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:  Serviceberry
Scientific Name:  Amelanchier alnifolia

This large shrub or small tree (up to 5 meters) has smooth grey – red bark. It has deciduous alternate oval to round leaves. They are unique in that the lower half of the leaves have smooth edges while the upper half is sharply serrated. The showy white 2 cm flowers have 5 petals and grow in clusters among the emerging leaves. The sweet small fruits are dull red becoming purple and shaped like miniature apples.
The Chehalis and Swinomish eat the fruit fresh and dry it for winter. The Samish and Swinomish exploit the toughness of the wood using it as a spreader in the rigging of a halibut line. Even a large halibut could not break this.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Serviceberry is found usually in open conifer forests. It often spreads by rhizomes and rooted stems to form dense colonies. It is good wildlife cover and food for birds and mammals. The foliage and new twigs are prized by deer and elk. You'll find these plants in our native garden at Olympia and Marine Dr., along the shoreline at Swantown as well as a large grove of them in front of the Marina office.
Common Name:  Indian Plum
Scientific Name:  Oemleria cerasiformis
Indian Plum
This harbinger of spring is one of the first deciduous plants to leaf out and bloom in late February or early March. It is a shrub or small tree that grows up to 5 meters tall. The alternate leaves have short petioles, smooth edges, are lanceolate in shape, and grow to 10 cm. Crushed leaves smell like cucumbers.

The greenish white flowers are about 1 cm across and bloom in draping racemes as the leaves are expanding. Unlike the majority of the rose family, it is dioecious with male and female on separate plants. The female plants produce the plums (drupes). The fruit are about 1 cm long, orange or red when young ripening to blue/black.

The flowers are an early nectar source for bees and other insects. The fruit are much loved and eaten quickly by birds and other animals. The Samish, Swinomish, Quinault, and many other NW tribes ate the plums fresh. The Cowlitz dried the plums for winter as well. The twigs were chewed and applied to sore places. They were sometimes burned and mixed with fish oil before application.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Indian Plum is mostly found in dry to moist open woods, stream banks and roadsides. It is tempting to bring in a branch for a floral display but the blossoms emit an odor reminiscent of cat spray. At the port it can be found on most of our forested property in Tumwater.
Common Name:  Red Flowering Currant
Scientific Name:  Ribes sanguineum
Red Currant

Red flowering currant is an erect deciduous shrub with reddish brown bark that grows 1-4 meters tall. The leaves are alternate on the stem, 3-5 cm wide, rounded with 5 lobes, and have serrated edges. They are smooth and green on top and lighter in color and hairy on the undersides. The early spring flowers are tubular, light pink to red and hang in clusters of 10 to 20. The 7-9 mm fruits are dark blue, round, and hairy with a white waxy bloom.

The berries are edible but taste bad. They were eaten fresh by some of the Coast Salish groups. The flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The berries are persistent and do not ripen all at once providing a longer term food source for numerous birds, small mammals, deer, and elk.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Red currant is usually found in dry open woods, rocky slopes, or disturbed areas like roadsides or clearings. Here it can be found in the Swantown Marina DEF dock parking lot beds and behind the pay station at the public boat launch.
Common Name:  Western Coltsfoot
Scientific Name:  Petasites frigidus var. palmatus
Coltsfoot is a perennial plant with numerous stems 10-50 cm tall arising from slender creeping rhizomes. It is mostly dioecious with male and female flowers on separate plants. Coltsfoot is unusual in that the flowering stems come up before the leaves. The flowers are creamy white or pinkish heads 6-12 mm high arranged in elongated flat topped clusters held by glandular white woolly stalks. The basal leaves are generally heart shaped and deeply divided into 5-7 lobes. They are green and hairless above and white woolly below.

The Muckleshoot eat the stem boiled. The Quileute use the root boiled as tea or eaten raw as cough medicine, a cure for tuberculosis, ulcers or other chest problems. The Quinault use the leaves to cover berries when cooking them in a pit. The Skagit warm the leaves and lay them on parts afflicted with rheumatism.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Coltsfoot is generally found near streams, in moist meadows or other boggy places. Here it can be found in the plantings next to the BC dock gate at Swantown Marina.
Common Name:  Pacific Wax Myrtle
Scientific Name:  Myrica californica
Pacific Wax Myrtle
Wax Myrtle is a large evergreen shrub or small multi-stemmed tree that grows 2-10 meters tall. It has sturdy green leaves 4-13 cm long that give off a spicy scent on warm days. It has greenish flowers born on a spike about 3 cm long. The fruits are small wrinkled purple berries 4-6 mm wide. The fruit have a waxy coating hence the common name Wax Myrtle.

