Polystichum minutum

One of the most ubiquitous plants on the west side of the Cascades. In many forests in the Coast Range and Cascade foothills it is the sole understory plant. Western sword  fern is a large species with long arching fronds. Adaptable to a host of situations. Often self sown spore will show up in the oddest places. I’ve seen it as an epiphyte and even self sown into hot concrete steps. In rich, acidic soil this evergreen fern soar- provided soils rich in humus, organic matter and protected from direct sun with consistent access to water. Very well adapted to our winter wet/ summer dry climate- it will cruise through dry summers unscathed. In the garden it does useful duty in the toughest, dry, shadiest sites. Along with Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra elatior) and Ophiopogon (Lily turf) it is one of the best dry shade inhabitants. As an understory component it is often accompanied by Cascades Mahonia (Mahonia nervosa), Inside-out-flower, (Vancouveria hexandra), and Pacific Blackberry (Rubus ursinus). To 4′ x 4′ in ideal situations. Though it is evergreen western sword fern does go through a transitional period before new croziers unfurl in spring. The 3′ long fronds begin to lie flat on the ground by winter. This is the time to remove tired, old leaves. and make way for fresh, new, unfurling foliage. Though very tough western sword fern does look its best with consistent light water.  Supremely deer and rabbit resistant. Long lived and not a slow grower.  Oregon native plant.

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Yerba buena is a fine trailing herb native to southwest Alaska south into northern California. Its a common scrambling component of dry woods and forest margins. The round slightly scalloped leaves emit a sweet herby fragrance that reminds me of childhood and they line trailing stems. This 4″ tall by 2′ wide perennial is commonly found among shrubs and clumping grasses as well as perennials. It can be found in the wild with such plants as Vancouveria hexandra (Inside out flower) and Whipplea modesta (Whipple Vine). In late spring to early summer barely conspicuous tiny white snapdragon flowers appear in the leaf axils. Semi-deciduous to deciduous in winter. Often the  leaves turn maroon red in cold weather. The sturdy semi-woody stems root where they attach to the ground and it may be used as a deer resistant small scale ground cover for stabilizing smaller scale slopes. This member of the mint family can be used to flavor iced tea or any cold drink. Shade to part shade in average to slightly enriched soil. Combines well with clumping grasses and smaller scale shrubs such as Symphoricarpos (Snow Berry). Good in containers as well. Yerba buena (the good herb). Excellent native pollinator perennial in the mint family.  Oregon native plant.

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Calamagrostis nutkaensis

Pacific Reed grass is a large and stately grass that is found close to the coast/ beach. A tall growing species with large flat green foliage and tall flowers that are at first green and then age to straw in summer. To 3′ tall on average, this plant can even perform as an epiphyte as is sometimes seen in forests adjacent to the beach. Spreads to form large clumps that are staunchly evergreen. Native from S. Alaska to N. California. This makes a wonderful casual plant with stiffly upright flower spikes. To  3′ wide  and clumping.  Average to amended soil, adaptable to clay soils. This is a great first line grass at the beach. It endures salt spray and poor soils. Easy to grow native grass for rough areas, meadows, forest verges. Full sun to quite a bit of shade. It may be cut back hard in the early spring,  but appearance is very stable throughout the year. Deer resistant. Very easy to grow. Light consistent water  inland, but drought adapted at the coast. Associated plants in the wild are Polypodium scopulorum, Picea sitchensis, Gaultheria shallon (Salal). One of our best native evergreen grasses for our gardens. Oregon native plant.

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Saruma henryi

Lovely, sophisticated woodland perennial that is handsome in all of its parts. Large soft arrow shaped leaves have a thick, quilted quality. In mid spring to early summer simple light yellow flowers have three simple petals and they appear for weeks. A mounding perennial to 20″ tall and in rich soil with regular water twice as wide. Part shade. Excellent aesthetic and cultural companion with Hosta, Tiarella, Heuchera. Completely winter deciduous. Not bothered by pests. Easy, classy, long lived perennial that has a soft but substantial mien. Does not do drought or full sun. Perfectly hardy to cold. Saruma is a monotypic genus from SW China. Light deer resistance.

