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Posts Tagged ‘Pacific North West Plants’

When I moved from the lower mainland to the Victoria area I noticed several plants growing here which I had not seen before. First there was the Oceanspray(Holodiscus dicolor) which grew everywhere along the rocky drier areas.  Then there is the abundance of Garry Oaks (Quercus garryana) which are so starkly noticeable in the winter landscape. Arbutus(Arbutus menziesii) trees grew everywhere as I live on the peninsula.  Soon after I settled into my new residence i was invited to dinner at a friends place which was near a lake. After dinner she showed me around her property and I saw for the first time the wonderful Vanilla Leaf(Achlys triphylla) which is an unusually attractive plant.

Achlys triphylla also known as 'Vanilla Leaf'.

Achlys triphylla also known as 'Vanilla Leaf''.

Vanilla Leaf (or ‘Sweet After Death’) is truly a beautiful plant which is often seen along trails in dappled spots of light, where it wanders amongst  the flora. I have found it in the vicinity of some of the most delicate and rare species. It also will pop up in thicker darker understory locations deep in the forest growing between the Mahonia, Salal and Sword Ferns.

Achlys triphylla Happily Growing in a Spot of Light.

Achlys triphylla Happily Growing in a Spot of Light at Horth Hill Park.

For me finding a patch of Achlys  triphylla growing along a path I am walking on is indeed a treat.  The main treat is the charming foliage which looks like a Clover leaf on steroids. The flowers spikes which are in bloom now are an additional bonus.  If I find one leaf I know there will be others as this is a plant which spreads by underground rhizomes(roots).  Along a path near my home I found a small colony, since then it has expanded gently to become more noticeable.  Horth Hill Park in North Saanich is a fine location for Vanilla Leaf hunting, I was there this week looking and found it in several places in fairly deep shade growing down a steep slope as well in spots of dappling.

A Mature 'Vanilla Leaf' with it's Charming Scalloped Leaves.

A Mature 'Vanilla Leaf' with it's Charming Scalloped Leaves.

The Latin name Achlys from the Greek goddess of hidden places and in this plant refers to where this plant is found, often deep in the woods.  The common name Vanilla Leaf or ‘Sweet After Death‘  is refers to the sweet fragrance of the dried leaves. The vanilla scent of the leaves is caused by the presences of natural coumarin which is a powerful blood thinner. Native peoples used to hang bundles of dried leaves in their resedences to deter bothersome inscects which swarm.  It is said that the leaves were at one time used to treat such ailments and tuberculosis, cataracts and used as an emetic(to cause vomiting).

'Sweet After Death' Growing Along a Path in North Saanich.

'Sweet After Death' Growing Along a Path in North Saanich.

Achlys triphylla makes an attractive taller(to 30cm,12in.) ground cover which would look smashing with more delicate Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Ferns and other rich woodland plants. Vanilla Leaf requires rich humusy, moisture retentive soil which is on the acidic side. It will not tolerate strong sun and will burn in it, so dappled is best. It grows best in zones 6 through 9.  If these plants are happy in their situation they will happily colonise and form healthy spreading clumps. It is best to buy these plants from a reputable nursery where you know they have not been dug up from the wilds.

Attractive Vanilla Leaf is Slug Proof.

Attractive Vanilla Leaf is Slug Proof.

Learn More About Achlys triphylla:

Wikipedia has a very good page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Achlys_(plant)

More on it’s medicinal features:http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Achlys+triphylla

Horth Hill Park: http://www.crd.bc.ca/parks/horth-hill/index.htm

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When I first moved here I did what I always do, travel around the less used roads to get a feeling for the area. This area is quite different from where I had moved from (greater Vancouver) and the pace is slower.  It feels more like the area I grew up in, more rural and yet near a big city. Every season brings new things to learn about and experience that are different from anywhere I have been. One of the wonders are the delicate Lilies which grow along the roads and are in bloom right now.  Here the Erythronium oregonum used to be called the Easter Lilly. Now we call them White Fawn or WhiteTrout Lillies.

Erythronium oreganum Known as the White Fawn Lily.

Erythronium oreganum Known as the White Fawn Lily.

Children would pick arm loads of White Fawn Lillies and give them to their teachers because they they grew in such massive quantities. In some places they still grow thickly. Along Southgate Street which parallels Beacon Hill Park is a densely growing area of them which are readily seen as you  walk or drive between Blanchard and Quadra Street. They are truly spectacular and many people who visit the area stop and ask what they are and then just have to take some pictures.

Erygonium oregonum along Southgate Street in Victoria.

Erygonium oregonum along Southgate Street in Victoria.

We are truly blessed on the west coast of North America with having 23 of the 27 known species of Erythronium. They range from pure white to a strong yellow as well as pink and shades of these colors. Vancouver Island has 4 species; oregonum and montanum are white, revolutum is pink and grandiflorum represents the yellows.  Erythronium oregonum is the most common around this area.

The Attractive Mottled Foliage of of the White Fawn Lily.

The Attractive Mottled Foliage of of the White Fawn Lily.

There are many things that make Erythronium oregonum a choice plant for anywhere it would grow, the delicate flowers which dangle down high above the foliage, the foliage itself with it’s lovely yet subtle green and maroon tones, and the delicate seedpods which blow in the wind and are the only sign later that this plant has been here at all.  It is said that ‘John Burroughs’ named the species ‘Fawn Lily’ because he felt the leaves reminded him of the ears of a fawn. Most People think the name refers to the mottled leaves which is similar to the spotting and streaking on young  fawns which help them to hide better from predators. I think the White Trout Lily name comes from similar reasons.

