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:  Bald Hip Rose
Scientific Name:  Rosa gymnocarpa
Bald Hip Rose
Bald hip is a small rose with slender upright stems covered with straight soft spines (or sometimes bare) that grows up to 1.5 meters tall. The leaves are pinnately compound with 6 to 9 leaflets up to 4 cm long each. The small 5 petaled flowers are light to dark pink and appear singly or in small clusters at the end of the branches. As the fruit matures it turns bright scarlet and the sepals fall off the top leaving it “bald”.

Bald hip is the main native upland rose species in our area. The northwest coast groups use the roses in a number of ways. A tea was made of young leaves and shoots and drunk as a tonic. An infusion was used on sore eyes. The leaves and bark were dried, toasted, and the resulting powder was smoked either alone or mixed with other plants. The hips were eaten when ripe as famine food. The outer fruit only was eaten because the seeds have hairs that irritate the intestines and cause itchy bottom.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Bald hip rose is generally found in partial shade sites with dry to moist soil but never wet. It is found in the Port’s native gardens at the corner of Olympia Avenue and Marine Drive.
Common Name:  Fringe cup
Scientific Name: Tellima grandiflora

Fringe cup is a perennial herb that grows from short rhizomes. The basal leaves are roughly heart shaped, up to 8 cm long, and grow on long hairy petioles. The leaves have 5 to 7 shallow lobes, coarsely toothed margins and are covered with hairs. The flowering stems bear smaller leaves and grow to 80 cm. The flowers are white becoming pink and are found in one sided racemes of 10 to 35. The flowers have a cup-like calyx and 5 petals with fringed margins. The fruits are small capsules with many tiny brown seeds.

The attractive flowers of fringe cup provide nectar and pollen for insects. The Skagit and other tribes pounded it, boiled it and drank the tea for a variety of illnesses, especially loss of appetite. It is said to be used by woodland elves to improve night vision.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Fringe cup is generally found in moist forests and along stream banks at lower elevations. It is in the perennial beds under the Port information kiosk by the Swantown Marina public boat launch.
Common Name:  Oregon Iris
Scientific Name: Iris tenax
Oregon Iris

Oregon iris is a small but showy, deciduous perennial herb that grows to 40 cm from dense clusters of slender rhizomes. The basal leaves are tough and slender, grow to 40 cm and form a grass-like clump. The spectacular flowers are blue to purple (but occasionally white/ pink or yellow). The sepals and petals grow up to 6 cm long. 1 to 2 flowers grow on a 35 cm tall stalk and bloom mid-spring to early summer. The seeds ripen in angled capsules that are 3.5 cm long.

The specific name tenax means tenacious and refers to the toughness of the leaves. Native Americans braided the leaves into snares for various animals.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Oregon iris is generally found in open areas, meadows, road sides, and clear cuts. It is found at the beds under the information kiosk by the Swantown public boat launch.
Common Name:  Thimbleberry
Scientific Name: Rubus parviflorus
Thimbleberry is a deciduous upright shrub that grows 0.5 to 3 meters tall and has brown stems and peeling bark. Growing from rhizomes, it often forms brambly thickets. It is the only unarmed Rubus that is native to Washington. The large, alternate leaves are shaped like maple leaves with 3 to 7 palmate lobes and small fuzzy hairs on both sides of the leaf. The flowers occur singly or in small clusters at the end of the branches. The white petals are up to 4 cm across and look like crumpled tissue paper. The thimble shaped berries are red and slightly fuzzy and look and detach like raspberries.

Thimbleberries were eaten by all of the northwest coast peoples. They were mostly eaten fresh but some were dried and mixed with other berries. The stems and fresh shoots are eaten by people and animals alike. It provides fruit for birds, stems for mammals and nectar for butterflies. The Makah pounded the bark and applied it to a sore tooth or injury to ease the pain. The tea was used as an astringent to cleanse burns and other injuries. The hollow stems were used as pipe stems and straws. Hikers call the fuzzy leaves “nature’s toilet paper”.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: It is usually found in moist to dry open woods, edges, and stream sides. It is on the north side of the OAR building in one of our Eagle Scout planted native gardens.
Common Name:  Pacific Rhododendron
Scientific Name: Rhododendron macrophyllum
Pacific Rhododendron
Pacific Rhododendron is a stoutly branched usually open to leggy evergreen shrub that grows up to 8 meters tall. The alternate leaves are dark green oblong and leathery, 8 to 20 cm in length and not hairy. The 5 lobed flowers have wavy edges, are 2 to 4 cm long, pink to rose-purple, and grow in terminal clusters. The fruits are 2 cm woody capsules.

Pacific Rhododendron is the state flower of Washington. They produce spectacular floral displays in the spring and early summer. They sprout well after fires and cutting and bring color to cleared areas. Due to toxins in the leaves and flowers it has limited food value. It does however host butterfly caterpillars and provide year around cover for wildlife.

FIND IT AT THE PORT:  It is usually found in mixed coniferous forests with moist well drained acidic soils. It grows in sun or shade but blooms best in partial shade. There is one in the landscape bed behind the Swantown Marina boat launch pay station.
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.

Read about the featured native plants from weeks 1 to 31.