Monthly Archives: May 2014

Pacific Madrone, Arbutus menziesii

Pacific Madrone                             TheHeath Family– Ericaceae

 Madrone TreeArbutus menziesii Pursh.                  

(ar-BYOO-tus   men-ZEE-zee-eye)

Names: The Pacific Madrone is the only common broadleaved evergreen tree in our region.  It is known by many names.  In the northwest it is more familiarly called Madrona, whereas in California it is more often called Madrone or sometimes Coast Madrono (Madrono is Spanish for Strawberry tree).  British Columbians simply call it Arbutus.  In fact there is a song, Arbutus Baby, about a Madrona seedling by the children’s musician “Raffi.” My son was excited to be able to explain to his classmates what an Arbutus was when his teacher played this song in his second grade class!

Arbutus menziesii bushRelationships: There are over 1,500 species of plants in ericaceae, including blueberries, huckleberries, cranberries, rhododendrons, heathers and salal.  All members have tubular flowers (usually four or five petals that are fused at the base).  Almost all grow in acid soils and depend on fungal mycorrrhiza for efficient uptake of water and nutrients.  Two other species of Arbutus found in the U.S. and Mexico are the Texas Madrone (A. texana) and the Arizona Madrone (A. arizonica). More familiar to gardeners is the Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo, which is native to the Mediterranean.

 

Distribution of Pacific Madrone from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr.

Distribution of Pacific Madrone from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr.

Distribution: Pacific Madrone is found along the pacific coast from southern British Columbia to San Diego County in California.

Madrone over Glen CoveGrowth: Pacific Madrone is the largest member of ericaceae, sometimes reaching 100 feet (34m) tall; usually 30 to 75 feet (10-25m).   One well-known tree on Cherry Street in Port Angeles, Washington has a circumference of over 20 feet (7m).  Madrones may live 250 years or more (some estimate that it may live 400-500 years). Whereas conifers show extreme apical dominance– where the top growing point relies on gravity to transport hormones that ensure it will grow with a straight trunk, Madrones, in contrast, are extremely phototropic, meaning that the top growing points will seek the sun.  In fact, when growing in the sun, Madrones tend to be more bush-like.  It is when they are growing in competition with other trees they grow taller, often leaning to seek out brightest spot.

Habitat: In our area Madrones are most often found on dry, sunny sites, often on bluffs above the seashore with a south or west exposure.  In the southern part of its range in California, it is found in moister valleys.

A small Madrona at the base of a Douglas Fir.

A small Madrona at the base of a Douglas Fir.

Diagnostic Characters: Pacific Madrone is easy to recognize by its leathery, oval-shaped leaves. Old leaves are shed in the summer.  Also in summer, especially where exposed to the sun, the cinnamon-colored bark peels off to reveal smooth, light green, younger bark that turns golden with age. Older Madrones, growing in a forest, retain a scaly, reddish brown bark.  White, urn-shaped flowers, in large drooping clusters, make an appearance in spring, followed by orange-red berries with a bumpy or granular surface in autumn.

Peeling bark on a young tree.

Peeling bark on a young tree.

 

Thicker bark on a mature tree

Thicker bark on a mature tree

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glossy green leaes of Madrone

Glossy green leaes of Madrone

Madrone more peeling bark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madrona leaves can be messy.

Madrona leaves can be messy.

In the landscape, Madrone gets mixed reviews.  Many people love their attractive peeling bark, evergreen leaves, and showy flowers and fruit.  Other people bemoan their messy nature, the fact that they drop leaves and bark throughout the summer.  For this reason, Madrones should not be planted next to a patio or in a lawn.  Another reason Madrones should not be planted in an irrigated lawn is because it susceptible to a root rot, Phytophthora cactorum.  Madrones also do not respond well to disturbance.  When tall, skinny Madrones that were once growing in a forest, are exposed to the sun, their bark begins to peel.  These, thin-barked trees are much more susceptible to the canker disease, Nattrassia mangiferae.  Pruning cuts may also provide easy access to the pathogen. Leaf spots that are caused by many different fungi also can make a Madrone unsightly.  Sometimes leaves will turn totally brown, but will recover when new leaves are produced in the spring.  If this has been a problem, old leaves should be raked up and destroyed to limit reinfection.  Despite all its problems, Madrone is a worthy tree. It can prove its magnificence if it is planted in a west or south-facing exposure, rarely irrigated, and left to its own devices.

