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When I moved to go to school I soon missed the outdoors in the way I had experienced it during my life. I was no longer able step outside and wander in the woods within a few steps of the home I had lived in. It was not until I moved to the island I am on now that I had time to find the wild again as it was much closer. Now I wander in the woods and along paths where wildflowers and nature is close to undisturbed. People here care a great deal about keeping it that way. I have had the chance to become re-aquainted to some plants which were beloved by our family here. The Maianthemum family offer up 2 of these loved plants and 1 other which is new to me. I a particularly fond of Maianthemum dilatatum( Wild Lily of the Valley)

 Maianthemum dilatatum (Wild Lily of the Valley) is now is the same  botanical family as the real Lily of the Valley(Convillaria majalis).

Maianthemum dilatatum (Wild Lily of the Valley) is now is the same botanical family as the real Lily of the Valley(Convillaria majalis).

Maianthemum family has recently gone through several changes which are important to note: first it has expanded to include the species which were once known as Smilacina.  The other more important thing is that Maianthemum species was moved from the Lilacae (Lily)family into the Ruscaceae family which includes Convillaria(Lily of the Valley) now. It shows the close relation of Maianthemum and Convillaria.  This realignment is quite interesting botanically as it changes what we used to think of as Lilies(Lileaceae).

As a child I would pick armloads of Maianthemum racemosum (Smilacina) and give them to my mother to put in vases at home.

As a child I would pick armloads of Maianthemum racemosum (Smilacina) and give them to my mother to put in vases at home.

Around here you will most like come across Maianthemum dilatatum in the moister areas of the woodlands. I first came across it along the path that ran next to the house I lived in for many years. Not far away I found it growing with horsetail under the Rhododendron plantings at Dominion Brook Park, the contrast in textures was interesting. I was delighted to find it on my first visit to Finnerty Gardens where it is used as a lush groundcover. I now see it in many places which are shady and somewhat damp throughout the year.

 This bright Rhododendron luteum is set of by the lush Maianthemum dilatatum covering the ground so completely at Finnerty Gardens.

This bright Rhododendron luteum is set of by the lush Maianthemum dilatatum covering the ground so completely at Finnerty Gardens.

The similarity of False Lily of theValley  to Convillaria is somewhat hard to find as the leaves are so broad and the flowers are not bell-shaped. Both plants are highly fragrant and all parts are poisonous to consume in any form. Mainathemum dilatatum is found in a large area running from Northern California along the coast through Alaska on to the Russian coast south into Korea and finally into Japan.  Maianthemum was named by Linnaeus most likely after M. canadense which was already known from samples collected in eastern North America.

The leaves of Wild Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) remind me very much of that of some Hosta cultivars with their overall shape and vein pattern of the leaves.

The leaves of Wild Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) remind me very much of that of some Hosta cultivars with their overall shape and vein pattern of the leaves.

There are other members of the Maianthemum family which are more refined, the already mentioned M. canadense is a charming smaller version of dilatatum. Maianthemum stellatum grows here and was originally classed as a Smilacina which is seen in its foliage. It has few flowers and is delicate, I first came across it near Playfair Park at the top of Judge Place growing along a seep area.

Maianthemum stellatum is a delicate colonizing plant found in the woodland across northern areas on North America.

Maianthemum stellatum is a delicate colonizing plant found in the woodland across northern areas on North America.

All the Maianthemum species I have mentioned here can be vigorous spreading plants and care must be taken when placing them in your garden so they do not overwhelm other weaker plants. The most agressive of these plants is M. dilatatum which creeps into gardens and provides a seemingly smothering coat of  leaves. These plants grow by creeping rhizomes(roots) which are able to branch and spread more widely. They all like rich moisture retentive soil which does not dry out completely during hot periods. These plants prefer dappled to fairly deep shade and will go prematurely dormant if they are too exposed to overly bright, dry situations.

Wild(False) Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) provides a strong and lush groundcover.

Wild(False) Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum dilatatum) provides a strong and lush groundcover.

