Friday, June 19, 2015

Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest





Last week's Flora Wonder Blog was inspired* by ye olde Englishman Humphrey Welch's Manual of Dwarf Conifers, but I suspect that it was tedious for many of you. A dusty tome on conifers – most no longer relevant – can be difficult to swallow, and you would probably have been more engaged with something more attractive...like wildflowers. So I pulled from the shelf Wayside Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest and hopefully this will be a more-fun blog.

*Inspire is derived from Latin in "into" and spirare "to breathe."


The wildflower book by Dr. Dee Strickler promises us "Showy wildflowers along the Roads and Highways, Trails and Byways of the Pacific Northwest." As you can see from the map above – with the risk of plagiarism, since I copied it with good intention from the book – Strickler takes the broad view of "Pacific Northwest," and extends it to Montana, Wyoming and the northeast of Utah. I am an outdoors kind of guy, and I know a few things about native plants, but I have to admit that I have never seen, or can't remember seeing many of the plants contained in the book. All of the (pretty good) photos are of flowers, and I suppose I may have passed many of the plants when they were out of bloom.

























Sarcodes sanguinea


One plant that I definitely have seen is Sarcodes sanguinea, commonly known as the "snow plant" as it blooms soon after the snow melts in spring. Strickler writes, "This spectacular, all red plant can be mistaken for no other and, once seen, cannot be forgotten." That's exactly how I felt when I first saw it when hiking in Southern Oregon with my then girlfriend, and later that day we allowed our ardor to consume us. Sarcodes contains no chlorophyll, and it feeds itself with decayed duff from the forest floor, as do other saprophytes. It is a parasitic plant in the sense that it receives nutrients and water from mycorrhizal fungi which are present on a tree's roots. The flower spike in return provides fixed carbon to the fungus, a symbiotic relationship known as mutualism. The generic name Sarcodes is derived from Greek sarkodes which means "resembling flesh" and the specific name is from Latin meaning "blood-red." Wow!





















Olsynium douglasii




























Olsynium douglasii


Catherine Creek

Sisyrinchium douglasii is now known as Olsynium douglasii according to Strickler, but I have no clue why it receives its common name of "Grass widow." He relates that "If a member of the iris or lily families appears to have six uniform petals, they will in reality be three petals and three sepals, collectively called tepals." I don't know, they all look alike to me. Olsynium is a small perennial herbaceous plant rising from a bulb, and my favorite place to see  them is at Catherine Creek along the Columbia River Gorge. It was discovered in 1826 by David Douglas near Celilo Falls on the Columbia River, twenty miles or so downstream from Catherine Creek. It can cover great acreage on the slopes, and as you hike the area you try your best to not step on any. Occasionally you will spot an albino form; but you don't set out to "find" one, as that won't work. If it wants to be seen it will let you know.


Smith Rock

Calochortus macrocarpus


Calochortus macrocarpus can bloom from white to lavender or purple, and is found from dry open prairies to moderate elevations in the mountains. This photo was taken at Oregon's Smith Rock State Park which is world-famous for rock climbing. Personally I don't climb steep cliffs, but it's fun to watch the knarly dudes from below. Like the Olsynium, Calochortus is a bulbous perennial in the Liliaceae family, and it is commonly known as the "Sagebrush mariposa lily." The bulb tapers like a carrot and Native Americans ate them raw or cooked, but I've never tried one. Be alerted, however, as some species of Calochortus are toxic, and those were given as presents to their enemies. Who discovered C. macrocarpus? The same guy who found the Olsynium, David Douglas. The generic name is from Greek for "beautiful grass," a name that sounds much better than "widow grass." If you ever get the urge to collect C. macrocarpus, or any of the other 65 western species, you must keep the bulbs completely dry from mid-summer to late fall. Also you need to protect them from gophers, moles and squirrels, as with all bulbs in Liliaceae family – and we have learned that the hard way, from experience.

