Fool’s Onion, though this close relative of Brodiaea is easy to tell apart from Allium as the leaves and stem have no onion odor. A sunny native perennial bulb that forms colonies of white in May-July in meadows, glens, and swales. To 15″ tall in bloom but usually shorter the leaves emerge in mid winter and persist until summer drought. About that time the flowers erupt into clusters of white flowers. Great native bulb for naturalizing, Water if planting from a pot, otherwise it requires only what falls from the sky with a distinct dry period in summer. Associated plants are Ranunculus occidentalis- Western Buttercup, and Brodiaea elegans- Cluster lily, and Plectritis congesta- Sea Blush. Native in clay soils that dry completely in summer. Goes very neatly dormant in summer- nothing is left. Excellent in rock garden conditions. Full sun to very light shade. Moderate deer resistance. Native though out western Oregon. Sweet cutflower Very good for butterflies as well. This plant once occupied large areas of the Willamette Valley, that territory has shrunk considerably. Oregon native plant.
Biome: Western Native
Native is a relative term. Plants don’t follow political boundaries and in fact they cluster and move according to climate and to a lesser extent soils. Turns out for instance, that the climate of Portland is not too dissimilar from the middle elevations of the Sierra Nevada in California. And as the planet waxes and wanes through ice ages you’d be amazed at the distance plants migrate due to climate. In fact, if you went back in time 11,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age the taxa composition of the Portland area was identical to what you currently find on the upper slopes of Mt. Hood at 6,000′. Cold, snow, montane with Mountain Hemlock, Engelmann Spruce, Lodgepole pine and Aspen. In reality plants are always on the move.
Between ice ages- the last interstadial
More relevant is our most recent interstadial, the warm period between ice ages that peaked around 6500 years ago. Ice ages are broadly caused by the obliquity of the earths orbit (its oblong) and the change in the axis. Serendipitously during the height of this last warm period perihelion (the sun’s closest axis to earth) occurred in the Northern Hemisphere summer increasing solar insolation (sun heat energy). Currently, perihelion occurs in winter (Jan. 5, 2020) over our continent and that somewhat cancels out the effect. This increased solar insolation during the warm interstadial did several things: First, it increased the annual temperatures to those we have only surpassed recently and it decreased precipitation and increased the length of the annual summer drought. During these warm periods there is a great shift in south to north flora movement. At the peak of the interstadial warm period the Eugene area most likely had a climate and flora composition of the Grants Pass area today. Portland likely had a climate and taxa somewhat similar to modern Roseburg. That would be a lot more Oaks and Madrone and much less Maple and Douglas Fir. This passage to the north of flora extends poleward and it is also during this period we see the intrusion of Pacific Madrone Arbutus menziesii and Quercus garryana Oregon white oak into British Columbia. Climate change is mimicking our warm interstadial so far. Species from the south are rapidly moving north- and faster all the time.
Broadening the description
So, we choose to list WESTERN NATIVES and not just Oregon Natives in one category. We should always include natives in our gardens. They are not only climate adapted, they give our gardens a regional identity and most importantly they support indigenous fauna. Climate change adds complexity to the mix. Our planet will be heating up too fast for plants to migrate. That means that many will find the safest homes in our gardens. We seek out the most unusual natives. Our attempt to expand the palette rather than the six same species that are used (abused) over and over. By all means go native!
Climate Adapted Plants for Gardeners in the PNW
Evergreen huckleberry is a fantastic native broadleaf shrub. It is well adapted to shady sites and will accept full sun with regular irrigation. Well established shrubs require less water. Rich, humusy woodland soil is its favorite haunt and it will grow moderately fast to a rounded outline of 8′ tall and 6′ wide. The new growth is a beautiful salmon pink before changing to deep green. In spring and early summer small white urn shaped flowers are pretty and transform into tasty black fruits in autumn. Amazing in muffins, pies.It has an interesting natural distribution along the immediate coast in most of Oregon but veering inland at Douglas County to almost the Cascade foothills. In Puget Sound it seems to be most prominent within sight of salt water. Easy to grow good garden plant. Increase your chance of pollination by planting more than two shrubs. The theory is that berries like to party- and I’ve observed it to be true. Oregon native plant.