 Maianthemum racemosum, stellatum  and canadense are extremely hardy plants and take zone 3-8 (-40 c and f.). Maianthemum dilatatum tolerates probably -20 c (-4 f.).  M.racemosum grows to 1-1.25 m.(4 ft.) tall and easily as wide. The other species will grow no higher than 35 cm.(15 in.) tall and an indeterminant width. M. canadense is the smallest and least vigorous growing plant and could be used in more delicate places. All these plants are highly fragrant, have good autumn coloring and make good cut flowers. All these plants fit into the woodland garden and can be used for groundcover, massing  or as accents. Maianthemum racemosum is a standout plant with attractive foliage, berries and golden autumn coloring which makes it an excellent specimen for a shady garden.

Maianthemum madness:

Pacific Bulb Society listing of species: http://www.pacificbulbsociety.org/pbswiki/index.php/Maianthemum

Wiki listing of all the species http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maianthemum

PNW Flowers listing of M.dilatatum: http://www.pnwflowers.com/flower/maianthemum-dilatatum

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When I was going to for Horticultural training the thing I missed the most was walking in the woods like I could do at Home. I had come from a rural area to a verge large city to go to school and going for a walk was a way to relieve tension from my studies. There was a small park at the end of my street which was undeveloped and I would visit there and find new(to me) plants which where native to the area. One plant I came across looked kind of familiar, like a Heuchera but different, as it turns out it was a close relative. Tellima grandiflora (Fringe Cups) is related to several well-known garden plants and should be seen more in gardens.

Tellima grandiflora (Fringe Cups) are found edging a shade path in Beacon Hill Park.

Tellima grandiflora (Fringe Cups) are found edging a shade path in Beacon Hill Park.

I always am interested in what the botanical latin name of a plant means and how it might relate to it. In the case of Tellima it turns out to be an anagram of another plant which is closely related to it: Mitella. I have found no information on why an anagram was chosen for its name. Another case I know of is for a species of cactus Lobivia which is an anagram of the country which it is found in Bolivia. Grandiflora is not at all unusual and refers to the large flowers.

The common name 'Fringe Cups' refers to the lacy petals of Tellima grandiflora flowers.

The common name 'Fringe Cups' refers to the lacy petals of Tellima grandiflora flowers.

Tellima grandiflora is a plant which grows in the woodlands and dappled light of the Pacific North-west from Alaska through British Columbia, Washington, Oregon into Northern California. This is generally a plant of coastal areas and along the mountains that run just inland. They are also found in the inland wet stripe running through eastern B.C., Washington, north Idaho and Montana. Here on Vancouver Island it is a common site along roadsides and is often mixed with other plants such as Tiarellas, Sedges and Ferns.

Here at U.B.C. Botanical Gardens the Tellima grandiflora grow wild as a natural groundcover in the Asian Garden.

Here at U.B.C. Botanical Gardens the Tellima grandiflora grow wild as a natural groundcover in the Asian Garden.

Tellima grandiflora comes from the Saxifragaeae which has given us many familiar garden plants such as Saxifraga, Heucheras, Tiarella and Fragaria (Strawberry). All of these species have been hybridized and are well used in the garden. Tellima grandiflora may have been hampered in its acceptance because it is a is the only species of the genus and is not represented in any other form in the world. There are records of crosses between Tiarella and Tellima being found as well as that of Tolmeia menziesii crosses but none of these have been seen as worth being developed as they have much smaller flowers than Fringe Cups and the foliage is not unique enough. Only recently has been offered a named Tellima grandiflora ‘Forest Frost’ which to me looks like it probably is mis-named and is fact a cross with a Heuchera. It will be interesting to see what comes of this new plant.

 Winter coloring of Tellima grandiflora often brings out burgundy tones which fade with new growth.

Winter coloring of Tellima grandiflora often brings out burgundy tones which fade with new growth.

Tellima grandiflora for the most part is a well-behaved garden plant. It self-sows in place that it is happy, if this is not wanted all that is needed is to remove the spent flower wands soon after they finnish blooming. It can be somewhat short-lived like many members of the Saxifragaeae family are, therefore i usually keep a few seedlings about to replenish older plants and I like how they will pop up in my pots of Hostas and amongst the hardy Geraniums. Fringe Cups make a good addition to the garden and its foliage and flowers work well in spring when other plants are slow to emerge.

