Native Plant of the Week

Each week throughout 2017 the Port is featuring one native plant that can be found along its properties. The Port uses these 52 featured native plants along with others as part of its sustainable landscape management program.

Look for these native plants along the Port's properties:

Common Name:  Sitka Mountain Ash
Scientific Name:  Sorbus sitchensis
Sitka Mountain Ash
The Sitka mountain ash is a member of the rose family. It is a large shrub or small tree that is usually multi-stemmed and grows 1 to 4 meters tall. The alternate leaves are pinnately compound into 7 to 11 leaflets. The 5 cm leaflets are rounded at the tips and serrated mostly above the middle. The tiny white flowers have 5 petals and appear in round topped terminal clusters. The fruits are small pomes (like tiny apples), orange to red, and have a waxy glaucous coating.

This is an excellent shrub for the wildlife garden. The fruits are edible but extremely tart and bitter. They are much favored by some birds like the waxwings and grosbeaks. The berries were generally not eaten by the northwest coast peoples, but the Haida did sometimes eat the berries raw. The Nuxalk rubbed crushed berries on the scalp to combat lice and dandruff.
FIND IT AT THE PORT: The mountain ash is found in open forests, stream banks, and meadow margins. There are over a dozen plants in a self seeding population along the shoreline trail of our downtown properties.
Common Name:  Pickle Weed
Scientific Name:  Salicornia pacifica
Pickle Weed

Pickle weed is a fleshy, mat forming, perennial, estuarine herb with 5 to 30 cm upright stems growing from shallow fibrous roots. The plants have no obvious leaves (tiny opposite scales) and look like a chain of segmented scales. The new growth is succulent and edible with the older stems being woody. In the winter much of the fleshy growth is lost leaving a tangle of woody stems. The flowers are tiny in groups of three growing from sunken pits in the stem joints. The fruits are membranous bladders that contain one seed each.
The scientific name comes from the Latin salsus (salt) and cornu (horn) in reference to its habitat and horn-like appearance. The plants trap sediment in the lower intertidal areas and the root systems stabilize tidal beaches. The tender young stalks, sometimes referred to as sea asparagus, are a well known green vegetable that can be found in local markets and high end restaurants. The indigenous tribes have eaten it only in recent times and harvest it today as a source of income. It is voraciously grazed by waterfowl and other herbivores. Historically it was burned and the ash used as a source of carbonate of soda for glass making before WW2.
FIND IT AT THE PORT: Pickle weed is common in salt marshes throughout the Sound and in coastal estuaries that receive regular tidal inundation. It is found along the eastern shoreline of our downtown properties.
Common Name:  Eaton’s Aster
Scientific Name:  Aster eatonii
Eatons Aster
This deciduous perennial sends up leafy flowering shoots that grow to 1 meter tall. The lance shaped leaves have a few teeth on the margins with the larger ones reaching 10 cm. The 2 cm ray flowers are pink or white and the bracts are yellowish at the base. The fruits are small achenes with pappus hairs that are sometimes reddish.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Eaton’s aster is fairly common west of the Cascades and is usually found near stream banks, seashores, or other moist to wet places at low to mid elevations. It is in our Prairie garden at Olympia and Marine Drive. Its close relative, Douglas aster, is found in our xeriscape in front of the boat launch bathroom facility.
Common Name:  Great Camas
Scientific Name:  Camassia leichtlinii
Great Camas
Great Camas is a perennial herb that grows to 70 cm tall from a deep egg-shaped bulb. There are several grass-shaped basal leaves that are 2 cm wide and 50 cm long. The blue flowers bloom on a leafless stalk with 5 or more flowers in a terminal raceme. The flowers consist of 6 tepals evenly spaced and star-like. After flowering the tepals twist together around the developing capsules that grow to 2.5 cm.

Camas bulbs were an important staple food that was widely eaten and traded when available. The bulbs were harvested during or soon after blooming so as not to confuse them with the similar looking death Camas. The island coast Samish actively cultivated them. The Camas beds could be owned and inherited. Each season the beds were cleared of stones, weeds, and brush. The bulbs were dug with pointed sticks and only the large ones were harvested leaving the smaller ones for next year’s crop. The bulbs were usually steamed in large pits for 24 hours or more. The carbohydrates in the bulbs have long chain sugars that need to be broken down to be digestible. The cooked bulbs were eaten right away or sun dried for later use. Eating too many bulbs causes indigestion and flatulence.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Camas is one of several lily-family plants that are restricted to rain shadow climates in our region. Great Camas is found in our prairie garden at the Marine Drive and Olympia Avenue intersection.
Common Name:  Yarrow
Scientific Name:  Achillea millefolium
This perennial aromatic herb grows from rhizomes to a height of 10 to 100 cm. The fernlike leaves are stalked below and stalkless above, pinnately dissected, the divisions again dissected. The tiny flowers are grouped into sunflower-like heads and these are arranged into flat topped clusters. The color varies from white to pinkish red. The fruits are small one seeded achenes.

