Category Archives: Northwest Natives

Native plant information and updates.

Arbutus menziesii

Arbutus menziesii, or the Madrone tree, is a beautiful tree native to Western Washington.  On a recent trip to Orcas Island I didn’t see any Orca whales but I kept spotting this amazing tree.   The most striking feature is the cinnamon red peeling bark in contrast to the young chartreuse green bark. The leaves are evergreen, alternate, oval and leathery.  The flowers are white, urn-shaped in large clusters, turning to orange-red berries enjoyed by birds.  This tree is not often found in the homeowners landscape, but it occurs naturally on dry, sunny rocky sites, especially around Puget Sound.  Arbutus means Strawberry Tree in Latin and menziesii is in honor of Archibald Menzies, a Scottish surgeon, botanist and naturalist.

I’m especially intrigued with the green bark.  It’s so vivid and bright.  I wonder about photosynthesis and what the advantage is to the tree to have such stunning bark.  Bright green to red to peeling away. And then ready to start all over again. I like this tree.

Clarkia pulchella

This is the first year I’ve grown Clarkia and I’m a believer now.  We grew it from seed for our plant sale at school and I was not impressed with its beginnings.  It was floppy and rangy and never could decide whether to grow up or down.  I transplanted four starts to a nursery pot and there was trouble.  Over the following month, three of the four starts withered and died.  They appeared to be suffering from too much or too little water, the leaves just collapsed and the entire plant died.  After talking with a few others who brought this plant home from the sale, I found that their Clarkia suffered similar fates.  We came to the conclusion that the young, tender roots do not like being disturbed, as watering was consistent.   They just don’t like transplanting. One person who took the Clarkia home has left it in the tiny little four-pack and she says it’s doing great!  So why does this little native resent having it’s roots disturbed?  Discovered by Lewis and Clarke, the journal entry by Lewis states that Clarkia pulchella was found in Idaho ‘on the steep sides of the fertile hills’.  That clue leads me to believe that it requires excellent drainage and perhaps rich potting soil absorbs too much moisture?  Hard to say for sure, as this is my first season growing Clarkia. The seeds are reported to germinate extremely well for gardeners.  I really like the flower show as it spills out of the pot and it’s been blooming for over a month.  Clarkia blooms in early summer and is an annual.  It reaches 6-18 inches in height (or length) and is a native to the Western US. I’m looking forward to growing it again next year!



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.”


Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

It was summertime, deep into July.  I heard this haunting melody and was captivated.  I wondered if we had a visitor from another world.  With some help from a good friend I discovered it was the Swainson’s Thrush, a visitor in our woods for only a few months.  The call is heard in the early morning and late evening, just when the sun in making it’s entrance and exit to the day.  This bird is rarely seen, but the the song is not soon forgotten.  It has an upward, spiraling melody that is haunting and beautiful.  It’s a happy reflection on a cold and dark winter day.  To learn more, visit All About Birds, from Cornell as we wait for the days filled with light and the Swainson’s Thrush to return again.


Pearly Everlasting


Our cat is a true horticulturist. He loves plants. Whether it’s the smell or the texture, Pearly everlasting, or Anaphalis margaritacea, is completely irresistible to Sprite.  He rolled in it, sniffed it, rubbed it and was blissfully happy to be part of this lovely native plant.  Who knew that nature has created another catnip?  I see it blooming now in the ditches on the side of the road.  That’s a tough place to live so this must be a tough plant, and deer resistant too.  We should bring it into our gardens. I wonder if it would take over?  I’m sure Sprite would take care of that!  Donna at Gardens Eye View has done a wonderful post about this plant which you can read here.

Just the Facts
Zones 3-8
Height 1-3 ft Width 1-2 ft.
Blooms July to August
Full sun to part shade
Herbaceous Perennial
Native to North America
Easily grown, prefers dry, sandy conditions


Pearly everlasting growing in a weedy ditch.

Spring Ephemerals

Spring ephemerals.  I love this name.  It makes me think of wildflowers and dragonflies.  Tissue paper and birthdays.  Raindrops and  moonlight.  The name refers to those short-lived spring flowers that make a momentary yet glorious appearance in the early spring and go dormant in the summer.  Trillium is a well-known spring ephemeral, but there are many others that I was recently introduced to at the 2014 Northwest Flower and Garden Show.  I went to a talk by Susie Egan of Cottage Lake Gardens and her enthusiasm is contagious.  I only bought one plant at the show and it was the erythronium pictured below.  My first spring ephemeral!

Just the Facts:

Erythronium revolutum      Fawn Lily, Trout Lily, Dog Tooth Violet
Zones 3-9
Natural Range: Pacific Northwest
Soil: Moist to summer dry, humus rich, well drained
Light: Part shade, sun
Height: 6-12 inches (15-30cm)
Attributes: Deciduous. Clumping. Showy white flowers with yellow and orange-red center. Shimmering silver mottled foliage.

The following list of spring ephemerals is from Susie Egan of Cottage Lake Gardens:

Western White Trillium, Trillium ovatum, Harbinger of spring and beloved native wildflower often brings back fond childhood memories of spring in the woods, fragrant white flowers that age to pink/purple.
Giant Trillium, Trillium chloropetalum var. giganteum, Stunning trillium native to California with flower most commonly in burgundy red colors, difficult to find but worth the search.

Fawn or Trout Lilies
Pink Fawn Lily, Erythronium revolutum, Elegant pink flowers with golden anthers and golden rings within, beautifully mottled strap leaves.
Pagoda Fawn Lily, Erythronium tuolumnense ‘Pagoda’, Popular hybrid (cross between E. Tuolumnense and E. californicum ‘White Beauty’) pale yellow flowers with highly visible reddish brown central ring with yellow anthers; glossy, deep green leaves, readily available, easily grown and very vigorous, taller than other Erythroniums.