This accidental combination of Meconopsis cambrica, Tellima grandiflora and Claytonia sibirica is charming and bright at the same time.

This accidental combination of Meconopsis cambrica, Tellima grandiflora and Claytonia sibirica is charming and bright at the same time.

Tellima grandiflora is an easy adaptable plant to have in your garden. It like rich, humusy soil which retains moisture well during the dry months of summer. It like dappled positions and will bloom admirably in more shady situations. In overly sunny sites it often has more yellowed foliage and is smaller in its overall stature. This last winter was colder than usual and Fringe Cups came through in great form, no damage is done to the foliage and steady growth is seen in the earliest spring. These plants are typically 60 cm.(2 ft.) high and 45 cm. (18 in.) wide but may be slightly large or smaller depending on conditions. They are rated as tolerating -20c.(-4 f.) which is suspect is with much snow cover. Here the extreme cold might get to be – 15 c. (5 f.) with the wild chill added and they do not suffer.

Tellima grandiflora is incorporated into several gardens at Government House in Victoria. Here it is the Cutting Flower Garden.

Tellima grandiflora is incorporated into several gardens at Government House in Victoria. Here it is the Cutting Flower Garden.

Fringe Cups can be used in a variety of ways in the garden. I have seen them used as accents, mass planted, in woodland and more formal settings. They fit into fragrant gardens and ones for cut flowers as well as shade and winter gardens. They also make an excellent mass planting  and blend in well with many damp tolerant plants. their delicate flowers on tall stems have an amusing effect against very bold foliage. These plants are much better known in Europe than they are here and we should start changing that.

T is for Tellima:

Rainyside has a good page: http://www.rainyside.com/features/plant_gallery/nativeplants/Tellima_grandiflora.html

In case you are wondering about anagrams:  http://www.anagramsite.com/cgi-bin/getanagram.cgi

Washington Native Plant Society page on Tellima: http://www.wnps.org/plants/tellima_grandiflora.html

…………..See you on the trails leading here soon………..

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This is the time of year which is the most exciting in the garden. After a cold winter we wait with bated breath to see what has survived and even will thrive. I note some Rhododendrons seem to have smaller flowers and the Tulips are finally beginning to show their buds. One plant I associate with spring is Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) which is bursting forth with its bright fragrant flowers.

The Oregon Grape(Mahonia aquifolium) here is a welcome addition to this spring garden of mixed bulbs and native plants.

The Oregon Grape(Mahonia aquifolium) here is a welcome addition to this spring garden of mixed bulbs and native plants.

Oregon Grape is a shrub which is from the west coast of British Columbia south into northern California west of the Cascade Mountains where this plant is generally found as an understory plant to trees such as Douglas Fir and here Garry Oaks. Mahonia was named after Bernard McMahon (1775-1816) who is said to have been the first ‘nurseryman’ in North America, he published the first plant catalogue and the book “American Gardeners’ Calender’  He was the curator of the plants of the Lewis and Clark collection of plants.  Thomas Nuttall honored his friend by using his name as “Mahonia’  for naming a plant (Mahonia nervosa) in the collection.

The bright flowers of Mahonia aquifolium contrast nicely with wine tinted evergreen foliage.

The bright flowers of Mahonia aquifolium contrast nicely with wine tinted evergreen foliage.


The leaves( and leaflets) of the Oregon Grape look similar to that of common Holly (Ilex aquifolium) but are larger, thinner and take on maroon and red tints in winter cold. This past winter was colder than normal here and the red tints are very evident on many plant here. Oregon Grape are well-known to the native people here and have in the past been used for medicinal and food uses.  The roots were used to make a tonic which was used to counteract weariness, loss of appetite  and other similar maladies. the roots contain the alkaloid berberine which is found in  ‘Goldenseal’ and has anti-inflamitory and anti bacterial properties. The fruit was as mild laxative. As a food the berries were sometimes mixed with other sweeter berries to make them more palatable. The fruit is very bitter until touched by frost and then can be used for making  jelly. Another way this plant has been used is for dying items, the roots have distinctive yellow sap and the berries provide purple coloring.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) produced copius crops of blue fruit which are eaten by birds after it has been touched by frost to sweeten it.

Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) produced copius crops of blue fruit which are eaten by birds after it has been touched by frost to sweeten it.


Mahonia aquifolium is much used in landscapes today and is often seen as a barrier plant in parking lots where it often is neglected and abused, there are better plants for that purpose. I like to see it used in more creative ways. One of the more interesting uses I have seen is as a background planting to Hydrangeas at Finnerty Gardens in Victoria. The garden has a collection of Hydrangeas which are dormant when our lovely Oregon Grape blooms. Oregon Grape works as winter and early spring interest and then the Hydrangea will take over for the late spring into autumn with a consistent evergreen background to show it off.
Here at Finnerty Gardens the Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) will bloom while the Hydrangea shrubs are leafing out in front.

Here at Finnerty Gardens the Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) will bloom while the Hydrangea shrubs are 'leafing' out in front.


Oregon Grape is an easy plant to grow if it is given the right conditions to grow in. Mahonia aquifolium likes part sun to full shade with the only exceptions in more northern areas where light is not as strong as in the south. For better flower and fruit production give it better light.  It grows best in moist, rich, well-drained soil which is more acidic than alkaline. It does poorly on thin, compacted and clay soils which stay wet and are poorly drained. Here it grows under the light shade of deciduous trees and mixed with other shrubs. It is best to place these plants where they will avoid the drying winds of winter which can do much damage to broad-leaved evergreens here. Most of the Oregon Grape I have seen here overwintered well with little damage, the added bonus was richer maroon tints to the foliage from the winter cold.
The maroon tints of the foliage of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) were quite spectacular this spring.

The maroon tints of the foliage of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) were quite spectacular this spring.


Mahonia aquifolium is a slow-growing multi-stemmed shrub which over time can grow to be well over 2 m. (6 ft.) tall. With the branches generally being very ascending , this shrub tends to have a narrow profile. The plant can easily be managed by removing branches from the base. Use this shrub in your native garden or in wilder places which might be a little out of the way. The leaves are prickly so keep it away from narrow paths or tight areas where you might brush up against it. Mahonia aquifolium is well used in mass planting or a specimen. It attracts bees by providing an early source of honey when there might be little available (the flowers are honey scented as well).  It is known to hybridise with other Mahonia species and these crosses can give varied results in height and sprawling habit.
I find the variation in the flower panicles  of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) interesting, some are stumpy like this one while others are loose and open like the 2nd picture in this article.

I find the variation in the flower panicles of Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) interesting, some are stumpy like this one while others are loose and open like the 2nd picture in this article.

Mahonia is a much loved plant and has been adopted as the state plant of Oregon which is found between California and Washington. It has many appealing atributes to make a good garden plant which should be seen more ofte. There are 12 Mahonia species in North America and some of these have been listed as noxious weeds, I think that there might be some confusion in listing this species there.

 

Links a’plenty for you:

Washington State Native Plant Society page on the plant: http://www.wnps.org/landscaping/herbarium/pages/mahonia-aquifolium.html

The ‘Wiki’ page is interesting: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregon-grape

Bernard McMahon and his contribution to gardening in early America: http://www.monticello.org/site/house-and-gardens/bernard-mcmahon

……….Hope to see you here again very soon………

 

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The are a few types of plants which can be found just about anywhere on earth. Some are grasses others are very successful annuals which have short life cycles and survive even in hostile climate even if it is for a short while. Others are extremely ancient and where some of the first types of recognizable plants that are known such as ferns. The plants I am referring to today are also among the oldest and simplest known to us. We see them in the woods, on rocks, along roadsides, in our lawns and on roofs. I am referring to a group of plants called Moss of which there are thousands of species and many variations. They all look beautiful at this time of year here in the Pacific Northwest.

aMany Mosses co-exist peacefully close together and with other plants.

Many Mosses co-exist peacefully close together and with other plants.

