Native Plant of the Week

Throughout 2017 the Port featured a "native plant of the week" that can be found along its properties. The Port uses these 50 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:  Avens
Scientific Name:  Geum macrophyllum

Avens is a glabrous perennial 45 to 60 cm tall with prostrate leaves and erect flower stems growing from short rhizomes. The leaves are lyrate-pinnatifid; pinnate with a large terminal lobe and smaller leaflets along the rachis (mid-rib). They grow up to 9 cm long and are unequally 3 lobed. The 2 cm flowers have 5 bright yellow petals, are saucer-shaped and grow at the branch tips. The fruits are clusters of short hairy achenes. They have elongated s-shaped styles that cling to passing animals and provide an effective dispersal mechanism.

Whenever this plant is used medicinally its astringent qualities are recognized. It was frequently used in connection with childbirth. The Quileute and Klallam chewed the leaves during labor. The Chehalis made tea from the leaves to avoid contraception. Cowichan men chewed the leaves and gave them to their pregnant wives to “straighten out the womb” and aid delivery. The Nuxalk made tea from the roots for stomach pains. Other uses include eyewashes, diuretics and rheumatism cures.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Avens is generally found at lower elevations in open areas, open forests and edges, and moist meadows. It is found in our Eagle Scout’s native plant garden next to the picnic table on Marine Drive.
Common Name:  Red Alder
Scientific Name:  Alnus rubra

Red Alder

The red alder is a deciduous tree with smooth gray bark that is often mottled with patches of white lichen. The inner bark turns rusty red when cut and exposed to air. It is fast growing, getting up to 25 meters tall. The alternate leaves are broad and elliptical, 5 to 15 cm long, and pointed at the ends. The leaf edges are wavy, toothed, and revolute (rolled-under). The male and female flowers are on the same tree and appear in catkins before the leaves emerge in the spring. Small winged seeds fall from 2 cm long brown cones that remain on the tree for several years. It is a short lived species that is considered old at 50 years.
Red alder has the unique ability to create its own fertilizer. The bacteria Actinomycetes, in the Frankin genus, invade the alders through their root hairs and stimulate cell division forming nodes on the roots. The bacteria in these nodes remove nitrogen from the air and convert it to a form that is useful to plants. The alder has great habitat value. Deer and elk browse the leaves. The leaves are eaten by a large number of invertebrates which in turn feed many insect eating bird species. Seeds provide an important source of food for over-wintering birds. Dead and dying alders have more wildlife value than young trees. They provide habitat for cavity nesting birds and mammals. The soft even grained wood is good firewood and considered the best for smoking fish. It was used to make implements such as bowls, masks, and rattles. The bark was used to make red or orange dyes. Nets were dyed with this to make them invisible to fish. The inner bark was eaten by the Straits Salish and other coast peoples. It was used medicinally for tuberculosis and other ailments.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Alder is generally found at low elevations in flood plains, stream banks, on recently cleared land and slide tracks. It is found in many of our treed landscapes of our downtown properties as well as throughout out Tumwater forested parcels.
Common Name:  Red Twig Dogwood
Scientific Name:  Cornus sericea
Red Twig Dogwood
Red twig dogwood is a deciduous multi-stemmed perennial growing vase shaped up to 5 meters tall. The opposite leaves are elliptical, pointed and about 10 cm long. The leaves have 5 to 7 prominent evenly spaced lateral veins that merge at the wavy leaf margin. The leaves have a fantastic red fall color. The smooth bark is bright red or purplish turning grey on the older stems. The small, 2 to 4 mm, white flowers have 4 petals and appear in flat topped clusters at the branch terminus. The fruit are 7 to 9 mm bluish-white berry-like drupes.

The fruit of this dogwood are edible but very bitter. They were eaten by tribes in the interior but not by the coastal tribes. The twigs were used as utensils and as basket rims. The dogwood provides cover and food for birds and mammals. Butterfly larvae eat the foliage. It is an important winter browse for moose, deer, and elk.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Red twig dogwood prefers moist soils and is typically found in swamps or on stream-sides at lower elevations and valley bottoms. It is found at the Swantown boat launch pay station and parking lot, behind the OAR building, and at the Boatworks storm water pond.
Common Name:  Western Red Cedar
Scientific Name:  Thuja plicata
Western Red Cedar

The Red cedar is a large evergreen conifer that grows up to 70 meters tall. The massive tapering trunk flares at the base to form buttresses. The reddish bark is thin shaggy and peels off in long strips. The needles are flat overlapping like scales that look like a flattened braid. The glossy green needles are opposite and arranged in pairs making up four rows. Their flattened sprays are found on droopy branches that turn up at the tip. The reddish pollen cones are minute and numerous. The female cones are about 1 cm long have 8 to 12 scales, are egg or tulip shaped, and found in loose clusters. They are green when young turning brown when mature. The seeds are winged.