Phenology: Bloom Period:  Mid-March-June. Berries ripen mid-September to mid-November; seeds are dispersed by birds and rodents, but will also just drop to the ground.Madrone berriesMadrone flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Propagation: Seeds need to be separated from the berry, then given a cold-moist stratification at 40ºF (4ºC) for 60 days– or plant them outside in fall for natural stratification.

Use by people: The wood can be made into attractive veneer, furniture and hardwood floors.  The wood varies in color from very light to a dark purple.  It makes excellent firewood.  The berries are edible but were rarely eaten by natives.

Use by Wildlife: The berries are an important food for pigeons, doves, thrushes and robins.  Wood rats will also eat the fruit and deer will eat the foliage.  Madrone is also a preferred tree species for cavity-nesting birds, especially woodpeckers, nuthatches, and wrens.  Songbirds, small owls and mammals such as raccoons, porcupines and squirrels will move in to cavities abandoned by woodpeckers.  As with all members of ericaceae, the flowers attract pollinators such as bees and hummingbirds.

Note: For my master’s thesis I studied the Possible Causes of Decline for the Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) (1995). and presented my findings at the Proceedings of the April 28, 1995 Symposium: “The Decline of Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii Pursh): Current Theory and Research Directions.”

Links:

USDA Plants Database

Natural Resources Canada

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Jepson Manual, University of California

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Silvics of North America

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

National Register of Big Trees

Pacific Yew, Taxus brevifolia

Pacific Yew                                                                                     The Yew Family–Taxaceae

Taxus brevifolia big treeTaxus brevifolia Nutt.

(TAKS-us   brev-i-FOAL-ee-uh)

Names: The Pacific Yew is also called the Western Yew or sometimes the Oregon Yew.  Brevifolia means short leaves.

Relationships: There are about seven species of yew worldwide.   Most are shrubs.  The English species, T. baccata and the Japanese species, T. cuspidata have many cultivated varieties.

 

Distribution of Taxus brevifolia from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution of Taxus brevifolia from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

The largest Yew in Oregon at Milo McIver State Park.

The largest Yew in Oregon at Milo McIver State Park.

Distribution: The Pacific Yew is found from British Columbia to Northern California from the coast to the Cascades, on the western slope of the Sierra Nevadas and the western slope of the Rockies in B.C., Idaho and Montana.  Rarely ever numerous, it is usually found as an understory tree in moist old growth forests growing beneath other larger trees such as Western Hemlock and Douglas Fir.Taxus brevifolia big tree 2

 

 

Taxus brevifoliaGrowth:  This rather scrubby looking tree grows slowly and usually only reaches 6 to 45 feet (2-15m).  The largest are about 60 feet (18m).

 Wetland designation: FACU-, Facultative upland, it usually occurs in non-wetland but is only sometimes found in wetlands.

Pacific Yew

 

Diagnostic Characters: The needled foliage is similar in appearance to Douglas Fir, True Firs, and Hemlocks.  The needles are arranged in 2 rows in flat sprays, similar to Grand Fir, but the needles are shorter, about an inch (2-3cm) long, coming to a point at the end.  The twigs are green.  Instead of a woody cone, female yew trees produce a bright red, berry-like, gelatinous cup called an aril.  One bony seed is visible through the hole in the end of each aril.  If you are lucky enough to find a mature yew, the bark is very shaggy looking with red to purplish shredded scales.

Yews have a berry-like fruit called an "aril."

Yews have a berry-like fruit called an “aril.”

