (where river meets the tide), or seashore habitats. These wetland areas are especially important for wildlife. Deciduous plant species are more likely to need occasional supplemental irrigation in landscapes. As an adaptation some native plants such as Red Alders and Indian Plums may lose some leaves in late summer.

Our native soils are mostly glacial till, mixtures of clay, sand and gravel deposited by advancing & retreating glaciers. Soils in our landscapes can be very diverse depending on the history of the site regarding the accumulation of biomass, biotic (worms, microorganisms, etc.) and human activity. The physical properties of soil affect fertility, water retention and drainage. Traditional gardeners usually strive to create an ideal loamy soil. Even for a wild garden, it may be necessary to amend the soils in your landscape.

*When we are thinking about using native plants, we still need to keep in mind what is necessary or ideal for plant growth. When selecting plants for your site it is important to take into consideration the soil characteristics, how much moisture will be available to the plant, and the amount of sun or shade.

In her WSU extension bulletin, “Are Native Trees and Shrubs Better Choices for Wildlife in Home Landscapes?” Linda Chalker-Scott said her “literature review revealed that with few exceptions, the native status of trees and shrubs had no impact on wildlife biodiversity.” She argued that “wildlife will adapt to new food and habitat sources as they become available.”

It is true, that just as humans adapt to new environments, so can many species of wildlife.  Some creatures, however, may have a more specialist relationship with the plants with which they co-evolved, especially pollinators adapted to collect from more specialized flowers.

By planting native species, we can also avoid the introduction of non-native species which may be wildly popular with native wildlife, such as the highly invasive, Himalayan Blackberry. Another consideration is that birds can transport non-native seeds from landscapes to distant natural habitats. We often can find non-native plants such as English Holly, Laurel and Ivy growing in forests.

I don’t dispute the science, but I would still argue that it is better to use native species when possible. Some people are more purists and try to go 100% native, but I think 80% or so is a good goal. Also, to reduce your carbon footprint, you may want to grow some of your own food plants. Blueberries, raspberries and Asian pears are some of the easiest to grow. You can allow wildlife to share in your bounty, too!

You just need to be careful to choose appropriate plants for the intended location. If there are no appropriate natives to fulfill a certain requirement, then you can start looking for appropriate non-natives. For example, if you need a smaller tree, you might want to try a Japanese Maple. Or if you need a smaller evergreen, you may look for some cultivated conifer varieties.

Whether you want a wild natural habitat or a more formal look, it is important to do some planning to determine which plants are likely to be successful and fulfill the goals that you have.

  • Plant Selection & Design: I always start out by thinking about the site in question and creating a wish list, keeping in mind how many plants I might need and the budget. I am a horticulturist, not a landscape architect, so am not very good at drawing things out.  I usually just have a general idea in my head and place plants out once I get them.
  • Right Plant, Right Place: As I mentioned above, selecting plants for their sun, shade, and moisture requirements is critical for success, Ultimate size needs to be considered. Large trees such as cottonwoods, conifers, alders, etc. may not be appropriate for a small yard.
  • Special Goals: You may have special goals that you are trying to achieve in your landscape such as attracting wildlife (birds, butterflies, etc.), providing food, screens, erosion control, deer resistance, etc.
    • To create a wildlife friendly habitat, you need to provide food, water, cover and places to raise young. Plants that produce showy flowers, berries and nutritious seeds, will attract pollinators, birds, mammals, other creatures and even their predators.
  • Aesthetic Design Elements: We all want our landscape to be beautiful. Basic design elements to consider are focal points, scale, form, texture, color, balance, fragrance, movement.
  • The 4th dimension: It is important to recognize that landscapes are dynamic, constantly changing. When planning our landscape, we want to try and visualize change through time–the seasons, years, decades, centuries…! Avoid trees or shrubs that will get too big for their location.
  • Set out plants: Start with largest plants to create the “framework.” We can always add more understory plants as time and money allows. Then plant following established planting guidelines. Irrigation will be necessary, at least for the first 1-3 years.