This extraordinarily useful plant played key cultural and physical roles and is considered the cornerstone of the NW Indian culture. There is no other single item that is so ubiquitous in the households of the aboriginal peoples of the NW pacific coastal region. Its uses include dugout canoes, house planks, posts, totem poles, bentwood boxes, baskets, clothing, hats, dishes, arrow shafts, harpoons, spears, barbeque sticks, fish spreaders and hangers, dip nets, hooks, fish clubs, masks, rattles, benches, cradles, coffins, herring rakes, canoe bailers, ceremonial drums, combs, fish floats, spirit whistles, paddles, as well as various medicinal uses. The wood is excellent fuel that burns with little smoke.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Red cedar is generally found in moist to wet soils. It is shade tolerant but will grow in full sun. It's found in many places along our shoreline trail in downtown Olympia, at the Swantown public boat launch, and is common throughout our properties in Tumwater.
Common Name:  Cattail
Scientific Name:  Typha latifolia

Cattail is a deciduous perennial that grows from thick fibrous rhizomes getting from 1 to 3 meters tall. It has long green strap-like fleshy leaves that are 2 cm wide with their bases sheathing the stem. The tall flowering stem is pithy and un-branched. The persistent brown female (pistillate) flowers are in a cylindrical spike 15-20 cm long and 1-3 cm wide. The male (staminate) flowers bloom above the female flowers and quickly disintegrate leaving the stem tip bare above. The fruits are numerous tiny nutlets 1 mm long with long hairs. The hairs enable it to float on air or water which aids in its dispersal.

Cattails provide habitat and food, improve water quality and provide erosion control. The edible rhizomes are eaten by people and animals alike. They are an important food source for geese and muskrats. They provide nesting and roosting sites for waterfowl and wading birds, and are frequently used by red winged blackbirds. The Chehalis bake the rhizomes while the Lower Chinook eat them raw. The cattails were more widely used for mat making than for food. They were used for insulation and screens in winter houses and roofs and walls in summer houses. They were widely used as mattresses. The leaves were used to make baskets and string.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Cattail is found in a wide variety of habitats in our area from places that have seasonally saturated soils to areas that have standing water up to 2 feet deep. It is found in marshes, ponds, ditches, and lakesides. It is found in our storm water retention ponds and ditches at our downtown Olympia properties and in ponds and wet areas at our Tumwater properties.
Common Name:  Bald Hip Rose
Scientific Name:  Rosa gymnocarpa
Bald Hip Rose
Bald hip is a small rose with slender upright stems covered with straight soft spines (or sometimes bare) that grows up to 1.5 meters tall. The leaves are pinnately compound with 6 to 9 leaflets up to 4 cm long each. The small 5 petaled flowers are light to dark pink and appear singly or in small clusters at the end of the branches. As the fruit matures it turns bright scarlet and the sepals fall off the top leaving it “bald”.

Bald hip is the main native upland rose species in our area. The northwest coast groups use the roses in a number of ways. A tea was made of young leaves and shoots and drunk as a tonic. An infusion was used on sore eyes. The leaves and bark were dried, toasted, and the resulting powder was smoked either alone or mixed with other plants. The hips were eaten when ripe as famine food. The outer fruit only was eaten because the seeds have hairs that irritate the intestines and cause itchy bottom.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Bald hip rose is generally found in partial shade sites with dry to moist soil but never wet. It is found in the Port’s native gardens at the corner of Olympia Avenue and Marine Drive.
Common Name:  Fringe cup
Scientific Name: Tellima grandiflora

Fringe cup is a perennial herb that grows from short rhizomes. The basal leaves are roughly heart shaped, up to 8 cm long, and grow on long hairy petioles. The leaves have 5 to 7 shallow lobes, coarsely toothed margins and are covered with hairs. The flowering stems bear smaller leaves and grow to 80 cm. The flowers are white becoming pink and are found in one sided racemes of 10 to 35. The flowers have a cup-like calyx and 5 petals with fringed margins. The fruits are small capsules with many tiny brown seeds.

