Look at this beautiful plant.  Look at the green leathery leaves. Look at the soft fuzzy new growth.  Look at the fine bristly hairs, look at the petite urn-shaped flowers.  Look at those drooping little bells of white and pink. Look at this contrast of tender and tough.  Look at the smooth curve of the leaf and straight line of the stem.  Know this plant, one of the most common plants in the Pacific Northwest.  In the understory of our native forests.  Along roadways and sidewalks and very likely in your backyard if you live here.  Salal, or Gaultheria shallon, is a favorite of mine.  I noticed it today on Mother’s Day when my son gave me a lovely vase of flowers.  ‘Which one do you like best?’ he asked.  I immediately touched the Salal, in the center of the vase, and said ‘this one.’  Past the daisies and lilies I saw the Salal.  It’s used widely in the floral industry, but most people don’t even notice it.  It’s all over the West coast of Washington and some people don’t even know it’s name.  Perhaps they have never been properly introduced to this member of the Ericaceae, or heather,  family.  Well, it’s in full bloom now and bursting with energy as it sends out new shoots and leaves and flowers.  I saw this one last week at the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, a magical place.  I like it best in the Spring when the new leaves are smooth, light green and perfect.  With age they become tough and can show signs of pests and disease.  In late summer the dark blue berries replace the flowers and are eaten by wildlife and humans.  Some day I want to make Salal jam.  Next time you take a walk through a NW forest, appreciate the Salal, often overlooked, but making our part of Washington evergreen.

Just the Facts
Gaultheria shallon    Salal
Height Variable with conditions 2′ to 10′ tall
Creeping to erect, spreads by layering, suckering and sprouting
Hairy branched stems
Leaves alternate, evergreen and leathery, finely toothed
Flowers white to pinkish, urn-shaped, 5-15 at branch ends
Fruits reddish blue to dark purple, edible
Favorite quote from Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Pojar and Mackinnon “You can make a tiny drinking cup by shaping a salal leaf into a cone.”


4 thoughts on “Salal

  1. A beautiful flower. Celebrating our natives is so important — and it most likely is the key to saving the tapestry of our local environments. Happy Mother’s Day!

  2. I saw you post the other day, but had to come back to tell you I came across Salal last night reading The Boys In The Boat by D. Brown. I’ve used Salal in a flower design class but the name didn’t stick until I read about it in your post.

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