There are many native trees and shrubs that have proven themselves as outstanding performers in home landscapes. Here are some favorites:

Alaska Yellow Cedar, Callitropsis (Chamaecyparis) nootkatensis, grows moderately slowly to 80 feet or more. It is often used in plantings close to commercial buildings; best in sun or part shade.

Mountain Hemlock, Tsuga mertensiana, is an attractive, slower-growing evergreen tree. It generally only gets 20-30 feet in gardens; best in sun or part shade.

Pacific Wax Myrtle, Morella (Myrica) californica, is our best evergreen shrub for screening. It can grow 10-30 feet tall and wide but is often kept smaller by trimming or shearing into a hedge. It fixes nitrogen in association with the bacteria, Frankia sp.; best in sun.

Vine Maple, Acer circinatum, has long been recognized as an outstanding plant for landscapes. It is a shrubby tree and can grow to 35 feet tall. Fall color ranges from orange, scarlet to yellow. It grows well in sun or shade.

Red-twig or Red-osier Dogwood, Cornus sericea (stolonifera), is usually grown for its red winter stems and attractive fall foliage. It is native throughout much of the United States and Canada. Many cultivated varieties have been developed; some dwarf varieties, some with yellow twigs, some with variegated leaves. The species generally grows 7-9 ft. spreading to 12 ft. or more. It likes moist areas and grows in sun or part shade.

Saskatoon Serviceberry, Amelanchier alnifolia, is also native across much of the U.S and Canada. It has attractive flowers and edible blue-black berries. It grows to about 20 ft. tall; best in sun or part shade.

American Cranberrybush, Viburnum opulus var. americanum; while not common in our area, this is our version of the European Cranberry Bush, which includes the Common Snowball. It has outstanding fall foliage, beautiful white lace-cap flower clusters and bright red berries. It is best in sun or part shade.

Pacific Ninebark, Physocarpus capitatus, has attractive white flower clusters, reddish dry seed capsules, and peeling brown bark. It grows to 8 ft. tall; best in sun or part shade.

Pacific Rhododendron, Rhododendron macrophyllum, is our native rhododendron. It has evergreen leaves and large pink flower trusses. It grows to 10 feet or more; best in sun or part shade.

Western Azalea, Rhododendron occidentale, is native to Oregon and California, and is very popular with gardeners. It has large fragrant flower trusses, white to pale rose, with or without a yellow blotch. It is a parent to many cultivated deciduous azalea varieties and grows 9-15 ft.; best in sun or part shade.

Indian Plum, Oemleria (Osmaronia) cerasiformis, is our harbinger of spring. Its white flower clusters and bright spring green leaves are a welcome sight after a dreary winter. It grows to about 15 ft; best in part shade or shade.

Red-flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum, is one of our most popular natives. Its pink flower clusters attract Rufous Hummingbirds that are migrating up from Mexico in the spring. It grows to about 9 ft; best in sun or part shade.

Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, has evergreen, often bronzy, holly-like compound leaves. In the spring, it has fragrant, bright yellow flowers and is attractive next to Red-flowering Currant. Its berries make a great jam! It grows 6-8 ft.; best in sun or part shade.  Its smaller cousin, Low Oregon Grape, Mahonia nervosa is a good choice for shady spots.

Pacific Mock Orange, Philadelphus lewisii, has beautiful arching sprays of white fragrant flowers in spring or early summer. It grows to 9-10 ft; best in sun to part shade. It is perfect for forest edges.

Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus, has unusual white berries and is a versatile shrub which tolerates many different conditions. It grows 6-8 ft; best in sun to part shade.

Salal, Gaultheria shallon, and Evergreen Huckleberry, Vaccinium ovatum, are two of our native evergreen staples. Both have edible berries and attractive evergreen leaves, which are used for greens in the florist trade. They both are slow to establish but can eventually get 3-6 ft. or more.

Kinnikinnick or Bearberry, Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, is our best native groundcover for sun (or part shade). It has pinkish-white bell-shaped flowers and red berries. The common name Kinnikinnick is a native word for a plant that was smoked. Both scientific names mean “bear-grape or bear berry.”