Mosses are part of a group of plants called bryophytes which also include Lichens and Hornworts. These plants are generally tiny in stature and lack vascular systems.  Mosses are made up of a single layer of cells which are usually arranged in overlapping leaves or scales and are generally a shade of green. Because Moss lacks a vascular system it has to live in an area which is damp most of the time. Without water it would not be able to sexually reproduce.

One of the most beautiful of Mosses found in this area is Oregon Beaked Moss (Kindbergia oregona).

One of the most beautiful of Mosses found in this area is Oregon Beaked Moss (Kindbergia oregona).

Mosses are one of the first plants that were likely used by people from the very earliest times. Moss has been used in many ways all over the world. From the earliest times it has been used for padding for wounds, natural diapers and other padding.  It has been used to stuff mattresses, pillows and fill cracks in walls. Mosses used to heal burns and bruises has been successfully done for centuries. Some forms of moss have been powdered and turned into extracts which anti-septic and antiviral properties. Tonics an diuretics have been used for ages.

 Moss is an important part of the ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest and the rainforest.

Moss is an important part of the ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest and the rainforest.

The most important group of mosses are the Sphagnum which are used for many economic products and processes. In horticulture and gardening sphagnum produces the peat which we incorporate into soil mixes because it helps to improve moisture retention(it has the ability to absorb 12 times its weight in moisture). Peat is found in areas where the moss has for many centuries grown and partly decomposed creating deep layers of pure product. It is found in northern areas of the globe. In the past it has been cut, dried and burned as fuel to warm homes.   Now we also use it for filtering and treatment of waste waters, effluent detergents, dyes and other organic substances.

Wet Rock Moss (Dichodontium pellucidum) is found on sea level cliffs and bluffs is an important soil stabilizer.

Wet Rock Moss (Dichodontium pellucidum) is found on sea level cliffs and bluffs is an important soil stabilizer.

Many moss species are good indicators of soil conditions as the will survive in narrow pH conditions.  They also can indicate environmental condition such as levels of pollution. Moss create a covering to slow down erosion of nutrients by protecting underlying surfaces from excessive water run-off. It also provides protection from winds in the same way.

Fragile Fork Moss (Dicranum tauricum) is a commonly seen moss which grows on sidewalks and along paths.

Fragile Fork Moss (Dicranum tauricum) is a commonly seen moss which grows on sidewalks and along paths.

here in Victoria there are many rocky outcrops covered with moss. Within these areas are miniature ecosystems often populated with several forms of moss and lichens which are slowly breaking down the rocks. The mosses do this by releasing acids which work on the rock over milleniums. Crevices develop where soil is created and other plants can come in and grow.

Here we see Pixie Lichen and Licorice Fern getting established in a thin layer of moss-soil on a rock outcrop at Playfair Park.

Here we see Pixie Lichen and Licorice Fern getting established in a thin layer of moss-soil on a rock outcrop at Playfair Park.

We take the lowly Moss for a pest, but it really is an important part of the ecology of the earth. We should be more tolerant of its existence and learn to see it as a feature in our gardens as a simple groundcover which it is. In Japan Moss plays an important role in gardens and is featured in many well known ones.

Here at Government House Moss mingles with other alpine plants to create an attractive display which has interest thoughout the year.

Here at Government House Moss mingles with other alpine plants to create an attractive display which has interest thoughout the year.

Bryophyte files for you:

Facinating website about the mosses and Lichens of Stanley Park in Vancouver: http://www.botany.ubc.ca/bryophyte/stanleypark/basics.htm

A page on the mosses of Pacific Spirit Park: http://www.pacificspiritparksociety.org/About_PSRP/Mosses.html

Living with Mosses: http://bryophytes.science.oregonstate.edu/mosses.htm

…………..Hope to see you here again soon…………….

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I have been fortunate to have worked as a grower at a nursery.  This gave me the opportunity to grow plants which are not that well known. Some plants aren’t well known because they are hard to grow while others just have a false reputation for that. One plant I grew was the eastern(North American) form of a local plant. I never saw the local plant until a few years ago when i was with my father driving near Nanaimo which is north of here. It was magical, carpeting a dappled area in the woods. Last year I finally found Henderson’s Shooting Star(Dodecatheon hendersonii) in many places.