Western Yew small treeIn the Landscape:  Although many prefer its cultivated cousins, this somewhat homely, scraggly species may find a perfect home in a landscape for those that can appreciate its unconventional beauty.  For those that have a small yard and cannot plant any of the larger native conifers, this little jewel may be the perfect choice!

Male cones

Male cones

Phenology:  Bloom Period:  May to June, male and female on separate plants.  Arils ripen in August to October; seeds are dispersed by birds and rodents, but will also just drop to the ground.

Propagation: Yew is easy to propagate from half-ripe terminal cuttings taken in summer.  The seeds require warm stratification for 90 days, then a cold stratification at 40ºF (4ºC) for another 90 days.  A germination rate of about 55% may be expected the 2nd spring.

Western Yew barkUse by People: Yew wood was prized in both the old world and the new world for its strength and elasticity.  It was used by natives to make many kinds of tools and weapons, particularly bows.  Young native men would rub themselves with smooth yew sticks to give them strength.  The wood is also ideal for carving and takes on a high polish.  The fleshy seed coverings have been eaten in small quantities but should probably be avoided.  The seeds are poisonous to humans!!  Unfortunately loggers who were after the larger Douglas Fir, Hemlock and other trees of old growth forests did not have much regard for the Pacific Yew and many were destroyed in the process of harvesting the larger trees.  The plight of the Pacific Yew gained attention in the 1980’s when it was discovered that its bark yielded the effective cancer-fighting drug, Taxol.  Although there is a now synthetic alternative, the concern over the scarce tree, brought attention to the need for protecting our remaining old growth forests.

Shaggy understory yews are often draped with moss.

Shaggy understory yews are often draped with moss.

Use by Wildlife:  Birds eat the yew’s fleshy arils and disperse the seeds.  The foliage is a winter browse for moose.

Sometimes Yews appear a bronzy yellow next greener hemlocks and Douglas Firs.

Sometimes Yews appear a bronzy yellow next greener hemlocks and Douglas Firs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Links:

USDA Plants Database

Natural Resources Canada

Gymnosperm Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Jepson Manual, University of California

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Silvics of North America

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

National Register of Big Trees

   

Common Juniper, Juniperus communis

Common Juniper

Common JuniperJuniperus communis L.

(joo-NIH-per-us   kom-MEW-nis)

Names:  Common Juniper lives up to its name, being the only circumpolar conifer of the northern hemisphere.

Relationships: There are about 70 species of Juniper worldwide, with 13 native to the United States.  Only 2 species occur in our region.

 

 

Distribution of Common Juniper from USGS ( "Atlas of United States Trees" by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution of Common Juniper from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution:  It is native to Europe, Asia and North America.

Growth: The species varies widely from a groundcover to a tree 60 feet (20m) tall.  In our region it is a prostrate, trailing shrub usually less than 3 feet (1m) tall, forming mats to 9 feet (3m) in diameter.

Habitat: It grows from near sea level in lowland bogs, in dry, open woods and on rocky slopes to subalpine ridges and alpine tundras.

Common Juniper berries

 

 

Diagnostic Characters: The blue-gray leaves are needle-like in whorls of three and very prickly.  Female plants produce bluish-black “berries.”

In the Landscape: There are several cultivated varieties of this species suitable for many situations.  Our native forms are best used in a rock garden or in border plantings.

Propagation is easiest by heel cuttings of mature wood taken in fall.  Seeds have a prolonged dormancy of 14 to 16 months requiring a cold period, then a warm period and another cold period, each about 2-3 months.  Soaking the seed for a few seconds in boiling water may help to remove the fleshy seed coat, which would naturally be removed after passing through the digestive system of a bird or small mammal. If all goes well, you may achieve about 45% germination rate after the 2nd spring.

Use by People: In the old world the berries are known for their use as the flavoring for gin. North American native used all parts of this plant for various medicinal purposes, They used the fragrant branches for rituals and in sweat lodges. The dried berries were used as beads to make necklaces and to decorate dresses by California tribes.

