Native Plant of the Week

Each week throughout 2017 the Port is featuring one native plant that can be found along its properties. The Port uses these 52 featured native plants along with others as part of its sustainable landscape management program.

Look for these native plants along the Port's properties:

Common Name:  Common Juniper
Scientific Name: Juniperus communis
This juniper is sometimes a small tree but locally it is a prostrate evergreen shrub with training branches that are usually less than 1 meter tall and spread to 3 meters in diameter. The leaves are short sharp needles arranged in whorls of three. They are dark green above and whitish below. This plant is dioecious with separate male and female plants. The female plants produce 1 cm round berry-like cones. The cones are covered with a waxy bloom and are pale green at first then maturing to bluish-black in 2 to 3 years.

True to its name, this plant is spread over much of the globe. It is the only circumpolar conifer of the northern hemisphere. This plant is propagated by birds that eat the fruit and spread the seeds they can’t digest. The fruits are used medicinally as a diuretic and for flavoring food dishes and gin.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Common juniper is found on dry open slopes with well drained soils, gravelly outcrops and lowland bogs. It is at the Port Plaza in the bed adjacent to Anthony’s Home Port restaurant.
Common Name:  Snowberry
Scientific Name: Symphoricarpus alba
Snow Berry

Snowberry is a bushy rounded shrub 0.5 to 2 meters tall with numerous ascending shoots and opposite-branching stems. The dull green leaves are opposite and generally oval in shape but are often lobed on young shoots. They grow to 5 cm long. The flowers are small (5-7 cm) white to pink and bell shaped that grow in small clusters that are mostly terminal. The 2 seeded fruits are small (1cm) white berry-like drupes that are persistent through the winter.

Snowberry has excellent soil binding qualities and tends to form thickets making it a great plant for erosion control. Deer and elk browse the foliage. The flowers attract butterflies. The fruits are eaten by many birds (though not favored) and may be an important food source for wildlife at winter’s end. The berries were not eaten and considered poisonous by aboriginal peoples but were used medicinally. The Chehalis rub the berries on the hair as soap. They bruise the leaves and apply them to a cut as a poultice. They boil the bark and roots and drink the tea three times a day as a cure for venereal disease. The Skagit use the bark as a remedy for tuberculosis. The Klallam boil the leaves for a cold cure.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: It is commonly found throughout our region in open forests, roadsides, thickets, river terraces, and along beaches. It can be found at the Port’s native garden at the corner of Marine Drive and Olympia Avenue, in the OAR building landscape, in numerous shrub beds throughout Swantown Marina, and at our undeveloped properties in Tumwater.
Common Name:  Garry Oak
Scientific Name: Quercus garryana
Garry Oak
This stately heavy limbed tree can grow to 25 meters tall and 20 meters wide but is often small and shrubby. Its light gray bark is thick and scaly with furrows and ridges. The alternate, oblong leaves are borne on 2.5 cm petioles and are deeply round-lobed with 3 to 7 lobes per side. The leaves are shiny dark green above and paler and hairy below. They turn a dull yellow-brown in the fall. The tiny inconspicuous flowers bloom as the leaves appear in the spring. The male (staminate) flowers appear in hanging catkins while the female (pistillate) flowers bloom singly or in few flowered clusters. The fruits are 3 cm long acorns with scaly rough-surfaced caps. The acorns are not consistently produced every year.

The Nisqually, Chehalis, Cowlitz, and Squaxin used the acorns as food. The acorns were stored in baskets and buried in the mud of a slough all winter to leach out the tannins. They were dug up in the spring and eaten. The Klallam ate them with no preparation. The bark is one ingredient in the Saanich “4 barks” medicine used for tuberculosis. The Cowlitz also boiled the bark as a cure for tuberculosis. They used the wood for digging sticks, combs, and fuel.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: This tree generally occurs in open prairie country in our region. The Port’s most conspicuous oak is the Davis-Meeker oak at the Olympia Regional Airport on Old Highway 99. This amazing tree is on the City of Tumwater’s historical register and is estimated to be over 400 years old. There a numerous other small groves on the Port’s properties surrounding the airfield.
Common Name:  Ocean Spray
Scientific Name:  Holodiscus discolor
Ocean Spray

