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Archive for the ‘What is a native plant?’ Category

I went into the forest today to be thankful for the bounty and ask Great Spirit who loves us all to teach me about these amazing beings we call plants. I had that feeling I often have that I once lived in the forest with my tribe and my people. I feel at home in that forest. The farmers have brought in honey bees and the oak and maple have attracted the bees and other pollinators.  The air is churning with activity.  It is like a natural air conditioner swirling above me. The sound of the bees is so loud that I can barely hear the other sounds of nature.  Wildflowers are blooming everywhere: trillium, bleeding hearts, coral bells, false Solomon seal.  The pinks and buttercups and the wild berries are all in bloom.  The smell of the forest is sweet and musky all at once.

I have in my life time been introduced to many native plants and I have been taught about how everything is connected to this forest, even humans belong here if they will just slow down to be at peace with this place. 

It is spring and I am collecting many starts: cuttings, roots, sprouts.  Once they have roots and are strong, I will put them in pots and take them to the nearby farmers market and try to teach others about opening up their garden doors and letting the native plants back in.  It is important.  We are losing the pollinators and the fertility of the soil, and the hillsides and streams and rivers because we take out the native plants. We call them weeds and poison and chop and throw them away. These plants are our future and our hope.  Once gone, so goes our food, medicine, clean water, clean land, and beauty so great that our essential energy is affected and changed for the better.

Soon at the local farmers market I will be setting up my table and handing out simple brochures on how to incorporate native plants into gardens, farms, parks, roadsides and river and stream banks. I will sell the plants to support the overall Radical Botany project and to give back to the farm I am living on now. Carly, the land owner is allowing me to finally have a home for me and my plants.  I have moved a half dozen times in the last five years, always carrying my many plant friends with me.  We are tired. We need a real home that is safe and long term. I think I am home. I love this land. I am thankful for this land. I respect this land and the creatures and people who live here.

Thank you Great Spirit who loves us all for bringing me home.  Thank you Carly, Deb, Mitchell, Annie,  the farmers for inviting me in from the cold.

Here is a list of a few of the plants I saw today and why they are important:

Common Name Scientific Name    Ecological  Importance  and Human Use
Pacific Willow Salix lucida ssp. Salix lasiandra              

The catkins will attract insect and hummingbird pollinators, and all willows are used as butterfly host plants.

The same for Hooker’s Willow

The Fraser River Lillooet  called Pacific Willow the “match plant”.  They dried the wood and used it for both the hearth and the drill in making friction fires. The ashes were mixed with diatomaceous earth and were made into a fine white powder to treat wool.

Hooker’s Willow Salix Hookeria   The bark was used in shingle baskets, the young plants were split into twine and made into rope.
Pacific Ninebark Physocarpus capitatus Used to make small tools, but was also used as a laxative and needs to be handled properly. The flower attracts many insect pollinators and the birds will eat the berries of the plant. Beautiful shredding bark, this plant is found along streams, rivers and wetlands.
Oceanspray Holodiscus discolor Found in dry to moist, open sites (open woods, clearings ravine edges and coastal bluffs).  Commonly called ‘Ironwood” because of the hardness and strength of the wood. Was used to make digging sticks, spears, harpoon shafts, bows and arrow shafts by almost all coastal groups from BC southwards.  An infusion of berries was used to make a tea that was used to treat diarrhea. Also used as a blood tonic.  May attract as many as 50 pollinating insects.The flowers provide nectar for butterflies and insects. A caterpillar host plant for Pale Tiger Swallowtail, Lorquin’s Admiral, Echo Blue, Brown Elfin, and Spring Azure but­terflies. Oceanspray provides foraging habitat for insectivorous birds including Bushtits and Chickadees
Red Elderberry Sambucus racemosa Found along stream banks, swampy thickets, moist clearings and open forests, sea level to middle elevations. The unripe or uncooked berries are toxic can cause stomach cramps or worse. They should  always be cooked even when making Elderberry wine or jellies. The stems, bark leaves and roots, especially in fresh plants, are toxic due to the presence of cyanide-producing glycosides. Elderberry is an important caterpillar host plant and its white flowers attract hummingbirds.
Thimble berry
Rubus parviflorus

 

Has a white flower – petals crinkle tissue paper. Found in open sites such as clearings, road edges, shorelines etc. Has a red, raspberry-like cluster berry. The flower favorite of bumblebees and native pollinator insects. Spreads by rhizomes. Eaten by all Northwest Coast people.  Some people also collected and ate the early shoots. The berry can be easily dried.  Often mixed with Salal berries for winter food (dried).  Often mixed with native raspberries and blackcaps and used in a dried cake for winter food. The large leaves were often made into berry collecting containers.

 

Salmon berry
Rubus spectabilis

 

Has a pink to reddish purple flower. Found in moist to wet places of forests and disturbed sites. Often abundant along stream edges, at low to subalpine elevations. This wonderful wild berry blooms very early and attracts the earliest pollinators.  The berries arrive early in the season and attract several song birds. Both sprouts and berries were eaten by First Peoples.