Lilium columbianum

Lilium columbianum rendered artistically

Lilium columbianum is commonly known as "Tiger lily," a beautiful species that I used to see in my Buchholz Nursery woods before the ivy and blackberries prevailed. I first discovered the lily as a young boy on fishing trips with my father, along moist stream banks amongst the "salmonberry," Rubus spectabilis. As with the Calochortus mentioned previously, L. columbianum was eaten by Native Americans and it is reported to have a peppery taste, but I can't bear the thought of digging up a beautiful plant to test its taste. You'll be happy to know that it is pollinated by rufous hummingbirds, Selasphorus rufus, and also by the swallowtail butterfly, Papilio eurymedon. Although my photo above is rather puny, the species can produce up to 30 flowers per stem, and I wish that I could know of a source to purchase bulbs, for I would attempt to grow it in the Flora Wonder Arboretum, especially since I haven't seen it in my woods for at least fifteen years. Did you know that the name lily is from Greek leirion, then to Latin lilium, then to Old English lilie? The lily word is used in the Old Testament to translate the Hebrew shoshanna, and in the New Testament to translate the Greek krinon, the latter a name for the Crinon genus. Strickler goes biblical when he quotes from Matthew 6:28: Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they never toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.


























Xerophyllum tenax


Xerophyllum tenax


Xerophyllum tenax can be found in western USA states and Canada and is commonly known as "Indian Basket Grass" or "Beargrass." It resides at mid-level elevation, and blooms between June to early August. Strickler comments that "Beargrass is the official flower of Glacier National Park. Rocky mountain goats eat the tough evergreen leaves in winter and many game animals feed on the succulent flower buds and stems in spring. In the early days Indians wove baskets, cloth and utensils from the coarse leaves." On one hike I used to regularly take on Mt. Hood, the beargrass was normally encountered at the 4,000' – to – 5,500' range, and in some years it was photographically thick but in other years it wasn't so abundant. I was amazed to learn, years ago, that X. tenax was not a true grass, but is rather classified as a lily in the Order Liliales and is related to the genera Trillium and Paris. The botanical name is derived from Greek xeros for "dry" and phyllon for "leaf," and the specific name tenax is Latin for "grasping" or "tenacious." And yes, it is also a food source for bears. I'll never forget one time on Silver Star Mountain in Washington state, when one early-spring the wind was howling which caused the dry flower spikes to spear me in the face, and I had to cover my eyes when walking.

Oplopanax horridum

Oplopanax horridum
Oplopanax horridum at Siouxon Creek in Washington state


I encounter the "Devil's Club," Oplopanax horridum* when hiking, and the specific name is due to spines on the under-leaf and stems which would tear you to shreds if you fell into a patch. Flowers are small with five greenish-white petals, but they are not a thing of beauty. The fruit is attractive however for its shiny red color. The Devil's club is found along stream banks and under a canopy of western red cedar, Thuja plicata, and western hemlock, Tsuga heterophylla. Plants display huge palmate leaves and can rise to 15 feet in favorable conditions. I agree with more than one who comments that the plant looks primordial, like it would make dinosaur food. Naturally Native Americans used the plant medicinally, to treat diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. In southeast Alaska the natives would also hang a branch over a doorway to protect the inhabitants from evil. In Alaska hippies and health freaks used to harvest Devil's club as if it's the same as American ginseng, but it's not, and now it is illegal to peddle it so.

*I've seen it listed as horridus also.


Balsamorhiza sagittata

Haruko on Dog Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge...B.C. (Before Children)


"Arrowleaf Balsam root," Balsamorhiza sagittata, is found from British Columbia to California and into Colorado. It is in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, and it can be a marvel to see an entire hillside covered in yellow, such as can be found on Dog Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge. Native Americans used it for treating minor wounds, and also as a source of food – the roots – during lean times. While the large taproot is nutritious it contains a bitter sap, and I have never tried it. It can survive on arid hillsides because of the long root which can grow to a depth of eight feet, and root laterals that grow to three feet.






