This member of the rose family is an erect deciduous shrub with multiple arching stems that grow 4 meters tall. The young stems are ridged and the older ones have brown peeling bark. The alternate pubescent leaves are obvate, coarsely toothed or lobed, and up to 7cm long. The tiny, whitish, 5-petaled flowers are borne in dense, drooping, 20 cm long panicles at the branch tips. The fruits are tiny light brown achenes. The old panicles turn brown and often hang on the plant through the winter.
This plant, commonly called ironwood, is great wildlife habitat for butterflies and birds. The native tribes had many uses for the strong hard wood. Heated and polished with horsetail to make it stronger, it was used for digging sticks, harpoons, salmon barbecuing sticks, bow and arrows. Before nails, ocean spray pegs were used in construction. The Saanich, Lummi, and Stl’atl’imx steeped a tea from the brown fruiting clusters as a cure for diarrhea, especially in children. The tea was also used for measles, chicken pox, and as a blood tonic.
FIND IT AT THE PORT: Ocean spray is commonly found in dry open sites, clearings, coastal bluffs, and open woods. It is on the shoreline trail just south of the Swantown Boatworks haul-out area.
Common Name:  Slough Sedge
Scientific Name:  Carex obnupta
Slough Sedge

This densely tufted perennial grows from long stout creeping rhizomes with its coarse stiff stems reaching 60 to 150 cm tall. The tough, grass-like leaves are flat, 2 to 8 mm wide, abruptly pointed, and shorter than the stems. The leaves are more or less evergreen during mild winters. The leafy bracts of the flowering shoots are often longer than the inflorescence. The inflorescence consists of several arching cylindrical spikes up to 12 cm long. They are sessile (stalk-less) or on short peduncles with the upper 1 to 3 spikes being male and the lower 2 to 4 spikes being female or male.

Slough sedge was and still is a popular basket weaving material for the Makah and Nuu-chah-nulth tribes. The inner leaves are split in two and flattened before being dried. Fine baskets are made of this plant often with cedar foundations and colored strands woven into patterns.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: It is normally found in shallow standing water, soggy ground, swamps, or moist stream sides and forest openings. It is found at the Port Plaza and in the Olympia Host Lions club’s sensory garden at Swantown.
Common Name:  Red Elderberry
Scientific Name:  Sambucus racemosa
Red Elderderry 
Red elderberry is a shrubby small tree that grows to 10 meters tall. The dark brown stems are soft and pithy with warts. The glabrous subsessile opposite leaves are pinnately compound with each 5 to 15 cm leaflet lance shaped, pointed, and evenly toothed. The numerous, small, creamy white flowers grow in pyramidal clusters. The mid-summer flowers are followed by bright red berries.

The raw fruits are inedible and reported to be slightly toxic to humans. The cooked berries were eaten by more than a dozen northwest native tribes. The berries were steamed on rocks then stored underground or in cool streams and were mostly eaten in the winter. The leaves are pounded fresh and put on boils and sores by the Makah. The Quinault boil the bark then apply the milky liquid to a woman’s breasts after childbirth to bring on the flow of milk. This is a great wildlife plant that provides food and perch opportunities to butterflies and birds.
FIND IT AT THE PORT: This plant is usually found on stream banks, swampy thickets and moist clearings. It is found in the Port Plaza growing on both the nurse logs in the shrub beds.

Common Name:  Pearly Everlasting Scientific Name:  Anaphalis margaritacea
Pearly Everlasting

This upright perennial herb that grows form rhizomes has un-branched stems that reach up to 1 meter in height. The alternate, 3 to 10 cm, lance shaped leaves are green on top and white woolly below. The margins of the leaves are often rolled under. The small disk flowers are clustered in terminal heads. Each flower is surrounded by dry white involucral bracts that persist beyond the bloom time. The common name comes from these bracts which retain their color and shape when dried, often lasting on the plant until mid-winter. The fruits are small achenes with white pappus hairs.

The Quileute used the whole plant for a steam bath to cure rheumatism. The Nlaka’pamux used it as an influenza medicine. The Kwakwaka’wakw mixed the dried plant with cedar pitch and used it as a poultice.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Pearly Everlasting is generally found on rocky slopes, clearings, and roadsides. It spreads easily and is considered weedy by many. It is found all along our downtown walking trail on the shore side of the path.
Common Name:  Sitka Mountain Ash
Scientific Name:  Sorbus sitchensis
Sitka Mountain Ash
The Sitka mountain ash is a member of the rose family. It is a large shrub or small tree that is usually multi-stemmed and grows 1 to 4 meters tall. The alternate leaves are pinnately compound into 7 to 11 leaflets. The 5 cm leaflets are rounded at the tips and serrated mostly above the middle. The tiny white flowers have 5 petals and appear in round topped terminal clusters. The fruits are small pomes (like tiny apples), orange to red, and have a waxy glaucous coating.