The attractive flowers of fringe cup provide nectar and pollen for insects. The Skagit and other tribes pounded it, boiled it and drank the tea for a variety of illnesses, especially loss of appetite. It is said to be used by woodland elves to improve night vision.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Fringe cup is generally found in moist forests and along stream banks at lower elevations. It is in the perennial beds under the Port information kiosk by the Swantown Marina public boat launch.
Common Name:  Oregon Iris
Scientific Name: Iris tenax
Oregon Iris

Oregon iris is a small but showy, deciduous perennial herb that grows to 40 cm from dense clusters of slender rhizomes. The basal leaves are tough and slender, grow to 40 cm and form a grass-like clump. The spectacular flowers are blue to purple (but occasionally white/ pink or yellow). The sepals and petals grow up to 6 cm long. 1 to 2 flowers grow on a 35 cm tall stalk and bloom mid-spring to early summer. The seeds ripen in angled capsules that are 3.5 cm long.

The specific name tenax means tenacious and refers to the toughness of the leaves. Native Americans braided the leaves into snares for various animals.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Oregon iris is generally found in open areas, meadows, road sides, and clear cuts. It is found at the beds under the information kiosk by the Swantown public boat launch.
Common Name:  Thimbleberry
Scientific Name: Rubus parviflorus
Thimbleberry is a deciduous upright shrub that grows 0.5 to 3 meters tall and has brown stems and peeling bark. Growing from rhizomes, it often forms brambly thickets. It is the only unarmed Rubus that is native to Washington. The large, alternate leaves are shaped like maple leaves with 3 to 7 palmate lobes and small fuzzy hairs on both sides of the leaf. The flowers occur singly or in small clusters at the end of the branches. The white petals are up to 4 cm across and look like crumpled tissue paper. The thimble shaped berries are red and slightly fuzzy and look and detach like raspberries.

Thimbleberries were eaten by all of the northwest coast peoples. They were mostly eaten fresh but some were dried and mixed with other berries. The stems and fresh shoots are eaten by people and animals alike. It provides fruit for birds, stems for mammals and nectar for butterflies. The Makah pounded the bark and applied it to a sore tooth or injury to ease the pain. The tea was used as an astringent to cleanse burns and other injuries. The hollow stems were used as pipe stems and straws. Hikers call the fuzzy leaves “nature’s toilet paper”.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: It is usually found in moist to dry open woods, edges, and stream sides. It is on the north side of the OAR building in one of our Eagle Scout planted native gardens.
Common Name:  Pacific Rhododendron
Scientific Name: Rhododendron macrophyllum
Pacific Rhododendron
Pacific Rhododendron is a stoutly branched usually open to leggy evergreen shrub that grows up to 8 meters tall. The alternate leaves are dark green oblong and leathery, 8 to 20 cm in length and not hairy. The 5 lobed flowers have wavy edges, are 2 to 4 cm long, pink to rose-purple, and grow in terminal clusters. The fruits are 2 cm woody capsules.

Pacific Rhododendron is the state flower of Washington. They produce spectacular floral displays in the spring and early summer. They sprout well after fires and cutting and bring color to cleared areas. Due to toxins in the leaves and flowers it has limited food value. It does however host butterfly caterpillars and provide year around cover for wildlife.

FIND IT AT THE PORT:  It is usually found in mixed coniferous forests with moist well drained acidic soils. It grows in sun or shade but blooms best in partial shade. There is one in the landscape bed behind the Swantown Marina boat launch pay station.
Common Name:  Common Juniper
Scientific Name: Juniperus communis
This juniper is sometimes a small tree but locally it is a prostrate evergreen shrub with training branches that are usually less than 1 meter tall and spread to 3 meters in diameter. The leaves are short sharp needles arranged in whorls of three. They are dark green above and whitish below. This plant is dioecious with separate male and female plants. The female plants produce 1 cm round berry-like cones. The cones are covered with a waxy bloom and are pale green at first then maturing to bluish-black in 2 to 3 years.

True to its name, this plant is spread over much of the globe. It is the only circumpolar conifer of the northern hemisphere. This plant is propagated by birds that eat the fruit and spread the seeds they can’t digest. The fruits are used medicinally as a diuretic and for flavoring food dishes and gin.

FIND IT AT THE PORT: Common juniper is found on dry open slopes with well drained soils, gravelly outcrops and lowland bogs. It is at the Port Plaza in the bed adjacent to Anthony’s Home Port restaurant.

Read about the featured native plants from weeks 1 to 39.