Monthly Archives: November 2015

Snowbrush, Ceanothus velutinus

Snowbrush                                The Buckthorn Family–Rhamnaceae

Cceanothus velutinuseanothus velutinus Douglas ex Hook

 (See-uh-NO-thus  vel-OO-tin-us)

Names: Ceanothus is a Greek name for a spiny shrub.  Velutinus means soft and velvety, referring to short, dense, silky hairs on the undersides of the leaves.  This feature is more pronounced on shrubs found in drier areas east of the Cascades.  When in bloom, it is covered with clusters of tiny white flowers, hence the name “Snowbrush.”  It is also commonly known as Tobacco Brush or Red Root; other common names: Cinnamon Brush, Sticky Laurel, Shiny-leaf Ceanothus, and Mountain Balm allude to its sticky, scented leaves.  Although it is also sometimes called Deerbrush, that name is more often applied to the related species, C. integerrimus (discussed in the section on deciduous shrubs).

Blueblossum, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus,

Blueblossum, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus,

Relationships: The genus Ceanothus consists of about 60 shrubs or small trees found only in North America with about 40 occurring only in California.  Many have blue or purple flowers, earning the genus the common name, “Wild Lilacs,” but our creamy white-flowered northwestern species are generally called “Buckbrushes.” (Redstem Ceanothus , C. sanguineus, and Deerbrush, C. integerrimus, will be discussed in the deciduous shrub section.) Blueblossom, C. thyrsiflorus,, one of the tallest and hardiest Ceanothus sp., which is native to southwestern Oregon and the California coast, is often planted in northwest landscapes.

 

 

Distribution of Deerbrush from USDA Plants Database.

Distribution of Deerbrush from USDA Plants Database.

Distribution: Snowbrush is found from British Columbia and Alberta south to California and east to South Dakota and Colorado.

Growth: Snowbrush grows to about 9 feet (3m) tall.  It sometimes sprawls as it competes for sunlight, growing best in full sun.

 Snowbrush flowers

 

 

Diagnostic Characters: Snowbrush is easy to identify by its shiny, often sticky, evergreen leaves with 3 main veins.  Its small, creamy white flowers are borne in pyramidal clusters.

Ceanothus leaves

 

ceanothus leaves2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowbrush roundaboutIn the Landscape:  Snowbrush is an attractive evergreen shrub in the landscape for dry areas.  It also is able to fix nitrogen, so is useful on restoration sites.

 

 

 

 

ceanothus flower budsPhenology: Bloom Period:  May -June.  Seedpods ripen in late June to early August; dispersal begins in August when seeds are ejected from the pods and fall to the ground.

 

 

 

Propagation:  Snowbrush seeds are able to remain viable in the soil for several centuries.  They sprout in response to the heat of a fire.  Temperatures of 176-203ºF (80-95ºC) are necessary to break the seed coat.  Other scarification methods such as abrasion may also be used to break the seed coat and allow water imbibition.  After scarification a cold stratification period is also required. They are difficult to keep alive in pots at the nursery, so are often difficult to find.

Use by people: Deer brush was used by natives in various preparations as a cleansing solution in the sweathouse, a hair wash for dandruff, and for skin ailments such as diaper rash. It was also used for other ailments such as arthritis.

Use by wildlife: Snowbrush is eaten by deer, elk and mountain goats.  Small mammals and birds eat the seeds. Butterflies are attracted to the flowers.

Ceanothus natural

Links:

USDA Plants 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 Eflora, 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

 

Common Buckbrush or Wedgeleaf Ceanothus, C. cuneatus is found from the Willamette Valley and the Oregon Cascades southward, throughout much of California to Baja California in Mexico.  Douglas writes that it is “abundant near the sources of the Multnomak river.” It usually grows 3-6 feet (1-2m), sometimes taller and has attractive white flower clusters, sometimes tinged with blue or lavender.  Harvester ants have been known to cache its seeds, which require fire in order to germinate.

 

 

Oregon Boxwood, Paxistima myrsinites

Oregon Boxwood           The Spindle Tree FamilyCelastraceae

 Paxistima myrsinites (Pursh) Raff.

(Paks-IH-stih-muh  mur-sin-EYE-tees)

Names: The genus has been alternatively spelled Pachistima or Pachystima; it means thick stigma.  The species has also been known as Paxistima myrtifolia.  Myrsinites means like myrsine, or myrtle, referring to its boxwood-like appearance.  Other common names include Falsebox, Boxleaf Myrtle, Mountain Lover or the mnemonic, “pa-kissed-ma.”

Relationships: There are only 2 recognized species of Paxistima, Cliff Green, P. canbyi occurs in the eastern United States.

Distribution of Oregon Boxwood from USDA Plants Database.

Distribution of Oregon Boxwood from USDA Plants Database.

