Thursday, January 29, 2015

Icons of North Central Washington

With this post we’ll conclude our look at the native plants offered by the Cascadia Conservation District. If you’d like to see the full plant list, make an order or get more information please visit our website.

These final two plants are symbols of our region. The grand ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and the vine maple often come to mind when thinking of healthy ecosystems in our area.

My favorite tree of all time, icon of the west and reigning top seller in our plant sale is the ponderosa pine tree. Ponderosa pine, colloquially ‘pondo’, is characterized by its orange, scaly, plate-like bark and long green needles which are typically borne in bundles of three. Growing to around 100 feet in mostly open stands, ponderosas often have the appearance of dominating their surroundings. They are also known for smelling like vanilla.

Very well adapted for our climate east of the Cascades, ponderosa pine isn’t just fire tolerant, it depends on fire. With its thick bark a large ponderosa can handle the low intensity fires that were ubiquitous to this area prior to modern forest management. These fires eliminated the pondo’s resource competitors, allowing it proper exposure and sufficient resources. Since management plans have included enthusiastic fire suppression, shade tolerant trees and shrubs have moved into ponderosa stands throughout the west, lending such stands the characteristics necessary for the increasingly large scale fires we’ve been seeing as of late.

As for conservation uses, ponderosa is commonly used in shelterbelts, living snow fences and in riparian restoration. Ponderosa stands make great habitat for squirrels, birds and bats and provide shelter for big game. Because ponderosa needs exposure, it is a seral species which, when mature, can provide the necessary shade for shade tolerant species to return after a significant disturbance. This makes it an excellent native plant choice for post fire restoration.

Vine maple (Acer circinatum) is another iconic native plant in our region. It is a deciduous tree with red and white flowers in the spring, and brilliant red to subdued yellow broadleaves in the fall. Typically vine maple will grow between 10 and 30 feet tall, with shaded specimens reaching the upper end of that range readily and exposed specimens on the shorter side.

Vine maple grows best along streams and moist sites. It prefers shady sites, but can tolerate some exposure.  In more exposed sites it often takes a single-stemmed tree form, while in shade it usually grows as a shrub in clumps and thickets.

With its white and red flowers in the spring and showy colors in the fall, vine maple is a common choice for those looking to use native species to beautify their landscaping. It is also used as a streamside stabilizer, as a pioneering species at disturbed sites and is an important food source for birds and large and small mammals alike.

Again, if you’re interested in ordering any of our plants, need more information or would like to sign up for our native planting workshop, please see our website.

Today’s Central Columbia River area snowpack is currently at 63% of its 29 year average (USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center,

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Broadleaf Bonanza

For this week’s blog we’ll examine three broadleaf shrubs: the Oregon state flower, a red-barked soil retainer and stinky white flowers. Remember, these are but three of Cascadia’s 14 native plants for sale. To make an order, see a complete plant sale list or sign up for our free native planting workshop, please see our website.

Oregon Grape
Oregon Grape
Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), Oregon’s state flower, is my favorite shrub in this year’s sale. With a waxy texture and sharp leaflets, its evergreen leaves strongly resemble those of ivy. Oregon grape produces dense clusters of small yellow flowers followed by tart, dark blue berries. It typically grows three to six feet tall and five feet wide.

Oregon grape will grow in a variety of settings, from the coastal range to the eastern slopes of the Cascades. It can grow in soils from moist to dry and at exposed to shady sites, but is especially well adapted for drier, exposed sites which makes it a great restoration species. It propagates via suckers and has an extensive root system, making it an excellent soil stabilizer. Birds and rodents are attracted to the berries and the new growth and leaves can be a food source for elk and deer.

Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea) can grow to about 20 feet tall and 20 feet wide. It has thin, waxy, red bark with green deciduous leaves that turn red in the fall. In the spring it grows the beautiful white clusters of flowers characteristic of dogwood.

Red Osier Dogwood
Red osier dogwood often grows in dense thickets along riverbanks and is found much more sparsely at higher elevations and drier sites. While it prefers plenty of exposure, it will tolerate shade. It’s proclivity for moist soils and open sites and its extensive root system make it a great streamside restoration plant. It can stabilize soil as well as provide shade and habitat for fish. Its foliage is also an attractive food source for elk and deer.

Blue Elderberry
Blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea) is one of the largest shrubs we offer growing up to about 30 feet tall and 20 feet wide. It dawns white flowers in the spring which are aesthetically pleasing but emit a slightly rancid smell. These smelly flowers give way to purple or black, waxy berries. It has long, narrow green leaflets up to six inches long. 

