Every season there is a plant that you really notice here on the island which you do not see in elsewhere. That is because we have a unique eco-system. In the winter the Garry Oaks are most noticable, in the spring it is the fields of blue Camas and the delicate Easter Lillies (as old timers call the plant) and during the summer there are these shrubs growing all over with white panicles of tiny flowers which are not seen on the mainland. That plant is wonderfully named Ocean Spray(Holodicus discolor) and you see it everywhere right now.
Ocean Spray may look like a woody overgrown Astilbe but is actually a member of the Rose (Rosacae) family, it’s all in the microscopic flower structure you know! Holodiscus discolor grows here on southern Vancouver Island and then south through to California. It grows surprisingly scattered in areas of the southern interior of B.C. into Idaho, Montana and south ending up in Nevada. sometimes the interior form is classified as Holodiscus dumosus but it is unclear if it is possibly a variety or seperate species. It grows in a range of areas because it is quite drought tolerant and hardy.
Ocean Spray is 1 of 8 in the species Holodiscus that range down the North and South American coast from British Columbia to Bolivia. The Greek name Holodiscus refers to the ‘disc’ structure in the flower and discolor refers to the leaves which are a greyish color on their undersides.
Holodiscus discolor was introduced by David Douglas in 1827, at that time is was thought to be a type of Spiarea and was later taken out of that species and renamed. Ocean Spray has long been used by native groups for many things. The wood is known to be very hard and the branches were harvested and used for tools, furniture and many small objects. The wood was often prepared by further hardening using fire and then polishing using Horsetail(Equistum). Arrows, spears and harpoons were also made this way.
When the leaves of Holodicus discolor come out in the spring they often have a nice burnished color which can continue into the early summer, in the fall they turn golden and glow out among the other vegetation.The leaves and flowers were in the past used for medical purposes, tonics were made to treat a wide range of maladies such as smallpox, measles, chickenpox and as a blood treatment. The leaves were made into poultices and were used on sore lips and feet. The bark was ground, with oil and then applied to burns.
Ocean Spray is a fast growing, multi-stemmed shrub which has an arching habit. It can grow to 5m(16ft) high by almost the same. Water, Soil and pruning can keep it well in control, I have seen much smaller shrubs which grow little over 1m(3ft) in hard to grow in sites. Holodiscus discolor can be pruned up and thinned out to make a more delicate and useful plant. These plants grow in full sun to part shade, they are often seen as under-story shrubs in the Garry Oaks here. Spent flowers can be removed as they are somewhat unattractive when they are finished.
Holodiscus discolor can be used in large gardens or borders. It also fits in native gardens, drought tolerant locations and the flowers and seedheads are butterfly and bird attractants. Little is needed to be done as these plant survive on poor to good soils and summer droughts. they also are good for retaining soil on slopes and grow right along the ocean-side (Ocean Spray really is a good name).
Holodiscus discolor is rated at hardy to -30c(-22f) or zone 4b-9a. I think you should choose plants grown locally or at least as close to the temperature range as where you are to assure it will survive if you come from a colder area.
Fact sheet from Virginia Tech: http://www.cnr.vt.edu/Dendro/dendrology/syllabus/factsheet.cfm?ID=211
Plants for a Future: http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Holodiscus+discolor
Where it is distributed in British Columbia: http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Holodiscus%20discolor