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Posts Tagged ‘west coast plants’

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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When I was a child we would go to the Vancouver area once a year to visit my grand parents and other relatives. It was a big trip and took a full day of driving to reach our destination. Usually we would take at least one trip into the big city, we would go to the big stores which do not exist in a far away little town like we were growing up in. Another thing we often did was to visit Stanley Park for the day to visit the zoo and have a picnic. One thing we looked forward to was seeing the Monkey Puzzle Trees (Araucaria araucana) which were the most exotic and bizarre we had ever seen.

A large mature male Araucaria araucana or Monkey Puzzle tree found across from Beacon Hill Park in Victoria.

A large mature male Araucaria araucana or Monkey Puzzle tree found across from Beacon Hill Park in Victoria.

The Monkey Puzzle tree was a puzzle from the beginning. It is tree which is very ancient and fossil records of it date back over 200 million years.  The trees at that time were found in a larger area from Brazil to the Antarctic but new research is suggesting the area might have been much larger and include parts of Europe and even England.  Now they are found in a much smaller area of south-central Chile and west-central Argentina. It grows on the lower slopes of the Andes Mountains at around 1000 m. (3300 ft.) elevation. This is an area which can have heavy snowfall during its winter. The tree is now designated as the national tree of Chile and is protected as its unique forests are now threatened by logging and expansion of population into the area it grows.

This Monkey Puzzle tree dates back at least to the early part of the 20th century in the most Victorian of city of Canada.

This Monkey Puzzle tree dates back at least to the early part of the 20th century in the most Victorian of city of Canada.

Araucaria araucana was first described by Chilean Jesuit priest  Juan Ignacio Molina(1740-1829) in 1782 in his book ‘Saggio sulla Storia Naturale del Chili’ a book about the natural history of Chile and many of its species. He thought Araucaria araucana  was a form of Pine (Pinus) as he was remembering the tree he had not seen since he was last in Chile in 1768.  At the time he was writing his book he was a Professor of Natural Sciences in Bologna Italy.

This a young Monkey Puzzle tree which is one of several found in Beacon Hill Park.

This a young Monkey Puzzle tree which is one of several found in Beacon Hill Park.

Archibald Menzies collected the Araucaria araucana seeds from a dinner he was having in Valparaiso  Chile to bring back to England in 1792.  The seeds he collected germinated on the way back to England were planted when they arrived in Southern England which has the mildest climate of the country. William Lobb the plant collector was later ordered to collect more seed in the 1840s for Veitchs Nursery which he worked for. The new and wildly unusual tree became a hit with the Victorian public and the trees were much planted from the 1850s. It has gone into and out of fashion over time with another period of craze occurring during the 1920s and 30s.

Male flowers cones on the left and females on the right are found on separate Monkey Puzzle trees.

Male flowers cones on the left and females on the right are found on separate Monkey Puzzle trees.

The name Monkey Puzzle tree seems to come from the Victorian era around 1850 when one of the first trees was on display. Someone was reported to have said ‘it would puzzle a monkey how to climb it’. The name has stuck to it ever since. The sprialling over-lapping  specialized leaf scales which cover the stems and young trunk are thick and somewhat fierce. I also like the french name for the tree ‘Monkey’s Despair’ or ‘Desespoir des Singes’.

The thick over-lapping scale-like leaves protect the stems and help give the Monkey Puzzle tree its name.

The thick over-lapping scale-like leaves protect the stems and help give the Monkey Puzzle tree its name.

The botanical latin name Araucaria araucana refers to the people who live where these trees grow. Mapuche(Araucanians) live in the Andres and the tree was an important source of food and the wood was valued for its long straight trunk. The trees have been protected since 1971 from harvest for wood.  It was also sacred to some members of the people.

This young Monkey Puzzle tree is at University of Victoria campus is a male.

This young Monkey Puzzle tree is at University of Victoria campus is a male.

The Monkey Puzzle tree is much-loved by children because it looks so bizarre and un tree-like. If you want to grow one of the trees there are a few things to learn. They are slow-growing and will take some time to not look ungainly and sparse. Choose a small plant as they do not like to be moved and this will often cause their death therefore be sure of where you are going to place it. They like well-drained moist soil in a site which is naturally humid, an area close to the ocean or a large body of water would be great. They need full sun but tolerate some shade such as deciduous trees might give.  They dislike pollution and are best situated where there is some wind to move the air along. They are fairly wind and snow tolerant and are rated at zone 8 or – 12 c.(10 f.) although they can take short periods of colder temperatures.