Dodecatheon hendersonii is known as Broad Leaved Shooting Star.

Dodecatheon hendersonii is known as Broad Leaved Shooting Star.

Henderson’s Shooting Star is a very delicate looking plant which grows amoungst other more showy plants. it is often in bloom at the same time the local Erythronium oregonium(White Fawn Lily) is and grows in the same places. The hot magenta flower color helps it stand out even though the flowers themselves are quite small.  The shape of the flower, with it’s extremely reflexed petals make it look quite unique.

An extremely rare white form of Dodecatheon hendersonii.

An extremely rare white form of Dodecatheon hendersonii.

Shooting Stars are a strictly North American species. The most commonly grown member of them is an Dodecatheon meadia which is found in the east growing  from Pennsylvania to Manitoba and south through Georgia and Texas. In the west we have many species which overlap in some areas. Dodecatheon hendersonii is probably the most western as it grows on Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands and moves  south to west central California. On the mainland it grows on the western side of the coastal mountains though the Siskiyous and the Sierra Nevadas. There are at least two named varieties. Var. hansonii is found in the Siskiyous and scattered locations in the Sierra Nevadas. Var. hendersonii is more widespread and found along coastal B.C.  to southern Oregon.

The leaves of Dodecatheon hendersonii lay flat to the ground unlike most others of the species.

The leaves of Dodecatheon hendersonii lay flat to the ground unlike most others of the species.

Dodecatheon are members of the Primulaceae family. Dodecatheon is Greek; Dode(ka) meaning 12 and theo(s)n meaning god. The word dodecatheon refers to the 12 principle or most important gods which resided on Olympus. Pliny gave this original name to Primulas which grew where he lived. Primulas were thought to be under the care and protection of the 12 gods. The reference to the gods in the scientific name is thought to note that the flowers look somewhat likes thunderbolts which would be cast down on earth the gods when they were unhappy about what was going on. Hendersonii refers Louis Forniquet Henderson(1853-1942) who was the first botany professor at the University of Idaho.

Dodecatheon hendersonii are seen on mass along the sides of Old West Saanich Road near Victoria.

Dodecatheon hendersonii are seen on mass along the sides of Old West Saanich Road near Victoria.

Henderson’s Shooting Star grow in shallow soils which are damp during the spring growing season and then become bone dry during the long summer droughts which can extend into October here. This is the perfect type of situation for these plants. Often I have found them growing amoungst the Camas leaves, along rocky edges of roads and on moss covered bluffs.

These  bright magenta  blossoms of Henderson's Dodecatheon will soon be replaced by brilliant blue Camus.

These bright magenta blossoms of Henderson's Dodecatheon will soon be replaced by brilliant blue field of Camus.

When growing Dodecatheon hendersonii it is best to reproduce their local environment the best you can. If you are successful they will seed themselves and you will have a nice colony to look forward to every spring.  plant in a mossy mix with rich soil, make sure it will drain adequately during the winter rainy season. They prefer to live below deciduous trees or shrubs or along the edge of such to be protected over the summer. These plants go completely dormant over the summer therefore it is wise to mark their site so as not to dig them up accidentally.

Henderson's Shooting Star next to a bluff of sandy gritty soil.

Henderson's Shooting Star next to a bluff of sandy gritty soil.

Henderson’s Shooting Star grow between 10 and  20cm tall(4-7in). They can grow taller if they are in richer soil. Here they tend to be in the shorter range. They are likely to be hardy to -10c(14f) or slightly colder. The last two winters have had spells of -10c and I think they have been more abundant than when the winters are warmer, maybe it is less likely they will rot. Slugs love these plants especially when they are just coming out of the ground in the early spring, protect them from these raiding feeders.

Can you imagine having a huge patch of Henderson's Shooting Stars growing wild in your backyard.

Can you imagine having a huge patch of Henderson's Shooting Stars growing wild in your backyard.

Some choice places to look for Shooting Stars:

Royla B.C. Museum has a great section on native plants:http://www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca/Natural_History/Plants.aspx?id=958

How to grow and propagate them from experts:http://www.goert.ca/propagation_guidelines/forbs/dodecatheon_hendersonii

All the Dodecatheons you could possibly want:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodecatheon

Until we meet again on these blogging pages….