White Fawn Lillies Growing Along a Road in North Saanich.

White Fawn Lillies Growing Along a Road in North Saanich.

Erythronium oregonum is definitely a connoisseur plant which we all dream about having in our garden, having said that, I know this is not an easy plant to grow. If you are lucky enough to have them already in your yard, you are indeed blessed. Last year I found one coming up in a area I had planted 10 years before, what a surprise. I already see it is blooming this year in the same spot. I truly hope it will spread itself and grow amongst the maroon colored Hellebores I have planted in the same area.

Southgate Erygonium oregonum Lily Field.

Southgate Erygonium oregonum Lily Field.

White Fawn Lillies are best grown in a site like which they come from. These are plants which grow in dappled sun, under deciduous trees. They need lots of moisture in their growing season which is in the first part of the year and then drier for the time that the seeds are ripening(if you want them) which is June and later.  they are fairly tolerant of soil types as long as it’s not chalky and dry. They of course need rich soil which is well drained as these are very deeply rooted plants. It is best to acquire these plants form a reputable nursery which does not collect them from the wild.

The Delicate Highlights of Maroon and Yellow Seen in White Trout Lily Blosssoms.

The Delicate Highlights of Maroon and Yellow Seen in White Trout Lily Blossoms.

Many areas where Erythronium oregonum live are being bulldozed to make way for city and road growth, fortunately for us there have been many areas set aside for the protection of native species. We are also becoming more aware of the beauty in which we live in and more of us are respectful of the sites where these and other rare local plants live.  Right now amongst the White Fawn Lillies you might find the delicate magenta Dodecatheon blooming and then very soon it will be the spectacular blue Camas which takes over.

Links to This Week’s Featured Plant:

A list of all the Erythroium which grow throughout the world and links to pages about them.

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Erythronium

A little about growing Erythroniums and something about the meaning of the name.

http://www.rainyside.com/features/plant_gallery/nativeplants/Erythronium_oregonum.html

Beacon Hill Park in Victoria. http://www.beaconhillpark.com/

Until We Meet Again Later This Week…..

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(Coast)Silk Tassel Bushes or Garrya elliptica are a very unusual plant to come across. The first time I saw one I was thrilled, I had never paid attention to the rather boring ungainly shrub located at the top of the long perennial border at Playfair Park in Saanich. It was early in the year and I knew  that this garden had a wonderful collection of Rhododendrons which I wanted to check on, they were not in bloom yet,  instead I found a Garrya.

Winter Damaged Garrya at Playfair Park.

Winter Damaged Garrya at Playfair Park.

The first thing I realized on seeing this plant for the first time is that at other times without its catkins I might have thought it was an Elaegnus which has similar leaves but not flowers. Garryas are dioecious meaning they are male or female plants(Holly is another plant like this). They both have long catkins but the males clones are the most prized.  Garrya elliptica ‘James Roof’ is the most commonly grown male clone which can have catkins which are up to 12in (30 cm) long.

Garrya Male Catkins

Garrya Male Catkins

Garrya ellipticas are true west coasters and don’t like living far from the ocean, this is because there are smaller temperature swings when closer to a large body of water (marine effect).  Their range extends all along the coast from southern Oregon through California. There are a total of 18 Garrya species found along the West coast  from Washington state through to Panama and east to Texas

A Happy Garrya at Glendale Gardens

A Happy Garrya at Glendale Gardens

Here in Victoria We live in a rain shadow which keeps us drier and warmer than the  the British Columbia mainland. We have a very moderate climate which is similar to their native habitat of Chaparral, mixed evergreen forest or coastal Sage scrub. Garryas’ where first found by David Douglas in 1828 and named for Nicolas Garry who was the Secretary of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  He assisted Douglas in his explorations in the Pacific Northwest.

A well placed Silk Tassel Bush

A well placed Silk Tassel Bush

Placement of Silk Tassel Bushes here here is a very tricky thing. They like full sun to part shade preferably in mixed deciduous trees and shrubs to show off their winter blooms. The most important thing is to make sure this plant is kept out of the drying burning winds that can occur during a cold snap such as the ones we have during the November to March period.  Best placement is bottoms of slopes or beside walls or fences. Another use is as a transitional plant from a  naturalised setting into the more structured garden.

Winter damage to the evergreen foliage.

Winter damage to the evergreen foliage.

Garryas are easy to please,  for luxuriant growth they ask for no less than 25 in.(25cm) of rain. They are not very particular to soil and tolerate clays if they are well drained and nutrient rich. They will grow into a substantial 12ft(4m) by 12ft(4m) multi-stemmed shrub which is deer and rabbit resistant. They can be lightly pruned after blooming primarily for shape, do not too far down into the bush.  Although these plants can take temperatures as low as 4f(-10c) they prefer a warmer climate.  Zones 7 through 10 is recommended.

Lnks to this weeks Subject:

A very informative site about Garryas

http://groups.ucanr.org/sonomamg/Plant_of_the_Month/Garrya_Elliptica.htm

Playfair Park in Saanich is one of my favorite parks for great plant specimens. I will be regularly writing about the plants here.

http://www.saanich.ca/resident/parks/playfairpark.html

David Douglas, an important plant explorer who introduced many species into cultivation.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Douglas

Which plant will I write about next week? It’s still a mystery to me, check back on Wednesday for a clue.

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