Distribution:  Oregon Boxwood is found from British Columbia to Marin County, California and in the Rockies from Alberta to New Mexico.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growth: With a slow to moderate growth rate, Oregon Boxwood rarely exceeds 3 feet (1m), usually only reaching 8-30 inches (20-80 cm).  It is fairly long-lived.

Habitat: Oregon Boxwood is most often found in the mountains in relatively dry, open, sunny sites or open forests.

Distinguishing Characters: Oregon Boxwood is easily distinguished from other native evergreens by its opposite leaves with toothed margins.  Its flowers are maroon or mahogany, very small but fragrant.  Small, oval capsules contain only one or two seeds.  Each seed is mostly surrounded by a white fleshy aril.

Tiny Maroon or Mahogany Flowers are interesting.

Tiny Maroon or Mahogany Flowers are interesting.

In the Landscape: Oregon Boxwood can be used similarly as are the cultivated shrubs it resembles, Boxwood, Buxus sempervirens, or Japanese Holly, Ilex crenata.  It can be used as a border or a low-growing hedge, or in a woodland garden or rock garden.  It needs a well-drained soil; it will not perform well with too much water.

Phenology: Bloom Period:  April-June; Seed capsules ripen July-September.

Propagation: Oregon Boxwood is easily propagated by softwood cuttings or by layering.  Seed propagation is difficult but success may be achieved with a cool stratification period for several months.

Use by people: Oregon Boxwood is sometimes used as greenery in floral arrangements, but care should be taken not to decimate native populations when collecting.

Use by Wildlife: It is considered an important forage food for deer, elk and moose.  Mountain Sheep and grouse also eat it.  Although there is no evidence that seeds are disseminated by anything but gravity, the white, fleshy arils may entice ants to distribute the seeds.

Links:

USDA Plants 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 Eflora, 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

Native American Ethnobotany, University of Michigan, Dearborn

Fremont Silktassel, Garrya fremontii

Fremont Silktassel                         The Silk Tassel Family–Garryaceae

Garrya fremontii Torr.

Names: Fremont Silktassel is also known as Bearbrush, Mountain Silktassel, Green-leaf Silktassel, California Feverbush, Quinine Bush, Flannel Bush, or Upland Silktassel Bush.  Garrya is named after Nicholas Garry of the Hudson’s Bay Company. This species is named for John Charles Fremont “the Pathfinder,” an explorer and politician of the American West.

Relationships: There are about 18 species of Garrya in North and Central America and the Caribbean; with 8 species from the U.S, mostly limited to the southwest and southern Pacific Coast.

Distribution of Fremon Silktassel from USDA Plants Database

Distribution of Fremon Silktassel from USDA Plants Database

Distribution: Fremont Silktassel reaches the farthest north, barely reaching into Washington along the Columbia River Gorge.  In Oregon, it is mostly found west of the Cascades.  In California, it is found in the Sierras and coast ranges; with a disjunct population in and around San Diego County.  Garrya elliptica, the Coast Silktassel, also native to the coast ranges of Oregon and California, is often grown ornamentally for its long pendulous catkins.

Growth; The Fremont Silktassel grows 3-9 feet (1-3 ft.).

Habitat: It growsin woodlands and chaparral canyons.

Diagnostic Characters: The opposite leaves of Fremont Silktassel are oval-shaped, yellow-green, with light undersides.  (In contrast, Garrya elliptica has wavy-edged, dark green leaves with gray, wooly undersides). Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants in yellowish to purple catkin-like racemes, 3-9cm long.  Flowers are in cup-like bracts, which are densely silky on female plants.  Fruit are round, purple berries that are hairy when young.  Young branches are brownish-purple.

In the Landscape: Silktassels are grown ornamentally for their interesting, long, winter-blooming catkins, which are most impressive on male plants.   You need both male and female plants to produce the attractive purple fruit.  Fremont Silktassel may also be useful as a screen.  It is great for dry areas and tolerates heat and cold better than Coast Silktassel

Phenology: Bloom Period:  January to May. Fruit ripens:  August to December.

Propagation:  Seed is best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Germination requires overwinter stratification (30-120 days) and may take two or more years to germinate.  Seeds may benefit from soaking in 100ppm of gibberellin for 17 hours following the stratification period.  Cuttings should be taken from a parent plant of the desired gender.  They may be taken of half-ripe wood, with a heel in August, or of mature wood with a heel in December or January.  This shrub sprouts quickly from its root crown to recover from wildfire.

Use by People: Early settlers used the leaves of this plant to make a tonic, for fevers, as a substitute for quinine.

Use by Wildlife: Fremont Silktassel is browsed by Mule Deer in winter and spring.  The fruit is eaten by songbirds, mountain quail, gray fox, and rodents.  It provides good cover for black bear, mule deer, and various birds and small mammals.