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This time of year, no matter where I am, up north in deep snow, down on the coast in the rain or somewhere else when the sun comes out I want to either work a garden or explore in the woods.  This year the spring weather has come extraordinarily early and since I have recently moved I have started explore new areas in the city. My first stop was to change my library card and to explore  Colquitz River Trail which runs along the river of the same name. I was hunting for the not so elusive Osoberry or Indian Plum(Oemleria cerasiformis)plants which are in bloom now, I stalked along the walk and …..alongside the path were several!

 The Oemleria cerasiformis is one of the first native plants to bloom.

The Osoberry is one of the first native plants to bloom.

On gloomy wet days when I go for a walk I see these shrubs with their glistening white racemes of pure white flowers which hang from the tips of branches like  perfect dew drop earings. The Osoberry is a small tree or more commonly shrub which lives on the Pacific side of the coastal mountains, its range is from Santa Barbara County in U.S.A. north though into southern B.C. One of its common names refers to the fruit (fleshy drupes) which when ripe look like tiny thumb-sized Italian plums, and indeed they have stones  which are also perfect miniatures of that fruit.

The Indian Plum has plentiful fruits, but you better be quick to harvest them.

The Indian Plum has plentiful fruits, but you better be quick to harvest them.

The fruit is ripe when it is bluish black and was eaten by local native groups, they savored them fresh, cooked and dried.   Oso(berry) refers to bears liking to eat them. Birds (Robins), squirrels, deer, coyotes and many other animals love to feast on the fruit as well. Let us not forget the bees which enjoy this early source of nectar.

Indian Plums can be found in many parks here, this group is found by the bathrooms at Beacon Hill Park.

Indian Plums can be found in many parks here, this group is found by the bathrooms at Beacon Hill Park.

Native people also used parts of the Osmaronia cerasiformis medicinally.  Burned twigs were pulverized, mixed with Oolican grease and applied to sores. A tea made from the bark was used as a purgative and tonic. Decotions where made for tuberculosis. It is said to be not only anesthetic  but an aphrodisiac as well. Osoberry is a member of the Rosaceae(Rose family) whos seeds often have small amounts of hydrogen cyanide in them. hydrogen cyanide from these types of sources  has been shown to stimulate respiration and improve digestion if carefully administered by a professional.

Colquitz River Trail is a good area to view Osmaronia cerasiformis.

Colquitz River Trail is a good area to view Osmaronia cerasiformis.

To my eye Osoberry are vase-shaped shrubs which are delicate looking throughout the year, this is partly do to the attractive thin leaves which keep their bright green coloring until the fall when they change to a clear butter yellow. It is not a densely leaved shrub therefore it never looks heavy or lumpy, but has a more wispy quality to it. In the winter without leaves the form of these shrubs can be highlighted.

Finnerty Garden has done a wonderful job pruning their Osoberry into small tree forms.

Finnerty Garden has done a wonderful job pruning their Osoberry into small tree forms.

Osoberry is seen in many areas here, along paths, roadsides, meadow edges  and creeks and in many rocky areas growing under the Garry Oaks. They are in full sun or dappled light. They like rich humusy soils which can retain some moisture during our dry summers here. if they become too dry during the summer they will start to drop some of their leaves. They take pruning very well and this should be done after they have bloomed. They usually are pruned for shape but also can be cut to the ground to revive them and tidy them up.

Osoberry are male or female plants and often grow in thickets under Garry Oaks as seen here at Government House.

Osoberry are male or female plants and often grow in thickets under Garry Oaks as seen here at Government House.

Indian Plum are male or female plants. If you want a good crop of berries for the wildlife or you, you will have to have both sexes of plants.  I have seen incredible crops of berries and have made tasty syrups and jellies which are similar to cherry flavor. These plants grow to 6m(20ft) high and 3.7m wide in places where they are most happy. They are rated zones 7 though 10, cold tolerant to -18c(10f).

This unripe crop of Indian Plums is high above my head.