This is an excellent shrub for the wildlife garden. The fruits are edible but extremely tart and bitter. They are much favored by some birds like the waxwings and grosbeaks. The berries were generally not eaten by the northwest coast peoples, but the Haida did sometimes eat the berries raw. The Nuxalk rubbed crushed berries on the scalp to combat lice and dandruff.
FIND IT AT THE PORT: The mountain ash is found in open forests, stream banks, and meadow margins. There are over a dozen plants in a self seeding population along the shoreline trail of our downtown properties.
Common Name:  Pickle Weed
Scientific Name:  Salicornia pacifica
Pickle Weed

Pickle weed is a fleshy, mat forming, perennial, estuarine herb with 5 to 30 cm upright stems growing from shallow fibrous roots. The plants have no obvious leaves (tiny opposite scales) and look like a chain of segmented scales. The new growth is succulent and edible with the older stems being woody. In the winter much of the fleshy growth is lost leaving a tangle of woody stems. The flowers are tiny in groups of three growing from sunken pits in the stem joints. The fruits are membranous bladders that contain one seed each.
The scientific name comes from the Latin salsus (salt) and cornu (horn) in reference to its habitat and horn-like appearance. The plants trap sediment in the lower intertidal areas and the root systems stabilize tidal beaches. The tender young stalks, sometimes referred to as sea asparagus, are a well known green vegetable that can be found in local markets and high end restaurants. The indigenous tribes have eaten it only in recent times and harvest it today as a source of income. It is voraciously grazed by waterfowl and other herbivores. Historically it was burned and the ash used as a source of carbonate of soda for glass making before WW2.
FIND IT AT THE PORT: Pickle weed is common in salt marshes throughout the Sound and in coastal estuaries that receive regular tidal inundation. It is found along the eastern shoreline of our downtown properties.
Common Name:  Eaton’s Aster
Scientific Name:  Aster eatonii
Eatons Aster
This deciduous perennial sends up leafy flowering shoots that grow to 1 meter tall. The lance shaped leaves have a few teeth on the margins with the larger ones reaching 10 cm. The 2 cm ray flowers are pink or white and the bracts are yellowish at the base. The fruits are small achenes with pappus hairs that are sometimes reddish.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Eaton’s aster is fairly common west of the Cascades and is usually found near stream banks, seashores, or other moist to wet places at low to mid elevations. It is in our Prairie garden at Olympia and Marine Drive. Its close relative, Douglas aster, is found in our xeriscape in front of the boat launch bathroom facility.
Common Name:  Great Camas
Scientific Name:  Camassia leichtlinii
Great Camas
Great Camas is a perennial herb that grows to 70 cm tall from a deep egg-shaped bulb. There are several grass-shaped basal leaves that are 2 cm wide and 50 cm long. The blue flowers bloom on a leafless stalk with 5 or more flowers in a terminal raceme. The flowers consist of 6 tepals evenly spaced and star-like. After flowering the tepals twist together around the developing capsules that grow to 2.5 cm.

Camas bulbs were an important staple food that was widely eaten and traded when available. The bulbs were harvested during or soon after blooming so as not to confuse them with the similar looking death Camas. The island coast Samish actively cultivated them. The Camas beds could be owned and inherited. Each season the beds were cleared of stones, weeds, and brush. The bulbs were dug with pointed sticks and only the large ones were harvested leaving the smaller ones for next year’s crop. The bulbs were usually steamed in large pits for 24 hours or more. The carbohydrates in the bulbs have long chain sugars that need to be broken down to be digestible. The cooked bulbs were eaten right away or sun dried for later use. Eating too many bulbs causes indigestion and flatulence.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Camas is one of several lily-family plants that are restricted to rain shadow climates in our region. Great Camas is found in our prairie garden at the Marine Drive and Olympia Avenue intersection.
Common Name:  Yarrow
Scientific Name:  Achillea millefolium
This perennial aromatic herb grows from rhizomes to a height of 10 to 100 cm. The fernlike leaves are stalked below and stalkless above, pinnately dissected, the divisions again dissected. The tiny flowers are grouped into sunflower-like heads and these are arranged into flat topped clusters. The color varies from white to pinkish red. The fruits are small one seeded achenes.