Yarrow is taxonomically one of the most variable plants in our region. It was used for a wide variety of medicinal purposes by the Native Americans. The Haida and Songish used it as a poultice for head and body aches. The Tsimshian used it for a sore throat gargle. Cowlitz soaked the leaves as a hair tonic. The Cowichan made a blood purifier. Swinomish made a bath for invalids. The Klallam used it for cold medicine. Both the Skagit and the Snohomish used it as a diarrhea medicine. The Squamish made a preparation to cure measles. The Quinault made a general tonic.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Yarrow is found in well drained open meadows, rocky slopes, gravel bars and roadsides. You can see it at Swantown next to the information kiosk that is in front of the boat launch bathroom facility.
Common Name:  Goat's Beard
Scientific Name:  Aruncus dioicus
Goats Beard

A member of the rose family, this robust perennial grows 1 to 2 meters tall from stout creeping rhizomes. The sharply toothed leaves are three times compound, pinnate, and divided into ovate leaflets 15 cm long. The plants are dioecious (male or female).  The tiny white flowers are densely packed in elongated terminal much divided clusters. The seeds are light brown follicles about 3 mm long.

There are many traditional medicinal uses of goat’s beard. The Lummi chewed the leaves to cure small pox. The Tlingit made a preparation of the roots for diseases of the blood. The Nuxalk used a tea for stomach pain, gonorrhea, and as a diuretic. It’s efficacy on sores is recognized by several groups. The Skagit burned the twigs and mixed the ashes with bear grease to apply to swellings and sore throats.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Goat’s beard is found in moist edge habitats of streams, roads, and forests. There are some in the plantings on the south side of the Swantown boat launch.
Common Name:  False Lily of the Valley
Scientific Name:  Maianthemum Dilatatum
False Lily of the Valley

This deciduous, shade loving perennial grows from slender branched rhizomes that produce upright stems to 35 cm. Each flowering stem has 2 alternate heart-shaped leaves with 10 cm blades. The small white flowers have 4 petals (unlike the 3 normally found in the lily family) and bloom in a terminal raceme 6 cm long. The fruits are small (6 mm) round berries. They are green and mottled brown at first becoming red.
The berries were eaten, but not greatly relished, by several of the northwest coast groups including the Squamish, Nuxalk, and Haida. The Quinault pounded the roots and soaked them in water which they put on the eyes for soreness. The Makah chewed the roots to correct sterility. The Cowichan drank a root tea to heal internal injuries.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Maianthemum is generally found in moist shady woods and riverside areas. It spreads aggressively and can become the dominant groundcover. It is found at Swantown in the bed behind the boat launch pay station.
Common Name:  Red Columbine
Scientific Name:  Aquilegia Formosa
Red Columbine

This tap rooted perennial grows to 1 meter tall. The leaves are twice ternately (divided into 3’s) compound and clustered at the stem base. The bi-colored flowers have red sepals and yellow petals that have straight red to orange spurs. The fruits are dry follicles that split to release black seeds.

Columbine flowers are very attractive to hummingbirds and butterflies. This plant is called red rain flower in Haida. If you pick the flower it will rain. The Quileute pounded the roots to paste and put it on sores. It was used by various tribes for a variety of ailments including diarrhea, dizziness, and venereal disease.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: This common native plant is found in moist meadows, open meadows and rocky slopes at low to mid elevations west of the Cascades. It is in several of the shrub beds at Swantown Marina as well as the corner of Marine Drive and Olympia Avenue.
Common Name:  Inside Out Flower
Scientific Name:  Vancouveri hexandra
Inside Out Flower 
This deciduous shade loving perennial spreads by slender rhizomes. Its compound leaves are basal and 10 to 40 cm tall. Each leaflet has three lobes in the shape of a duck foot. There are up to 30 nodding white flowers on slender leafless stems. The petals and sepals of the 1 cm flowers turn backwards so far that the flower looks like it is trying to turn itself inside out. The fruits are hairy follicles containing black seeds. The seeds are dispersed by wasps and ants. This plant was named for the English explorer Captain George Vancouver.
FIND IT AT THE PORT: Inside out flower is found in shady moist forests at low to medium elevations on the west side of the Cascades. It is at the information kiosk beds at the Swantown boat launch as well as the BC dock entrance.

Read about the featured native plants from weeks 1 to 24.