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:  Harsh Paintbrush
Scientific Name:  Castilleja hispida
Harsh Paintbrush

This paintbrush is a perennial herb with clustered, un-branched, stiffly hairy stems ascending 20 – 60cm tall. The alternate lance shaped leaves are also hairy. The upper leaves have 1 to 2 pairs of lateral lobes. Showy bright scarlet to yellow bracts appear in a short inflorescence that cover the small greenish flowers. The fruits are 2 chambered capsules containing numerous seeds.

The Quileute use an infusion tea of the whole plant to bring about regular menstruation. It is a good addition to a butterfly garden.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Harsh paintbrush is generally found in dry forest openings, dry meadows and grassy slopes. At the Port it is found in our prairie garden on the corner of Olympia Avenue and Marine Drive.
Common Name:  Bleeding Heart
Scientific Name:  Dicentra Formosa
Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart is an herbaceous perennial growing from slender, brittle rhizomes. The glaucous leaves are all basal and grow to 30cm. The leaves are deeply and finely divided into narrow segments and have a fern-like appearance. The drooping heart shaped flowers grow in clusters on leafless scapes to 40cm. The flowers have 2 deep sac-like spurs that give it the heart shape. They are pale to deep pink and about 2cm long. The fruits are slender capsules 5 cm long that contain several shiny black seeds.

Bleeding heart acts as a host for butterfly and caterpillars. The flowers attract butterflies. The upper Skagit tribes used it as worm medicine and chewed the roots to cure toothaches. It was also crushed and put on hair to make it grow.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: This common plant likes moist humus rich soils and is usually found in shaded forests and along stream banks. It can be found at Swantown at the boat launch information kiosk and in the beds next to the BC docks.
Common Name:  Redwood Sorrel
Scientific Name:  Oxalis oregano

Sorrel is a perennial that produces basal leaves and leafless flowering stems from scaly rhizomes. The leaves are trifoliate each with three notched heart-shaped leaflets up to 4 cm across on petioles 210 cm long. Sorrel holds its leaves horizontally to maximize interception of light in the dim forest understory. In direct sunlight it folds its leaflets sharply downward. This may be an adaption to conserve moisture but leaflets also fold in the rain, perhaps to reduce the impacts of raindrops. The flower scapes grow 15 cm tall each bearing a single white / pinkish veined flower with five petals 1.5 cm long. The fruit are 5 pointed capsules.
The Cowlitz, Quileute, and Quinault eat the leaves. The plants contain oxalic acid which give them a sour taste and is potentially harmful. The Cowlitz and Quinault squeezed fresh juice from the plant and applied it to sore eyes.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Sorrel is generally found in moist forests at low to mid elevations west of the Cascades. At Swantown Marina, it can be found under the trees next to the entrance to the BC docks.
Common Name:  Bitter Cherry
Scientific Name:  Prunus emarginata
Bitter Cherry
Bitter cherry is a small tree growing from 2 to 15 meters tall. It has classic cherry family bark that is shiny reddish gray with horizontal rows of raised pores. The alternate leaves are 8 cm long on 1 cm petioles. They are oblong, have finely toothed margins and are rounded at the tip. They turn bright yellow in the fall. The 1.5 cm white flowers bloom in clusters along the branches. The small (1 cm) drupes are red to almost black when ripe.

The tough stringy bark was peeled off in strips and used in decorative overlays or for wrapping implements such as harpoons, arrows fire drills, and shafts of bows. The joints were covered with pitch to make them waterproof and strong. Lummi chew the bark to facilitate childbirth. Similarly the Quinault boiled the bark for a laxative tea. The cherries of this species are so bitter that they are inedible to humans. The fruits however, are an important food source for birds and small mammals (especially in early winter). Deer and elk feed on the leaves. It provides nesting sites for cavity dwelling birds, mammals and bees.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: It is typically found in open forest settings in full to part sun. It is intolerant of full shade. It is often found as a pioneer species in logged areas. Here it grows on the forested strip that separates the Marina from the Marine Terminal.
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.

Read about the featured native plants from weeks 1 to 12.