Birds eat the fruit. The wax extracted from the fruit can be used for candles or soap, but the Pacific Wax Myrtle produces less wax than other bayberries so it was rarely used for this purpose. This plant is called “monkey bush” in Stl’atl’imx probably because it was used for some purpose by sasquatches.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Wax myrtle is an important nitrogen fixing species. It is generally found in wetlands or boggy swampy areas at low elevations. Here it can be found in front of the JKL dock bathroom facility at Swantown Marina.
Common Name:  Pacific Ninebark
Scientific Name:  Physocarpus capitatus
Pacific Ninebark

Ninebark is a multi-stemmed deciduous shrub that grows to 4 meters tall with brownish bark that peels and shreds on the older stems. The shiny green leaves are alternately arranged, 3-5 lobed, sharply toothed, and deeply veined. The flowers are small and white with 5 petals, and are borne in dense round pom-pom clusters. The fruit are inconspicuous 1 cm reddish berries.

The Nun-chuh-nulth used the wood for children’s bows and other small items. The Cowichan made knitting needles from it. It was generally considered poisonous and a tea from the bark was used as an emetic or purgative. It provides cover, nesting sites and food for birds and small mammals. Deer and elk browse the foliage and bears eat the berries.

FIND IT AT THE PORT:  Ninebark likes moist to wet sites and is frequently found next to water. It has excellent soil binding qualities. At the Port it is found along the shoreline at Swantown Marina between the BC and DEF dock areas and behind the boat launch pay station.
Common Name:  Roemer’s fescue
Scientific Name:  Festuca idahoensis ssp. roemeri
Roemer's Fescue

Roemer’s fescue is a short, fine textured, native, cool season, perennial bunchgrass. The fine textured leaves are about 10 cm long and come in a wide spectrum of greens and blues. The seed heads are open and found on a stiff stem 35 to 100 cm long. The stem color varies from light green to purple and reds.

Roermeri is a sub-species of Idaho fescue that is native exclusively to the west of the Cascades from Vancouver Island to northern California. It prefers full sun and well-drained soil. It is a good forage plant. It is an important native grass for upland prairie restoration in Western Washington. Bundles of rye grass roots are used by the Makah to rub the body after bathing. The Quinault layer the leaves under Salal berries while they are drying.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Roemer’s Fescue can be found in the Port’s native prairie garden at the corner of Olympia Ave and Marine Dr.
Common Name:  Douglas Fir
Scientific Name:  Pseudotsuga menziesii ssp. menziesii
Douglas Fir

Douglas fir is a large pyramidal evergreen conifer with a stiffly erect leader and long spreading to drooping branches. Its dark brown bark is thick and corky and becomes deeply furrowed in older trees. The yellowish green needles are 2 to 3 cm long and have 2 white bands of stomata on their under side. They are spirally arranged around the branches. Its distinctive cones are 8 to 12 cm long with brown scales and are easily recognized by their protruding, papery, three pointed seed bracts.

Douglas fir is the state tree of Oregon. First described by Dr. Menzies, it was named for explorer-botanist David Douglas. The native populations used the plant for various things besides fuel. It was made into spear handles, harpoon shafts, dip-net poles, fish hooks, salmon weirs, and utensils. The pitch was used as a medicinal salve for wounds and skin problems. The pitch was also used as caulk for boats and buckets and as fuel for torches. The cones were thought to have magic powers and were warmed by the fire by the Chehalis and Cowlitz to stop the rain.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Douglas fir is found throughout the northwest except in the wettest or driest places. It grows best in deep sandy loam soils and full sun. It is a very important timber tree and is often grown as a Christmas tree. It can be found on almost all the Port properties in Lacey, Tumwater and Olympia.
Common Name:  Oregon Stonecrop
Scientific Name:  Sedum oreganum
Oregon Stonecrop

Stonecrop is a sprawling succulent perennial growing from rhizomes with fleshy, egg to spoon shaped leaves. The leaves are 2.5 cm long and are green becoming bronze in the fall and winter. The yellow flowers have 5 lance shaped petals that are up to 12 mm long and are united basally.

This plant is known to the Makah as water plant because of its succulent nature. It was eaten on journeys if there was any doubt about the safety of the water in the area. The Makah women ingested the leaves to promote menstruation.

FIND IT AT THE PORT:  It is typically found on dry rocky open slopes from low to subalpine elevations throughout the Cascades. Here at the Port it can be found in the perennial beds around the Boat launch information kiosk.
Common Name:  Kinnikinnick
Scientific Name:  Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Kinnikinnick is a trailing evergreen groundcover that grows up to 3 meters long staying under 20 cm tall. The leaves are small alternate dark green ovals about 3 cm long. The flowers are small pink-white bells. The 8 mm fruit are bright red and persist into the winter.