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Phacelia heterophylla ssp. virgata

Varied leaf Phacelia. For anyone who has hiked and camped in Oregon you are likely already familiar with this silvery plant. The divided and rounded laves are clad in silver fur and the leaves are the highlight of this widespread perennial. The flower which shows great promise as it rises from the cool leaves. It opens and then unfurls and you expect a purple or even red flower but no disappointly- dingy off white is what unfurls. Either way its a pollinator paradise. Size is dependent on the fertility of the soil. Often you see this plant in its early rosette forms along just about any path in the state. Western Oregon to Eastern Oregon this widespread plant is specific to our native pollinators. To 18″-3′ (in really rich soil). Short lived Oregon native perennial. About 3-5 years. Reliably reseeds. Seedlings are easy to spot as they mimic the parent plant. Full sun to a considerable amount of woodland shade. Associated plants in habitat are Sword ferns (Polystichum minutum) and Vancouveria hexandra. Moderately deer resistant. Native in the Portland city limits. Oregon native plant. 

 

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Yerba de Selva or whipple vine, a wonderful small scale evergreen native ground cover. Related to Hydrangeas but this trailer is actually very aromatic with a sweet penetrating aroma if you disturb the foliage. In late spring clouds of small white flowers have  the same perfume. 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. Just the fragrance of the foliage endears it to me. 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. Oregon native plant.

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Tolmiea menziesii

Piggy Back plant is what we called this moisture loving woodland plant. Its famous for its ability to sprout a new plant right from the leaf petiole, it forms roots and drops off the plant and roots into the ground. Its also commonly known as a very easy to grow houseplant. Native from Southern Alaska to Northern California. In moist, cool climates like the coast it can grow just about anywhere. The distinctly arrow shaped leaves cover the ground densely on a wide spreading perennial. In mid-spring 2′ spikes erupt with rows of brownish-red flowers. A member of the Saxafrage family  and closely related to Heucheras and Tiarellas. this is as superb a garden plant. Evergreen and consistently moist shady sites are where it thrives. Though with some supplemental water it can make its home in some pretty challenging dry shade. Foliage forms spreading mounds to 10″ tall and spreads laterally 2′-3′ when happy. Plants shrink somewhat in winter, and not as verdant but they do cover the ground and out compete weeds. Great container plant. Very nice naturalized among ferns of any kind. Native to the Portland city limits. Oregon native plant.

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Excellent dwarf form of our native meadow sedge. To just 6″ tall it forms dense spreading evergreen patches.  In spring to summer both male and female flower spikes rise to just a few inches above the foliage. Nice looking compact plant that retains its verdancy through the winter. An admirable substitute for lawn and mowing is not necessary. This species is most widespread east of the Cascades. Its native throughout the west and this form was identified in California. Plant on 10″ centers for a modern massed ground cover. The mid green to ochre green leaves are dense and smother competition. This creates less of a hummock affect and more of a small dome. Very easy to grow. Excels in  containers. Full sun to light shade, also very high overhead shade (a tall  tree canopy). Amending the soil with compost and fertilizer will increase vigor and green appearance and quicken establishment. Spreads by slowly expanding rhizomes. Excellent between stones or pavers. Tolerates light foot traffic. Not really large enough to be bothered by deer once established. Hardy below 0ºF. This useful plant has great smaller scale, ease of culture, and consistent good looks. This would be an excellent smaller grassy component of a meadow.  Established plants can take quite a bit of summer drought.  Carex praegracilis is an Oregon native plant.

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Geranium tuberosum

Cheerful perennial Geranium that comes from tubers. This vigorous, undemanding plant spreads liberally, even in difficult sites. April to June a continuous display of frosty purple and blue striped flowers. The mass of flowers wave above 20″ stems and create a haze of purple. The deeply divided leaves are typical Geranium. In summer heat and dry forces the entire plant into dormancy. Therefore, this plant can subsist on only what falls from the sky once established. This plant can increase rapidly in rich soils, err on the side of average to poor fertility. Nice cut flower. Not bothered by slugs or snails. Mix with other mid-spring flowers for a cottage garden effect. Each flower is nearly 1″ across. Mild deer resistance.

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Geranium phaeum ‘Darkest of All’

There is something cool about the darkest flowered Mourning Widow Geranium. This tough and graceful spring blooming perennial creates dark downward pointing black/maroon flowers for months beginning in April. To 26″ tall and creating spreading colonies. The flowers appear in air sprays and float about the maple shaped leaves. Part shade to high overhead shade in woodlands, Lightly irrigated borders. Often if you cut back spent plants it will send up a second though less showy round of flowers. At the very least it will refresh the foliage. Light consistent summer water. Blends wonderfully with Pink and white flowered narcissus for deep contrast. Not bothered by slugs. Winter deciduous, emerges early. Long lived, sturdy perennial.

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