Shooting Stars
Dark Throat Shooting Star, Dedecatheon pulchellum, Western native from the North Cascades, most floriferous, magenta flower with large white spot and dark ring at base, the tube is yellow here joined and has purple-black near tip, loves moisture.
White Shooting Star, Dedecatheon meadia forma album, Such a cute wildflower, this is the white flowered form of the eastern pink shooting star, flower looks like a shooting star, nose cone and all.

Wood Anemones
Robinsoniana Wood Anemone, Anemone nemerosa ‘Robinsoniana’, Popular cultivar with slate-blue buds that open to pale lavender blue with golden stamens.
Vestal Wood Anemone, Anemone nemorosa ‘Vestal’, White with double white pompom in center, the ‘Belle of the Ball’, very popular and always sells out at my plant sales.

Single Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, Called ‘bloodroot’ because its roots contain a red-orange sap used as a natural dye by native Americans, has fragile daisy-like flower with yellow center and distinctive deeply lobed leaves.
Double Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis f. multiplex (syn. S. canadensis ‘Flore Pleno’, Exquisite double white flower with waterlily-like appearance, worth seeking out.

Hacquetia epipactis, The cutest plant! Small, unique yellow flowr with chartreuse petal-like bracts that later turn green. A real charmer.
Hacquetia epipactis ‘Thor’, A variegated cultivar, a treasure if you can find one.

Pasque Flower
Pulsatilla vulgaris, Blue-purple, red or rarely white flowering perennial with hairy stems and foliage and dramatic fuzzy seedheads.
Pulsatilla vulgaris cultivars, P. vulgaris ‘Red Clock’-red flowers, ‘Alba’-white flowers, ‘Papageno’-frilly, feathery flowers.

Merrybells or Bellwort
Uvullaria grandiflora, Eastern wildflower that has yellow dangling twisted flowers about 2 ft. tall, looks nice massed in natural groupings with blue spring blooming perennials.

Vanilla Leaf
Achyls triphylla, Wonderful native deciduous groundcover with leaves that look like butterfly wings and white bottlebrush flowers, slow to get established but eventually forms a beautiful colony. Hard to find considering it is a native plant.



Erythronium ‘Pagoda’

Dan Hinkley’s Top 25 Plants

Last week at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show there were some amazing seminars and Dan Hinkley was one of the best.  He presented this list of his top 25 plants, or the plants he will always have in his garden.  I’m excited about these plants, especially my favorite, the Dove Tree!  Check out some old favorites from the Pacific Northwest as well as the strange and unknown from the far corners of the world.

Pacific Northwest Natives
Erythronium revolutum   Glacier Lily
Camassia leitchlinii   Quamash
Arctostaphylos densiflorus   HE McMinn Manzanita
Arbutus menziesii   Pacific Madrone

Pink Fawn Lily

Glacier Lily

Davidia involucrata   Dove Tree
Magnolia wilsonii   deciduous and fragrant
Sassafras tzumu   Chinese Sassafras
Stachyurus salicifolia ‘Sparkler’   Winter Spike
Hamamelis mollis   Chinese Witch Hazel
Hydrangea aspera   Plum Passion
Hydrangea angustipetala   Golden Crane fragrant
Mahonia   Lionel Fortescue
Helwingia japonica and Helwingia chinensis   ( berries form on leaf blade )

Herbaceous Perennials
Beesia deltophylla   purple new growth, clumping, evergreen, for shade only
Disporum longistylum Green Giant, bamboo like effect to 5′ in height, non spreading
Cypripedium formosanum  the best terrestrial orchid for use in the PNW
Mukdenia rossii   Crimson Fans, for moist soils, brilliant red foliage color as summer progresses

The Dove Tree

The Dove Tree

Corydalis solida George Baker ( brick red flowers, late winter, spring ephemeral
Cyclamen hederifolilum autumn flowers, winter foliage

Magnolia insignis  evergreen, large pink goblets for a long period in early spring
Schefflera alpinia   Hardy Schefflera (Schefflera taiwaniana from Taiwan )
Edgeworthia chyrsantha   deciduous ‘daphne’ used for paper production

Holboellia coriacea ‘Cathedral Gem’
Holboellia brachandra white flowers, large edible fruit
Aristolochia kaempferi   (clever pollination strategy of ‘collecting’ living gnats inside flower )

Grevillea victoriae winter flowers, hummingbird attracting, orange/red flowers
Acacia pravissima evergreen tender, late winter soft yellow flowers, quick to establish
Leptospermum scoparium  evergreen, lovely bark, summer flowers of white



New Zealand
Olearia cheesmanii white flowers fragrant of coconut oil, self cleansing, evegreen
Pseudopanax crassifolius and P. ferox  lancewoods with long narrow foliage with clever protective strategy from predation by Moas

Embothrium coccineum  Chilean Fire Tree
Drimys winteri ‘Pewter Pillar’
Gunnera chilensis  Giant Prickly Rhubard  (herbaceous perennials with enormous foliage )
Lobelia tupa  Red flowers on tall stems, highly attractive to hummingbirds

South Africa
Eucomis pole-evansii   giant pineapple lilly
Melianthus major ‘Antanow’s Blue’  Giant Honey Bush
Agapanthus species and cultivars, Lily of the Nile with late summer flowers of rich blue
Dierama pulcherrimum   Wand Flower
Rhodocoma capensis   a hardy ‘Restio’ grass relative with graceful arching stems of evergreen foliage to 5′

Helwingia japonica

Cymbidium iridioides