With the first day of Spring just passing us and plant sales popping up, it’s a great time to get acquainted with some of our Pacific Northwest native plants. This is just a small fraction of what’s available and can be grown in your garden. With the weather starting to warm up and plenty of rain still on the horizon, now is the perfect time to get things in the ground and you can find some really awesome deals on native plants at plant sales this time of year. If you don’t know where to start, read through for some of our favorites and then look through your local gardening group for plant sales near you!
Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)- This deciduous tree has fragrant, white flowers in Spring followed by light green leaves. Small, dark blue berries ripen in summer and are great for jams, pies, and more. Green leaves turn orange and red in fall. It prefers a place with full sun or partial sun and can be used on slopes for erosion control. Serviceberry works well in woodland and naturalized areas or along stream banks or ponds.
Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nuttallii)- Showy white “flower” bracts appear in Spring and are followed by green leaves on horizontal tiered branches. In Summer, bright orange and red fruits mature and are attractive to wildlife. Fall brings yellow, orange, and red foliage. Pacific Dogwood likes full sun to part shade and can tolerate most soils.
Vine Maple (Acer circinatum)- Vine Maples are a northwest garden staple that grows into a multi-stemmed tree. If placed in partial-full sun, the green leaves will turn vibrant shades of red in fall. It’s drought tolerant once established and does well in woodland and urban settings.
Pacific Ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus)- Found along stream banks or at the edge of wetlands, this deciduous shrub has a graceful arching growth habit with deeply-veined, lobed green leaves. Clusters of white flowers appear in Summer and are followed by seed coats that stay on the plant the remainder of the year. In winter, the peeling, red bark is revealed (hence the name Ninebark) and provides great winter interest along with the seed coats. Works well in woodland gardens, near water, or on slopes. The Eastern Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) also grows well in our area and foliage comes in a rainbow of shades to suit any garden.
Mock Orange (Philadelphus lewisii)- Fun fact, Mock Orange is the state flower of Idaho! Soft green leaves emerge in spring and turn golden yellow in fall. In late spring showy white flowers burst open with an intoxicating orange scent that attracts bees and other pollinators. It’s drought tolerant once established and does well in full sun to partial shade.
Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum)- One of the first spring-time bloomers in our area, this shrub has drooping clusters of pink flowers followed by small, lobed green leaves. Flowers attract hummingbirds and this specific species is thornless. Black berries are great for birds but can be made into jelly. It does well in full sun but can adapt easily to being an understory shrub.
Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)- One of the more underused native shrubs, it has small, copper-bronze leaves that mature to deep green. In spring, bell shaped white flowers appear under the foliage and are followed by edible blue-black berries that are ready to jam making in later summer. It can handle both full sun spots or understory shaded areas and can handle a fair amount of drought if you don’t mind less flowers and fruit.
Oregon Grape (Mahonia species)- These prickly shrubs provide great textural interest in the garden. In early spring, bright yellow, fragrant flowers emerge and attract bees and hummingbirds. Blue-black berries follow the flowers along with reddish holly shaped, prickly leaves which mature to green and then turn to bright red in winter. Mahonia aquifolium, Mahonia repens, and Mahonia nervosa all do well in our area and some are less prickly than others. They do well in full sun to full shade making this a versatile shrub for the native garden.
Pacific Wax Myrtle (Myrica californica)- This fast growing large shrub has glossy green foliage that’s complimented by dark purple fruit. Foliage has a pleasant scent similar to bay leaves and can be used in cooking in place of bay leaves for seasoning foods. The thin leaves provide visual interest year round and, due to their height, work well as windbreaks or hedges. It prefers full sun and is drought tolerant once established.
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)- This sun loving perennial has fragrant, gray-green foliage and tall spikes of flowers summer through fall. Depending on the cultivar, Hyssop flowers come in many different warm tones and attract hummingbirds and other pollinators. This plant is also drought tolerant and deer resistant and works well both in the ground or in containers.
Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum pedatum)- The delicate looking fern is actually quite hardy and is a great addition to any shade garden or woodland understory area. The arching black stems have light green fronds. Plants for dense clumps that can slowly spread as it matures. It prefers moist sites with good drainage and air circulation but adapts well to drier shade areas under trees.
Fairy Bells (Prosartes hookeri)- This leafy perennial emerges in spring with layered branching and bright green leaves that get darker through the growing season. In Spring, at the end of each branch are 1-3 white bell-shaped flowers underneath the foliage. In late summer red-orange berries hang from the tips of the branches creating added interest. It does best in light to dappled shade and can be drought tolerant once established although it does appreciate some extra water in times of excess heat.
Slough Sedge (Carex obnupta)- If you have a rain garden or a wet area, this sedge can’t be beat. Grass-like evergreen leaves quickly grow into tufts/mounds and has spikes of flowers in Summer. It loves moist or wet locations and can even handle standing water or brackish water (prefers fresh water) and does best in full sun to part shade. Perfect for rain gardens, streambanks, and slopes to help with erosion control.
Tufted Hair Grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)- Semi-evergreen grass-like leaves form in clumps with tall flower spikes rising above the foliage mound in summer. By keeping the flower stalks on you can provide winter interest and attract birds. While it does best in partial shade it can handle full shade but may not flower as well.
Beach Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)- Bright, leathery evergreen leaves create a texturally pleasing groundcover, and if the birds don’t get to them first, produce yummy, small red strawberries. Leaves will turn reddish in winter. Because it’s native area is along the coast it does well in sandy soils and can handle full sun to partial shade.
Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)- You’ll often see this in parking islands because it is one tough groundcover but people often overlook this workhorse. Small evergreen leaves accent the small pink-white flowers in Summer and are followed by bright red berries that hang on into winter. It can handle full sun and is drought tolerant once established.
Oregon Stonecrop (Sedum oregaum)- Perfect for rock gardens or containers, the nubby little succulent leaves are bright green spring through summer with tinges of red or orange. Bright yellow flowers rise a couple of inches above the foliage in summer. It does well in full sun and is drought tolerant once established.
What is your favorite Pacific Northwest native plant? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear from you!