 

The bark of Araucaria araucana will over time lose the scale-like leaves and develop shallow horizontal ridges.

The bark of Araucaria araucana will over time lose the scale-like leaves and develop shallow horizontal ridges.

To help you un-puzzling this tree:

The naming of the tree: http://www.suite101.com/content/the-amazing-monkey-puzzle-tree-a230510

Check this short book, it’s all about the Monkey Puzzle tree:

http://books.google.ca/books?id=v2Mef2bI1UwC&printsec=frontcover&dq=monkey+puzzle&hl=en&ei=hgUFTdPvCZTAsAPJn-TlDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAQ

How to grow the trees from seed or cuttings: http://www.victorialodging.com/monkey-tree/tips

…….Hope you return for more exciting adventures in plants soon…..

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The laziest part of summer, temperatures are at their peak and I just feel like dozing. In the garden it is a quite time, many plant are going into their decline after blooming earlier the season. With the heat many plants will droop, some will become completely dormant and start loosing their leaves. Others now will shine and come into their season of glory while showing how resilient they are and carry on as if nothing is happening. The Matilija Poppy, California Tree Poppy (Romneya coulteri) acts like it is just another day at the office and look beautiful and refreshing as ever.

Romneya coulteri is known as the Matilija Poppy or Fried Egg Flower.

Romneya coulteri is known as the Matilija Poppy or Fried Egg Flower.

Romneya coulteri is found in southern California  ranging through the Santa Monica to the Santa Ana Mountains near San Diego and then into Baja in Mexico. They are normally found growing in dry washes and canyon and gulleys where the conditions are very dry and the soil tends to be poor. The southern plants are classified as Romneya trichocalyx or BristlyMatilija Poppy. there are also hybrids which are known and are in cultivation. For the common gardener like you or I we can safely consider them to be one plant type as all forms look and grow exactly the same.

Part of the charm of Romneya coulteri are the petals which bring to mind the most delicate silk or crepe paper.

Part of the charm of Romneya coulteri are the petals which bring to mind the most delicate silk or crepe paper.

Romneya coulteri was first brought into the garden by Dr. Thomas Coulter(1793-1843). He was a botanist and explorer who served in Mexico. While he was there he managed silver and lead mines in the late 1820s to early 1830s. In his spare time he would explore the area. He had the foresight to envision that great cities would one day be established there. When he returned home to Ireland in 1834 he brought with him a collection of dried plant materials, insects and rock samples. He later became curator of the herbarium at Trinity College, Dublin. Here his plant samples were studied and included in the national collection which is now part of the National Botanical Gardens of Ireland at Glasnevin.

A large suckering clump of Romneya coulteri or California Tree Poppy is found in the White Garden at Government House.

A large suckering clump of Romneya coulteri or California Tree Poppy is found in the White Garden at Government House.

It was at Glasnevin that Romneya coulteri was first grown in a garden setting in 1875. The delay introducing is likely partly due to getting viable seed to germinate as well propagating it which is difficult.  Romneya comes from honoring Thomas Romney Robinson(1792-1882) an important Irish astronomer. Coulteri is named for Dr. Coulter who is mentioned above. The name was chosen by William Harvey in 1845 to honor the two men who were his contemporaries and friends in Ireland.

This Romneya coulteri is in a hot, full sun site on a street near Cook Street Village.

This Romneya coulteri is in a hot, full sun site on a street near Cook Street Village.

Even though Romneya coulteri comes from sunny California it grows very well in many other places which are not so warm or sunny. Here in the north(wet)west it is an increasingly common sight in larger gardens. people have come to appreciate its long blooming, drought tolerant qualities. Another thing that is loved is the beautiful grey green foliage which works so well with many other colors. The blooms also have a light delicate fragrance which is much-loved.

The attractive jagged greyish foliage of Romneya coulteri.

The attractive jagged greyish foliage of Romneya coulteri.