Rare perennial Siskiyou Inside-out-Flower is a much more drought tolerant version of our locally native Vancouveria hexandra (Inside out flower). This yellow flowered species tolerates extreme dry shade and colonizes even compacted dry soils to create a handsome ground cover. The delicate looking interestingly shaped leaves create a soft mound of shapes in cool green and edged slightly in red. In April-June 20″ wiry spikes suspend small downward pointing flowers- they appear to float above the foliage reminding me of a group of fireflies. (Wish we had those). Mostly evergreen if temperatures stay above about 15ºF. Basically this is our version of Epimedium (to which it is related) but with more tolerance for summer drought. To 8″ tall and spreading to several feet wide in richer, moisture retentive soil. Light summer water increases growth. This is an extraordinarily elegant native that should find a happy home in gardens too. Part shade to full shade. Not bothered by pests. Excellent perennial under large shrubs or within tree roots. In the wild it is the understory plant to Arctostaphylos, Rhododendron, Vaccinium, Notholithocarpus densiflorus var. echinoides. Associate perennials were Oxalis oreganus and Mianthemum as well as viola semperivrens- Redwood violet. Easy community to replicate in your garden. Oregon native plant.
Inside-Out-Flower is a commonly seen terrestrial component in dry to moderately moist woodlands in our region. The duck foot shaped leaves are conspicuous and pretty and in late spring to mid-summer a continuous supply of dainty downward pointing white flowers. Spreads in gardens very well in enriched soil with regular summer water where it will quickly assume the role of an intertwining ground cover. Winter deciduous- un-like its close and much more drought adapted relative Vancouveria chrysantha (Yellow inside-out-flower, Siskiyou Vancouveria). This perennial is perfect for life among shrubs or mixing with other woodland perennials in part shade to shade. Adapts well to garden culture and thrives on regular summer irrigation. Locally native in the city of Portland. To 10″ tall and spreading. Some deer resistance. Oregon native plant.
Oregon Viburnum or Western Way Faring tree is a moderate to large native deciduous shrub. It stretches a little bit into W. Washington where it is rare but its primary populations are in western Oregon and south into N. California. Its found in moist to dry woods often on the margin where its can get at least half a day sun. It also thrives only much larger and lankier in outline in the shade. It easily tolerates winter inundation but is found on well developed soils in upland situations as well. Its common associates in the wild are Oregon white oak/Quercus garryana, Oregon Ash/Fraxinus latifolius, Cornus stolonifera. Leaves are round, glossy and scalloped and are very handsome on a well proportioned fountain shaped shrub. Shorter in full sun, taller in shade. This plant needs just a modicum of light watering for its first year and once it is thoroughly established you can set it free. In late spring off white cymes of flowers have the fragrance to me of raw potatoes. We had a large specimen of this shrub in our back 40 where I grew up near Eugene. In certain years it can produce quite a fall show with orange/red tinted leaves and translucent blue fruits. Blooms on wood from the previous year. Prune if needed AFTER blooming has ended. June. To 5′ tall in the sun to much taller in shade. Protect young plants from deer. Oregon native plant.
Viola praemorsa ssp. praemorsa
Canary violet or upland Violet has many subspecies in the PNW and west in general. This is our own Willamette Valley form of this intriguing handsome perennial. Large spoon shaped leaves have an underside with conspicuous hairs. The top of the leaf is glossier. In April-May bright yellow flowers appear. The bottom petal has conspicuous black whiskers. In our region this violet is local in the most undisturbed sites but it shows very good persistence in competition with non-native introduced grasses. My experience is that it favors rocky and scree sites that remain somewhat cool- for instance the north side of a steep slope. To 6″ tall and forming expanding plants. Winter deciduous. Arrives early in spring and can go summer dormant with high heat. Excellent planted in fall or winter and left to its own devices. Average to enriched soil yields the best results. This is one of the showiest violets native to the Willamette Valley. Fairly long lived. Little deer resistance. Some associated plants are Olysinium douglasii, Sedum spathulifolium, Dodecatheon hendersonii. Oregon native plant.