Yarrow is taxonomically one of the most variable plants in our region. It was used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes by the Native Americans. The Haida and Songish used it as a poultice for head and body aches. The Tsimshian used it for a sore throat gargle. Cowlitz soaked the leaves as a hair tonic. The Cowichan made a blood purifier. Swinomish made a bath for invalids. The Klallam used it for cold medicine. Both the Skagit and the Snohomish used it as a diarrhea medicine. The Squamish made a preparation to cure measles. The Quinault made a general tonic.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Yarrow is found in well drained open meadows, rocky slopes, gravel bars and roadsides. You can see it at Swantown next to the information kiosk that is in front of the boat launch bathroom facility.
Common Name:  Goat's Beard
Scientific Name:  Aruncus dioicus
Goats Beard

A member of the rose family, this robust perennial grows 1 to 2 meters tall from stout creeping rhizomes. The sharply toothed leaves are three times compound, pinnate, and divided into ovate leaflets 15 cm long. The plants are dioecious (male or female).  The tiny white flowers are densely packed in elongated terminal much divided clusters. The seeds are light brown follicles about 3 mm long.

There are many traditional medicinal uses of goat’s beard. The Lummi chewed the leaves to cure small pox. The Tlingit made a preparation of the roots for diseases of the blood. The Nuxalk used a tea for stomach pain, gonorrhea, and as a diuretic. It’s efficacy on sores is recognized by several groups. The Skagit burned the twigs and mixed the ashes with bear grease to apply to swellings and sore throats.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Goat’s beard is found in moist edge habitats of streams, roads, and forests. There are some in the plantings on the south side of the Swantown boat launch.
Common Name:  False Lily of the Valley
Scientific Name:  Maianthemum Dilatatum
False Lily of the Valley

This deciduous, shade loving perennial grows from slender branched rhizomes that produce upright stems to 35 cm. Each flowering stem has 2 alternate heart-shaped leaves with 10 cm blades. The small white flowers have 4 petals (unlike the 3 normally found in the lily family) and bloom in a terminal raceme 6 cm long. The fruits are small (6 mm) round berries. They are green and mottled brown at first becoming red.
The berries were eaten, but not greatly relished, by several of the northwest coast groups including the Squamish, Nuxalk, and Haida. The Quinault pounded the roots and soaked them in water which they put on the eyes for soreness. The Makah chewed the roots to correct sterility. The Cowichan drank a root tea to heal internal injuries.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Maianthemum is generally found in moist shady woods and riverside areas. It spreads aggressively and can become the dominant groundcover. It is found at Swantown in the bed behind the boat launch pay station.
Common Name:  Red Columbine
Scientific Name:  Aquilegia Formosa
Red Columbine

This tap rooted perennial grows to 1 meter tall. The leaves are twice ternately (divided into 3’s) compound and clustered at the stem base. The bi-colored flowers have red sepals and yellow petals that have straight red to orange spurs. The fruits are dry follicles that split to release black seeds.

Columbine flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. This plant is called red rain flower in Haida. If you pick the flower it will rain. The Quileute pounded the roots to paste and put it on sores. It was used by various tribes for a variety of ailments including diarrhea, dizziness, and venereal disease.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: This common native plant is found in moist meadows, open meadows and rocky slopes at low to mid elevations west of the Cascades. It is in several of the shrub beds at Swantown Marina as well as the corner of Marine Drive and Olympia Avenue.
Common Name:  Inside Out Flower
Scientific Name:  Vancouveri hexandra
Inside Out Flower 
This deciduous shade loving perennial spreads by slender rhizomes. Its compound leaves are basal and 10 to 40 cm tall. Each leaflet has three lobes in the shape of a duck foot. There are up to 30 nodding white flowers on slender leafless stems. The petals and sepals of the 1 cm flowers turn backwards so far that the flower looks like it is trying to turn itself inside out. The fruits are hairy follicles containing black seeds. The seeds are dispersed by wasps and ants. This plant was named for the English explorer Captain George Vancouver.
FIND IT AT THE PORT: Inside out flower is found in shady moist forests at low to medium elevations on the west side of the Cascades. It is at the information kiosk beds at the Swantown boat launch as well as the BC dock entrance.

Read about the featured native plants from weeks 1 to 24.