While it can grow in a variety of habitats, blue elderberry does best on exposed sites. It’s an early seral species, but can persist beyond initial succession. In conservation, blue elderberry has a number of uses including riparian restoration, erosion control and habitat improvement.

Thanks to a brief, though much needed storm last weekend, the Central Columbia River area snowpack is currently at 71% of the 29 year average.  More specifically, as of January 1, the Wenatchee River drainage was at 68% of its 29 year median.  (USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center, 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Three More Native Beauties...

I’d like to use this post to continue the tour of native plants offered by the Cascadia Conservation District. If you’d like to place an order, get more information or register for our native planting workshop, please see our website. Two of these next three native plants, woods’ rose and golden currant, are old plant sale standbys, while evergreen huckleberry is back for the first time since 2012.

Woods' Rose
Woods' rose (Rosa Woodsii), or Interior rose, grows in a variety of soils and climates, even in places with very little topsoil and at high elevations. It does well in varying degrees of sun exposure. It should also be mentioned that wild roses are far less susceptible to disease and recover much quicker than domesticated roses.

The woods’ rose is an excellent choice for someone looking to beautify their property in a harsh climate. As well as being a hardy survivor, it also dawns magnificent pink flowers and bright red hips. Because of its ability to grow with little soil on steep slopes and in generally tough conditions, the woods’ rose is a top choice for restoration.

Evergreen Huckleberry
Evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) is another hardy plant we offer. Though it is commonly found in coniferous forests and prefers shade, it can grow in full sunlight and sandy soil and it is drought tolerant.

In the spring the evergreen huckleberry, in ideal conditions, will grow light pink, urn-shaped flowers which will transform into delicious red, then purple berries. Its leaves are egg shaped, dark green and have a reddish hue when immature. The evergreen huckleberry grows up to 13 feet tall.

Golden Currant
Golden currant (Ribes aureum) is a deciduous shrub that grows up to 6 feet tall and 6 feet in diameter. Its waxy green leaves turn a showy yellow in the fall and the shrub produces yellow flowers which morph into berries of various colors.

Golden currant can grow in a variety of sites, from moist bottomlands to exposed hillsides making it a good soil stabilizer for nearly any location. Also, while its berries may taste tart to us, but they’re a favorite for birds and small mammals.

Today’s snowpack as a percent of average is 64% (USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center,
USDA/NRCS National Water and Climate Center

Monday, January 5, 2015

Native Plant Sale

With this post I’d like to highlight several of my favorite plants available in our annual native plant sale here at the Cascadia Conservation District. Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), mock orange (Philadelphus lewisii) and serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) are but three of our 14 plants for sale this year. For a complete list, to make an order or to get more information please visit our website.

Quaking aspen is a deciduous tree characterized by its trembling, nearly heart shaped leaves. The effects of the slightest breeze on an Aspen grove in the fall is spectacular. Quaking aspen have smooth white bark, grow up to 80 feet and have green, chartreuse or yellow leaves depending on the time of year.  

Quaking aspen are unique in that an entire colony shares a single root structure, and each tree is genetically identical to the next within the colony. Quaking aspen can grow in most soil types, but does best in soil that is moist most of the year. It’s useful along rivers and streams as a bank stabilizer, provides nesting places for many local bird species and its foliage is browsed upon by mammals.

 Mock Orange
Mock orange is a lovely little shrub in the late spring when it dawns fragrant, showy white flowers. It grows 6 to 12 feet tall, but typically doesn’t exceed 6 feet east of the Cascades. It grows in abundance in a variety of habitats including riparian zones along gullies and streams, forested bottomlands as well as upland sites. Mock orange acts as soil stabilizer and food for many insects like moths and butterflies.

If you’re looking for a shrub with attractive fall foliage, look no further than serviceberry. Serviceberry is ubiquitous throughout the western United States and Canada. It even has a town in Saskatchewan named after it (Saskatoon). Like mock orange, it dawns showy white flowers in the spring. It grows in a variety of climates and habitats either as a small deciduous tree or upright shrub. Spreading via underground runners, serviceberry often grows in large thickets. It can grow in full sun or shade and on steep or level terrain. In terms of conservation, serviceberry is used for soil stabilization and enhancing wildlife habitat (food for birds, rodents and bears).

Today’s snowpack as a percent of average is 73%.