Yerba de Selva or whipple vine, a wonderful small scale evergreen native ground cover. Related to Hydrangeas but this trailer is actually very droughtadapted.e In late spring clouds of small white flowers , Scrambling plant to about 8″ tall and 2′ wide. Full sun to considerable shade. From Portland south this is a common understory component of the herb field. It grew happily in our back 40 where I grew up. There it made pretty scrambling patches between Vancouveria, snow berry and hairy honeysuckle. Often you would see our native columbine ( Aquilegia formosa) as an associate. Its very drought adapted when established but it improves with a few soaks over summer- never perpetually wet and never hot and wet. Otherwise an easy native that should be grown a lot more. For use as a small scale ground cover plant on 10″ centers. It will also gracefully trail over rockeries and walls. Butterflies adore the flowers. Competes well with invasives. Some deer resistance. It may be cut back in early spring to refresh. Once native in the Portland city limits. This is a great native understory for Arctostaphylos, which is frequently seen in the wild. Oregon native plant.
Our native Giant Chain Fern that occupies specific spots in seeps randomly from CA to BC. Large pendant and trailing 3′ long glossy fronds form huge rosettes. Usually occupying permanently wet seeps on shady hillsides in cool places. The entire plant may be up to 5′ across. Evergreen but it benefits greatly from some early spring tidying of spent and aging old leaves. Part shade to shade in rich well drained soil with regular consistent moisture for the best look. Highly deer resistant. We’re honored to grow this, one of our most spectacular native ferns. Oregon native plant.
Mules Ears are rare in cultivation. These cheery bold perennials make the transition of our wild flowers from spring into real summer. So named for its long leaves it forms very permanent spreading colonies in clay soils in habitat. The brilliant yellow sun flower blossoms rise up on sturdy stems directly from the ground. Each ebullient large flower is about 4″ across. Blooms appear from late April to early June. This plant usually finishes blooming just as summer drought commences. Its a memorable sight in wild meadows where it blooms simultaneously with native Rosa nutkana and Farewell to spring (Clarkia amoena var. lindleyi) and Giant blue eyed mary (Collinsia grandiflora). Wonderful cut flower and immediate and popular pollinator perennial. This plant was once very common in the Willamette Valley but civilization has immensely shrunk its native range. Good, long lived garden plant that goes summer dormant quickly after blooming has ended. The leaves turn gray and brittle and can easily be removed then. Give it a summer rest w/ little to no summer water once established. Full sun to very light shade. Water to establish its first season then none in subsequent years. Fun to grow and LONG lived. To 14″ in bloom forming a plant several feet across. Moderate deer resistance. Native to the Portland city limits. Very slow to finish in a salable size. Patience. Limited quantities. Oregon native plant
Yucca (nana) hermmaniae
Adorable and rugged little dwarf Yucca from southern Utah. Tight round quills are decorated with filaments on the leaf edges. Not a friendly guy and very slow growing. Forming spheres of spikes to 1′ across and multiplying to produce colonies with pups. Full sun and very well drained soil of average to poor fertility. Requires excellent air circulation- no crowding. Plants that are smooshed with little air circulation protest heavily and it then takes a while for recovery. Open and free in rock garden conditions produces the happiest plants. At home nestled with boulders or as a finer texture element with Agaves. In time it produces adorable and conical shaped hoods of flowers- a gnome wedding. Excellent in containers- open, well drained containers. Light summer water during hot weather seems to speed growth. Locate away from paths. Owwie. Strongly deer and rabbit resistant.