Oxalis oregana



Oxalis oregana at Siouxon Creek


Oxalis oregana can bloom white to pink, and the "Redwood Sorrel" makes a luxuriant ground cover on the forest floor. Be careful where you site it however, as it will continue to spread until the end of time. The flowers bloom from April to May in (Oregon), but interestingly it has a habit to not bloom in wet, cloudy weather. Also, it photosynthesizes at low levels of light, and if during a sunny day it receives direct sunlight the leaves will curl downward. When shade returns the leaves will reopen, and this change only takes a few minutes. Sounds to me like a fun nature project with the kids, and if anybody wants a start I'll be happy to supply you. Native Americans were known to eat the leaves, although they contain a mildly toxic acid, and my father taught me that they could be eaten in case I was stranded in the forest.

Eschscholzia californica


Eschscholzia californica is the "California poppy," and it can also cover entire hillsides. It is also California's state flower. California is known as the "golden state," but the name has nothing to do with the gold rush or to rich movie stars in Hollywood, but rather due to the poppy. In fact it was selected as the state flower by the California State Floral Society in 1890, and April 6th of every year you can celebrate California Poppy Day. Again, Native Americans used the leaves medicinally, and if you chew on it you'll receive a sedative, anxiolytic (non-anxiety) effect. E. californica has received the RHS's Award of Garden Merit, and now there are cultivars which range in color from purple to white. The plant was named by the German botanist Adelbert von Chamisso for his friend and colleague Johan Friedrich von Eschscholtz when they were on a scientific expedition in California around 1815.

Lewisia rediviva


Lewis & Clark
Lewisia was named for the famous explorer who led the Lewis and Clark Expedition to Oregon from 1804-1806, but don't worry because William Clark also has a genus named for him (Clarkia). Lewisia rediviva, a member of the purslane family, is the state flower of Montana. Its roots are also edible, but you guessed it—not so tasty – for its common name is "bitterroot," which the French trappers referred to as raceme amer. To the Cheyenne Tribe it was called mo otaa heseeo otse which translates as "black medicine," and some tribes thought the taproot had special powers such as being able to stop a bear. Geographically, the Bitterroot Mountains run from north to south and separate Montana from Idaho, and the photo above was taken in southern Idaho. Lewisia rediviva thrives on rocky soil with little or no moisture, and the low-growing genus is perfect for the rock garden. The specific name rediviva occurred when a plant was sent to England which arrived in a withered state; but to everyone's surprise it revived, then thrived.

Holodiscus discolor

Holodiscus discolor is known as "Ocean Spray" or "Mountain Spray," and in fact there is a bush of it along Vandehey Road, just steps away from the nursery. The common name is due to the pendulous creamy-white flower clusters which reminds one of waves breaking on the ocean shore. Eventually the flowers turn to an ugly brown, but they remain on the plant and provide seeds for birds throughout winter. While the blossoms are attractive I would never plant the 15-foot bush in my landscape, and in fact, I have never seen it used in any garden. The Lummi Tribe used the flowers as an antidiarrheal and other tribes use the branch wood – also known as "Ironwood" – for making tools like digging sticks, spears, arrows, harpoons and nails. This member of the rose (Rosaceae) family receives its generic name from Greek meaning "entire disc," in reference to a section of the flower, and discolor is due to it being "two colored" with leaves green above and gray below.

Let's face it: flowers are more fun than ancient conifers, and hopefully I have made up for the previous blog. But don't forget that conifers flower too, but just express themselves in a different way. The Flora Wonder Blog is not necessarily provided for your amusement – though I hope it does – but primarily as an autobiography of what I have seen and subsequently learned.

"Thank you Talon, and even though you can be long-winded and trivial, I do appreciate your efforts."

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