This unripe crop of Indian Plums is high above my head.

Help for hunting Indian Plums:

Rainyside has an interesting page: http://www.rainyside.com/features/plant_gallery/nativeplants/Oemleria_cerasiformis.html

Technical information on the berry: http://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/Atlas/Atlas.aspx?sciname=Oemleria%20cerasiformis

Paghats’ Indian Plum page: http://www.paghat.com/indianplum.html

Until we meet again later….

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One of the most noticeable things about southern Vancouver Island is how dry it is for long periods of the year. We often have little or no rain from late May through until the end of September. This is a very tough situation for most plants to endure if they are not adapted to it. I have seen many shrubs and trees scorch from the heat combined with lack of sufficient water. Luckily for us many native plants here are unusually attractive and grow well in the stony ground on the island. One tree which is endemic here is the Garry Oak (Quercus garryana) which stands out at this time of the year. it is also known as the Oregon Oak or Oregon White Oak.

Garry Oaks is  Quercus garryana

Garry Oaks at Beacon Hill Park in Victoria.

There are 3 varieties of Garry Oaks which live in Western North America. Quercus garryana var. garryana is found here and lives in the largest area which ranges from Southern California, along the coastal mountain ranges up to southern Vancouver Island and the gulf Islands. The variety var. breweri is found in the Siskiyou mountains in Oregon  with the final variety var. semota found in the Sierra Nevada area. This Oak was named by David Douglas to honor Nicholas Garry who helped him in his collection of plant samples in the Oregon area. Nicholas Garry(1782?-1856) was employed by Hudson’s Bay Company and later rose up to be the Deputy Governor of the company. Garrya elliptica is also named after him.

Garry Oaks found at Holy Trinity Church in North Saanich.

There are some majestic Garry Oaks found at Holy Trinity Church in North Saanich.

Garry Oaks are the only Oaks found in Western Canada and they are part of an endangered ecosystem which is in a very small area of southern British Columbia. Garry Oaks are very representative of the 116 species of plants, animals and insects which are found here and no where else in the world. This delicate ecosystem is under attack  mainly from expansion of human settlement and introduction of invasive and destructive species  from other places. large areas have been altered and changed and it is just recently that we have started to protect some of these remaining sites.

Sea Blush, Common Camas and Shooting Stars are but a few of the species growing amongst the Garry Oaks.

Garry Oaks have never really been important to the survival of native groups here.  They made combs and digging utensils with the wood or used it for fueling fires. The acorns were eaten but were not considered a choice food, but could be roasted or steamed and eaten.  Garry oak was known to be used medicinally for a treatment for tuberculosis and used as a drink for women before child birth.

The thick ridged bark protects the tree from fires which were used in creating Camas fields that native peoples farmed.

Quercus garryana generally have broad spreading rounded crowns which are made up of thick ascending crooked branches. These trees grow to 40-90ft (12-28m) tall  and nearly as wide. In areas where there are other competing plants these trees will often grow tall and gawky but in an open meadow their true form is seen. Young trees to around 25 years of age often look scrubby and will often be seen growing in groups.

These Garry Oak are found in Playfair Park and in the spring a sheet of blue Camas bloom underneath them.

Garry Oak are slow growing trees which will grow 8-12(20-30cm) in a year. They develop long tap roots and are amost impossible to transplant after they have been in the ground a few years. They need a sunny open site with very well drained soil. They do not make good lawn trees as they resent being watered during the summer and it can also cause them to become diseased. They do have natural insect pests which are often seen on the undersides of the leaves. These can become disfiguring  to the leaves some years but in others are hardy present at all. If you have the right site and would like a tree which needs little attention during the year, you might want to look into to this species or one of the other Oaks. Garry Oak grow in zones 6 through 10 (-10 f or  and higher temperature).

Male flowers are separate from the females on the same Garry Oak tree.

Learn more about Garry Oaks:

Garry Oak Ecosystem: http://www.goert.ca/

Where is Holy Trinity Church: http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM65KB_Holy_Trinity_Church__North_Saanich_BC_Canada

wiki on Garry Oaks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quercus_garryana

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