Like all members of the poppy family care must be taken when placing Romneya coulteri in the garden.  This not a small plant, in fact it can grow to nearly 3m(10ft) tall and nearly as wide, this is why this plant is often thought of as more of a shrub than a woody based perennial. California Tree Poppies spread by underground rhizomes which can go under paths, driveways and even houses and pop out on the other side. Here they generally grow 2m(6ft) tall or less. Choose a site which will give them the space they need and will not impact other more delicate or less vigorous plantings. these plants are not fussy about their site as long as it is well-drained, soil can be poor or rich, no amendments or fertilizer should be given. When first planting they need water about once a week and then in following years should be left alone.

Matilija Poppy stems are long and still and often need staking.

Matilija Poppy stems are long and still and often need staking.

Romneya coulteri plants have stiff woody stems which grow best with scant water and full sun and less likely to flop. This stately plant works well in the back of borders or the very center of large beds where it can support other plants leaning and climbing up its mighty stems. It is great in dry areas or those which will naturally  have less pampering. It attract butterflies, bees and other insects. It would be useful in mass plantings or even as a very coarse tough groundcover for dry neglected areas.  In warmer areas it is almost evergreen, here it is often treated as other perennials and cut down in the fall when it goes dormant. It is rated as zone 6(-10f) by some authorities and zone 8(-12c or 10f) by others. I think must be related to the winter dampness and drainage.  Propagation is best done with young root cuttings.

The bristly seed-heads are rather small compared to the enormous 5-6in(12-15cm) diameter flowers.

The bristly seed-heads are rather small compared to the enormous 5-6in(12-15cm) diameter flowers.

The sap of Matilija Poppies was in the past medicinally for skin and gum problems and for stomach upsets. There is a charming legend relating to the flower which claims the petals of the flower were believed to have been made of the soul of a heart-broken maiden who died. The Chumash (native people of the area which this plant grows) gods changed her into the pure white petals.

Trails Stemming From Tall Poppies:

Detailed description of the plant and where it lives: http://www.calflora.net/bloomingplants/matilijapoppy.html

Growing Romneya here in the northwest: http://www.rainyside.com/features/plant_gallery/perennials/Romneya_coulteri.html

Glasnevin Botanical Garden of Ireland: http://www.botanicgardens.ie/

Romneyas are now considered a rare  and threatened plant in California: http://cnps.site.aplus.net/cgi-bin/inv/inventory.cgi/Go?_id=romneya_coulteri&sort=DEFAULT&search=Romneya%20coulteri

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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.

The frothy white panicles of Ocean Spray(Holodiscus discolor) is seen everywhere here in the early summer.

The frothy white panicles of Ocean Spray(Holodiscus discolor) is seen everywhere here in the early summer.

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.

A typical Ocean Spray growing amongst the grass and rock.

A typical Ocean Spray growing amongst the grass and rock.

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.

A panicle of thousands of tiny slightly fragrant, disc-like flowers make up the showy plume of Ocean Spray.

A panicle of thousands of tiny slightly fragrant, disc-like flowers make up the showy plume of Ocean Spray.

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.

Holodiscus discolor is a multi-stemmed shrub which can be pruned to show of the beautiful bark.

Holodiscus discolor is a multi-stemmed shrub which can be pruned to show of the beautiful bark.

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.

The attractive leaves of Holodiscus discolor are often burnished in the spring and turn golden tones in the autumn.

The attractive leaves of Holodiscus discolor are often burnished in the spring and turn golden tones in the autumn.

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.

A path in the Woodlands at Government House takes you through a natural arbour of Holodiscus dicolor shrubs.

A path in the Woodlands at Government House takes you through a natural arbour of Holodiscus dicolor shrubs.

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).

I found this wonderful pink tinged Holodiscus discolor and think it should be propagated and sold as a new color variation.

I found this wonderful pink tinged Holodiscus discolor and think it should be propagated and sold as a new color variation.

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.

Discussing Holodiscus:

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

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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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Were I come from the climate is cold and some types of plants are not well represented in the wild or are do not grow there at all. An example is broad leaf evergreen plants. The only types which have survived the extreme cold are those which have adapted themselves to be short enough to be coved by snow during the long winter. Another plant which has adapted itself in a most usual way is the Licorice Fern(Polypodium glycyrrhiza) which grow here on the mild wet coast.

Polypodium glycyrrhiza or Licorice Fern

Polypodium glycyrrhiza or Licorice Fern growing on top of a rocky ledge amoungst the moss.