Summary: When using native plants in the landscape, like with any garden plant, it is important to select plants that are likely to be successful and fulfill the goals that you have. With climate change coming upon us, we also may want to consider drought-tolerant species that are native south or east of here. Wildlife species may need to find favorable habitats if they are forced to migrate.

The new edition of Gardening with Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest, 3rd Edition by Arthur R. Kruckeberg and Linda Chalker-Scott is now available. (They used 14 of my photos.) Dr. Kruckeberg sat in on many of our seminar classes when I was getting my Master’s Degree at the University of Washington. He often would say that we can’t forget about the native plants and people east of the Cascades!

Native Plant Gardening Index

Using Native Trees and Shrubs in the Landscape

Landscaping With Natives

Edible Native Berries

Ethnobotanical Gardens

Propagation of Native Plants

Growing Endangered Species

Prepare for Global Warming with California Natives

Meaning and Derivation on some Scientific Names of Pacific Northwest natives (PDF)

The Heath Family–Family Ericaceae

Also check out my articles on the Westside Home & Garden Blog:

Water, Wild Plants, and Wildlife–How to Create a Backyard Sanctuary for Wildlife

Best Native Plants for Protecting Your Hillside from Erosion

Scientific Names of Plants Demystified

And B&B online (The Official Publication of Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association):

Not Just Another Native: Unusual and Underused Natives

Edible Native Berries

   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.



Evergreen Huckleberry

Evergreen Huckleberry

    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.


Tall Oregon Grape

Tall Oregon Grape

    Tall Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquifolium, and Low Oregon Grape, M. nervosa, have tart berries. They can be mixed with other sweeter berries and be made into jelly or wine.

    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 Elderberry, Sambucus caerulea

Blue Elderberry, Sambucus caerulea

    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!

Should Gardeners Grow Endangered Species?

    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. 

Golden Chinkapin, Chrysolepis chrysophylla, is listed as a "sensitive" species in Washington State.

Golden Chinkapin, Chrysolepis chrysophylla, is listed as a “sensitive” species in Washington State.

    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?)


Propagation of Native Plants

   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.

Many native plant seeds need to be left outside over the winter. Covering them with hardware or another tray with small mesh openings may discourage seed eaters & herbivores, rodents, birds, slugs, rabbits, etc.)

Many native plant seeds need to be left outside over the winter. Covering them with hardware or another tray with small mesh openings may discourage seed eaters & herbivores, rodents, birds, slugs, rabbits, etc.)

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, 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, if available.



(This article was first published in the Peninsula Gateway on November 10, 2010 as Propagating native plants for your backyard habitat.)

Ethnobotanical Garden; People, plants and plant products


A Cedar Longhouse in Ketchikan, Alaska

A Cedar Longhouse in Ketchikan, Alaska

    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.

Camas Flowers

Camas Flowers

   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.

A "Culturally-modified" Cedar along the trail to Shi Shi Beach on the Makah Indian Reservation

A “Culturally-modified” Cedar along the trail to Shi Shi Beach on the Makah Indian Reservation

  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.



A canoe bailer & berry-picking basket from Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge's Cathlapotle Plankhouse Interpretive Display

A canoe bailer & berry-picking basket from Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge’s Cathlapotle Plankhouse Interpretive Display

    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.

A Tule Mat

A Tule Mat




    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) 

Grow California natives to prepare for Global Warming


Redwoods are the world's tallest trees. They live in the coastal "fog belts."

Redwoods are the world’s tallest trees. They live in the coastal “fog belts.”

    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.

Golden Chinkapin, Chrysolepis chrysophylla

Golden Chinkapin, Chrysolepis chrysophylla

    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.

Wild Lilac or Blueblossom, Ceanothus thysiflorus

Wild Lilac or Blueblossom, Ceanothus thysiflorus

   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.

Greenleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula

Greenleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula

    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.)

Landscaping with Native Plants


My Favorite Native Plant, Red-Flowering Currant, Ribes snaguineum.

My Favorite Native Plant, Red-Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum at YMCA Camp Seymour..

   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.

The Native Plant Garden at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington

The Native Plant Garden at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington


    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)