The leaves of the Kinnikinnick were historically used as the principle smoking mixture of the Northwest. It was said to impart an intoxicating drunken feeling. Some tribes ate the berries fresh or dried and mixed with oil or fish eggs.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Kinnikinnick is fairly common and widespread in Western Washington. It likes sandy and rocky well drained soil and is drought tolerant in the summer. It hosts butterfly caterpillars. The fruits are eaten by birds, small mammals, deer, elk, and bears. They can be found at the Port on the uplands associated with the BC and DEF docks at Swantown Marina.
Common Name:  Madrona
Scientific Name:  Arbutus menziesii

The Madrona (strawberry tree in Spanish) is a magnificent small to medium, spreading evergreen tree with heavy branches. It has alternate oval shiny green leaves up to 15 cm long. White flowers in the spring are followed by orange/red fruit in the fall. Its attractive reddish bark peels off in strips revealing the younger green bark beneath.

The Salish cooked the reddish bark with camas bulbs to color them pink. Various other tribes used teas made from the bark and roots medicinally for colds and stomach problems.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Madronas like growing in well drained rocky soils in full sun. They are drought and salt-spray tolerant and often found at or near sea level. They provide habitat for caterpillars and birds. Flowers are a nectar source for bees and butterflies and the fruit is eaten by birds and small mammals. There is a significant self seeding population found along the shoreline at Swantown Marina downtown Olympia.
Common Name:  Evergreen Huckleberry
Scientific Name:  Vaccinium ovatum
Evergreen Huckleberry

Evergreen huckleberry is an attractive bushy evergreen shrub growing 1 to 2 meters in sun and up to 5 meters in deep shade. It is easily recognized by its shiny green alternate sharp toothed 4 to 7 mm leaves. The leaves are distinctly 2 ranked and horizontally disposed. In spring there are 8 mm clusters of pink bell shaped flowers followed by small deep purple berries. The edible fruit are sweet with a somewhat musky taste.

The berries were eaten by many of the coastal tribes. They were eaten fresh, or sun and smoke dried, mashed, pressed into cakes, and wrapped into leaves or bark.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: It is found in low elevation coniferous forests especially at edges and in openings. It is often found at the beach fringe in the salt spray zone. At the Port you can find it by the Swantown Marina boat launch, the gates to BC docks and various spots around.
Common Name:  Vine Maple
Scientific Name:  Acer circinatum
Vine Maple
Vine maple is a large shrub or small deciduous tree growing to 8 meters. They are often multi-stemmed with slender branches. The leaves are 5 to 10 cm in diameter, opposite, round in form with 5 to 9 (usually 7) finely toothed lobes.

They are known for their striking red and yellow fall colors. The flowers are attractive with red sepals and white petals. The wings of their classic maple double seeds are spread wide, almost in a straight line.

Vine maples have very dense, hard wood that is flexible when fresh and tough when dry. As such, it was used to make baskets, snowshoes, drum hoops, and fish traps. It was also used to make a variety of small implements like spoons, salmon tongs, and bowls. It was used as firewood and the charcoal was mixed with oil to make black paint.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: It is a common understory plant in coniferous forests, clear cuts, and burnt areas in the PNW. It provides good roosting habitat and food for birds. There are a dozen or more vine maples along the shoreline trail downtown as well as many more on our undeveloped areas in Tumwater.

Common Name:  Salal
Scientific Name:  Gaultheria shallon
Salal is an evergreen shrub with alternate, shiny, egg-shaped leaves that grows 1-2 meters tall.

One of the most common under story plants in the forests of our area. It has white, urn shaped flowers and then reddish blue to dark purple berries. (that are actually fleshy sepals) 6 to 10 mm broad and edible.

The berries were an important food source for aboriginal peoples. They were eaten fresh or dried into cakes and dipped in whale or seal oil. Besides its food value, the roots and bark were used for medicinal purposes. Today the leaves are harvested for use in floral arrangements.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Salal is found in many of our landscape beds throughout Swantown Marina and the Port plaza and in many of our Tumwater property locations.
Common Name:  Sword fern
Scientific Name:  Polystichum munitum
Sword Fern
A big evergreen fern growing from a woody rhizome with erect to arching once-pinnate leaflets. It is very common on the west slopes of the Cascades.

The leaves were used by the northwest coast peoples to line traditional pit ovens and berry drying racks. They were also used as flooring and bedding. The rhizomes were roasted or steamed and eaten as a starvation food.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Sword ferns can be found in part sun to full shade with moist to dryish soil. They tolerate the seasonally dry conditions under big conifers. They are found throughout the Port properties in Downtown Olympia and Tumwater.
Common Name:  Oregon grape
Scientific Name:  Mahonia aquifolium
Oregon Grape

Oregon grapes are evergreen shrubs with pinnately compound leaves and prickly leaflets that resemble holly. Growing to 4 meters tall, it has yellow blooms in short racemes in the spring followed by dark blue berries with a waxy coating in the fall.

The sour but edible fruit were eaten by Native Americans, usually mixed with salal or other sweet berries. It was not a major food source. The dark yellow bark was used to make dye. It was used medicinally for gall bladder and eye problems.

FIND IT AT THE PORT Mahonia grows well in dry shady areas and can be found along the shoreline trail at Swantown and in our native garden on the corner of Marine and Olympia. It is easy to maintain and provides great bird habitat.