I first saw Licorice Ferns in a park in Surrey, near Vancouver. They are not nearly as noticeable as they are here and that may be due to there being more rocky outcrops for them to hang off of and be more exposed. At this time of the year these plants stand out because the fronds are fresh and green, newly grown during the late fall. The adaption Polypodium glycyrrhiza uses is to be deciduous during the dry season summers here. As we approach late spring Licorice Ferns drop their leaves and go dormant over the dry hot summer. In early fall with the first rains of the approaching wet season the ferns wake up and start to grow a new crop of leaves.

Remnants of other years growth are seen at the base of this clump of Licorice Fern.

Remnants of other years growth are seen at the base of this clump of Licorice Fern.

Licorice Fern is a member of the Polypodium family of which there are up to 100 members.  They are spread throughout the world with the largest contingent found in tropical areas. All members of the family spread by rhizomes which are specialized stems that creep along the ground. The name Polypodium comes from ancient Greek and means: ‘poly’- many, and ‘podium(ion)’- little foot.  Glycyrrhiza is also from Greek and refers glykys(glycyr- sweet) and ‘rhiza’-root, this refers to the sweet licorice flavor of the root. The sweet flavor comes from ostadin which is a steroidal compound that is 3000 times sweeter than sucrose.

Several different clumps of Polypodium glycyrrhiza growing along Landsend Road in North Saanich.

Several different clumps of Polypodium glycyrrhiza growing along Landsend Road in North Saanich.

The Licorice Fern grows along a narrow strip which extends from central California through Oregon, Washington all the way up to Aleutin Islands. The area extends to the western slopes of the Coastal and Cascade Mountains and goes all the way to the ocean and then hops over the the major islands along the Pacific Ocean of North America. Polypodium glycyrrhiza grows in dappled to fully shaded sites which are often along road edges and rocky outcrops.  These ferns are also happy creeping up the bases of Big Leaf Maples(Acer macrophyllum), larger Alders and Garry Oaks. They are epiphytes which do no damage to the trees which they grow on. The fern roots have been used by native groups for healing sore throats and colds. The sweet rhizomes where sometimes chewed for the flavor. Licorice is one of only a few ferns which have been know to be eaten in various forms. The rhizomes were  eaten dried, steamed, raw or scorched.

You will find Licorice Ferns scattered through the gardens at Government House.

You will find Licorice Ferns scattered through the gardens at Government House.

Licorice Ferns grow in areas which often have very little soil. Often these sites have a layer of moss which spores of the ferns are able to grow in and develop into sheets of slowly creeping clumps of fronds. If you are lucky you will have a clump of these plants which will need little attention through the year. Many years ago I collected a piece of Polypodium glycyrrhiza which I have grown in a pot for many years. I bring it out to be on my steps during the winter for some seasonal color and later tuck into a less noticeable corner when it becomes dormant. I have divided it several times and given parts away to other gardeners.

My Licorice Fern growing in a colorful bucket on a step near my door.

My Licorice Fern growing in a colorful bucket on a step near my door.

In their native habitat Licorice Ferns can be seen growing along side wild Sedums, Tellima, Tiarellas and Heucheras. These ferns are charming to see in the winter and add a touch of bright green in areas which might be dingy and dark in the many conifers found here. I find Licorice Ferns facinating in where they choose to live and how they seem to miraculously appear on what look like barren rocks after the first rains of autumn every year. I always look forward to their appearance.

In the right place Licorice Ferns are a luxuriant carpet.

In the right place Licorice Ferns are a luxuriant carpet.

Growing Licorice Ferns are as easy as taking a piece and planting it where you want. It needs water during the winter when it is growing, now that is not hard at all here.  they are listed as growing in zones 5(-10 to -20f) through 8(10-20f). If they like their spot they will slowly increase the number of fronds which come up. they grow to 2ft tall, but rarely ever give that impression as they are usually bent over.

Polypodium glycyrrhiza in Playfair Park.

A great spot to view Polypodium glycyrrhiza is the top area of Playfair Park in Saanich.

More about Polypodium glycyrrhiza:

Wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Licorice_fern

Efloras page about Licorice Ferns: http://efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=233500977

Northwest Native of the Month: http://www.portlandnursery.com/plants/nativePicks/natives_polypodium.shtml

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