Hybrids of Garrya elliptica and G. fremontii are given the name (Garrya x issaquaensis).  They have spectacular long catkins like Garrya elliptica but are more cold tolerant.  The first known hybrid, ‘Pat Ballard’ was grown from a seed that occurred in its namesake’s garden in Issaquah, Washington.  Another cultivar, ‘Carl English’ is named for the Army Corps of Engineers horticulturalist who designed and built the botanical garden at the Hiram S. Chittenden Locks in Ballard, Washington.   Another variety, ‘Glasnevin Wine,’ was more recently developed in Ireland.

Garrya elliptica

Garrya elliptica is much more common in landscapes.

Links:

USDA Plants Database

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria

WTU Herbarium Image Collection, Plants of Washington, Burke Museum

Jepson Eflora, University of California

Calphotos

USDA Forest Service-Fire Effects Information System

Virginia Tech ID Fact Sheet

Plants for a Future Database

Other Evergreen Ericaceous Plants

Several Evergreen Ericaceous Plants found mostly in wetlands:

Ledum groenlandicum

Labrador Tea, Ledum* groenlandicum Oeder      OBL

Labrador Tea is found throughout the northern latitudes, including Greenland as its name suggests.  It has white flowers.  The undersides of older leaves are covered with a rusty brown-colored fuzz.  Natives and European settlers and traders used the leaves for tea, both as a beverage and medicinally.  It should be consumed in moderation and not be confused with Trapper’s Tea, Bog Laurel, or Bog Rosemary which all lack brown fuzz and are toxic.

The undersides of older Labrador Tea leaves are covered with rusty-brown fuzz. (Younger leaves may have whitish fuzz.)

The undersides of older Labrador Tea leaves are covered with rusty-brown fuzz. (Younger leaves may have whitish fuzz.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trapper’s Tea, Ledum* glandulosum Nutt.          FACW+

   Trapper’s Tea is also known as Western Labrador Tea.  It is similar to Labrador Tea but the leaves have whitish hairy undersides.  It is more common east of the Cascade crest in Washington and in Oregon and California.  Although it is known to be toxic, some interior tribes drank a tea made from the leaves of this plant.

*Many now place Ledum in the larger genus Rhododendron.

 

Alpine Laurel, Kalmia microphylla (Hook.) A. Heller FACW+

    Alpine Laurel is also known as Western Bog Laurel, K. polifolia.  It is native to western North America.  Its small, attractive, rose pink flowers are borne in a truss.  This small shrub is sometimes grown in gardens but is somewhat difficult to keep alive.

 

Bog Rosemary, Andromeda polifolia L.     OBL

    Bog Rosemary is also found throughout the northern latitudes.   With its small, pinkish urn-shaped flowers, this small shrub has long been prized as a garden ornamental.  I have never seen it live for long in the landscape—it needs to be planted in an appropriate location with plenty of moisture.  In nature, Bog Rosemary grows on little moss hummocks surrounded by swamp.  Similarly, in Greek mythology, Andromeda was a beautiful princess that was chained naked to a rock in the midst of the sea, as a sacrifice to a sea monster.  The Greek hero, Perseus rescued her and subsequently married her.

 

Bog Cranberry, Vaccinium oxycoccus L.    OBL

    Bog Cranberry is another bog plant found throughout the northern latitudes. It is also known as Small Cranberry. Cranberries are sometimes placed in their own genus, Oxycoccus (oxy: acid; coccus: round berry).   Bog Cranberry is a low, creeping shrub with small pink, nodding flowers like miniature shooting stars.  The fruits are pink to dark red, smaller than the commercially grown V. macrocarpon.  Natives ate the tart berries fresh or cooked; or stored them in moss or dried into cakes for later use.

 

Alpine Heather-like Plants

 

White Mountain Heather

White Mountain Heather

Pink Mountain Heather

Pink Mountain Heather

We have four mountain heathers almost exclusively found in alpine or subalpine parkland.   They are White Mountain Heather, Cassiope mertensiana, Alaska Bell heather, Harrimanella stelleriana, Pink Mountain Heather, Phyllodoce empetriformis, and Yellow Mountain Heather, P. glanduliflora.  All are very difficult to keep alive in lower elevation gardens.  It is perhaps better to find cultivated varieties of similar species to use in your garden and leave these gems in their natural environment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two other alpine heather-like plants can be adapted to the garden.  The Alpine Azalea, Loiseleuria procumbens has pink bell-shaped flowers and makes a charming addition to a rock garden.  It is easily propagated by cuttings or layering but is listed as a “sensitive” species in Washington, so any wild collecting should be undertaken judiciously.  Black Crowberry, Empetrum nigrum, is not an ericad but is in a related family, empetraceae.  It has black berries, sometimes eaten by natives, but a favorite of bears.  This low, creeping, mat-forming shrub is easily propagated by cuttings.