Use by wildlife:  Deer and mountain goats browse Common Juniper to at least a limited extent. Levels of use are typically greatest during the winter or early spring. Caribou and Moose have been observed feeding on Common Juniper. Hares may also browse Common Juniper. “Berries” of most junipers are eaten by many species of birds and mammals,  including American Robins,  Black-capped Chickadees, and Cedar Waxwings. Wild turkeys also feed on the berries of Common Juniper. It also provides cover and nesting sites for birds and small mammals.

Links:

USDA Plants Database

Natural Resources Canada

Gymnosperm Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Jepson Manual, University of California

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

 

Rocky Mountain Juniper, Juniperus scopulorum

Rocky Mountain Juniper                                                                               The Cypress Family–Cupressaceae
Juniperus scopulorum Sarg.
Rock Mountain Juniper in Vantage, Washington

Rock Mountain Juniper in Vantage, Washington

(joo-NIH-per-us   skop-yoo-LOR-um)

Names:  Rocky Mountain Juniper is sometimes called Rocky Mountain Cedar or Mountain Red Cedar. “Scopulorum” means growing on cliffs.

Relationships: There are about 70 species of Juniper worldwide, with 13 native to the United States.  Only 2 species occur in our region.

 

 

 

Distribution of Rocky Mountain Juniper from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution of Rocky Mountain Juniper from USGS ( “Atlas of United States Trees” by Elbert L. Little, Jr. )

Distribution: The Rocky Mountain Juniper is widely distributed in much of western North America from British Columbia through the Rocky Mountains south to Arizona and New Mexico.

Growth: Rocky Mountain Juniper is one of 11 junipers in the United States reaching tree size.  It is a small tree from 30 to 40 feet (10-13m) tall, with a rounded or columnar habit.  It grows slowly and can live for 300 years.

Habitat: In the Puget Sound, it is only found on dry, exposed bluffs of the San Juan Islands.

 

 

Rocky Mountain Juniper tends to be a scruffy, sparse tree in west side gardens.

Rocky Mountain Juniper tends to be a scruffy, sparse tree in west side gardens.

 

Diagnostic Characters: Juvenile foliage is short, pointed needles in threes. Adult foliage is grayish-green and scale-like with opposite leaves in pairs.  Female trees produce blue, waxy “berries.”  The bark is red-brown, broken into shredded scales.

In the Landscape: Although the species is not widely grown, there are several cultivated varieties, particularly columnar types.  Rocky Mountain Juniper can be used as a small screening tree. Its grayish color and somewhat scruffy appearance can make an attractive contrast with greener, more softly textured conifers. It is useful for shoreline plantings because of its tolerance to salt spray. Its drought tolerance makes it especially appropriate for dry areas; in fact it should not be planted where it would receive too much moisture.

Juniper berriesPhenology: Bloom Period:  Mid April to mid-June. Fruiting period:  Fleshy cones, often referred to as “berries,” ripen in mid-September to mid-December the following year; seeds are primarily disseminated by birds, which eat the fruit in fall and winter.

Propagation is easiest by heel cuttings of mature wood taken in fall.  Seeds have a prolonged dormancy of 14 to 16 months requiring a cold period, then a warm period and another cold period, each about 2-3 months.  Soaking the seed for a few seconds in boiling water may help to remove the fleshy seed coat, which would naturally be removed after passing through the digestive system of a bird or small mammal. If all goes well, you may achieve about 45% germination rate after the 2nd spring.

Use by people: The strong smelling roots of Rocky Mountain Juniper were boiled and used medicinally by natives for bathing and for disinfecting.

Use by wildlife: Many birds, especially the Cedar Waxwing, enjoy the berry-like fruit.  Small and large mammals eat them too.  Hoofed browsers eat the twigs and foliage.  The trees also provide protective cover and nesting sites.

Links:

USDA Plants Database

Natural Resources Canada

Gymnosperm Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

E-Flora BC, Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia

Calphotos

Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Silvics of North America

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet

Native Plants Network, Propagation Protocol Database

Plants for a Future Database

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

National Register of Big Trees