 

Nookta Rose Rosa Nutkana Found in open habitats (shorelines, meadows, thickets, and streamside areas). Was often used in pit cooking. The leaves were placed over food for flavoring.  Tea from the bark were used as an eye wash. The chewed leaves were applied to bee stings and the ripe hips were cooked and fed to infants for diarrhea.Its seed-filled hips are full of vitamins A & C and are eaten by a variety of birds and mammals. Bees and but­terflies seek nectar from its flowers. A caterpillar host plant for Western Checkerspot, Mourning Cloak, and Gray Hairstreak butterflies.
Indian Plum Oemleria cerasiformis The flowers arrive very early spring to late winter – often before its leaves appear.  Important food source for pollinating insects, butterflies and the fruit is eaten by many woodland animals.  The fruit can be quite bitter and astringent so it was often mashed with sweeter berries such as Salal.  It bark was used to make tea that was used as a purgative and tonic.
Bleeding hearts Dicentra Formosa Pink heart-shaped flower. Found in moist forests, ravines, streambanks; low to middle elevations. Its namesake pink flowers attract hummingbirds and its rhizomes are reported to be medicinal by some, toxic by others. Ants feed on an oil-rich seed appendage. Bleeding heart is an important caterpillar host plant for the Clodius Parnassian.
White Oak or Garry Oak Quercus garryana A beautiful, heavy-limbed tree that is very important in helping to maintain the integrity of several low-lying ecosystems. Found in dry, rocky slopes and bluffs, sometimes in deep, rich well-drained soil. The springtime catkins (flowers) are highly attractive to honeybees and many native insect pollinators. The acorns are an important food source for ducks, deer, squirrels and other wildlife.  First peoples used the bark as one ingredient in the Saanich “4 barks” medicine used against tuberculosis and other ailments.
Big leaf Maple Acer macrophyllum Large, often multi-stemmed.  In the spring the flower will often appear with or before the leaves.  Found in dry to most sites, often with Douglas-fir, often on sites disturbed by fire, at low to middle elevations. Bigleaf maple supports a large ecosystem on its trunk, limbs and stems. These symbiotic relationships are important to native forest. Living on this tree you will often find: mosses, lichens, ferns, fungi, herb-like plants, small flowering plants etc. Many parts of the tree were used for food, medicine and utility.  Insects and bees pollinate the tree and produce about 1000 pollen grains (55µm each) for an individual flower.  Important solitary bees such as the Blue Orchard Bees, Osmia lignaria, are attracted to this tree
Fringecup Tellima grandiflora In the Saxifrage family. Found in  moist forests, glades, stream-banks, thickets and clearings; common from low to middle elevations. The Skagit pounded fringecup, boiled it and drank the tea for any kind of sickness, especially lack of appetite. Provides habitat and cover for small insects.
Yellow Wood Violet Viola glabella A common perennial in moist, shaded forests. Its flowers are yellow, with some petals boasting violet streaks. The flowers have a small spur which provides an excellent landing platform for insects, which are attracted to its nectar. A caterpillar host plant for a variety of butterfly species. Also known as stream violet.
Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica Common in moist, rich soil, often in disturbed habitat, nettles are a tasty green if cooked, a valued medicinal herb, and traditionally a good source for strong plant fiber. Nettles are also an important caterpillar host plant for the Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, Satyr Anglewing, and Red Admiral butterflies.
     
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Fenders Blue Butterfly and the Kincaid Lupine

I attended a wonderful talk at the Straub Environmental Center is Salem, Oregon last night.  The speaker Gail Gredler an instructor at our local community college spoke about creating native plant gardens. She answered a lot of questions I had about what is a native plant and why are they important to humans and to the planet.

What is a native plant?

First, according to Gail a native plant can be described as plants growing before European settlements started about 200 years ago. Other sources I found also describe them this way: “A native (indigenous) species is one that occurs in a particular region, ecosystem, and habitat without direct or indirect human actions” (Kartesz and  Morse 1997; Richards 1998

Gredler explained that trying to say what is native and what is not is getting harder because some plant specialists are cloning and messing with the DNA of native plants to create “nativars”.  These mad scientists (my judgment) are creating these bio-modified cloned plants so they can patent the plant and make money on each sale of the plant or its seeds.  Bio-modification is not made with ecosystem health in mind so we don’t know if there will be detrimental effects.  People are beginning to sell the look-alikes as natives and so it is important to find a native plant nursery that is registered.  (See resource list at end of this article).  Insects may or may not recognize the plant chemicals of these “nativars”.  Some research on bio-modified corn and other grain crops are showing that insects will not pollinate the crops because the plant chemicals are toxic to the pollinator. The bio-modified grains are causing issues with human and animal health also.

Insects need native plants to survive.  We need insects alive so that our food and medicine and utility plants can be pollinated and fertilized. Without insects and native plants our biome will experience an ecological collapse.

 Ke Chung Kim an entomologist with Penn State University writes in his book “Biodiversity, conservation and inventory: why insects matter”, that insects and anthropods have existed for more than 400 million years and after surviving the Permian and Cretaceous mass extinctions, arthropods have been the most successful of all living things and along with other invertebrates constitute more than three-quarters essential for human food production, and maintaining rain forests, savannahs and other important components of global water storage in ecosystems.

 Without insects we would experience complete eco-system collapse. Native plants are the only food that many pollinator insects will consume. Without native plants, many insects such as the Fender Blue butterfly, the Franklin’s Bumble Bee (Bombus franklini) and Mason bees (Osmia cascadica) will become extinct.  Bringing native plants back into our environment is essential to the survival of humans, fauna and flora. Once the insects are gone, then will fall the birds, squirrels, foxes, rabbits, deer, and other fauna. The food chain will collapse.

According to Gredler 90% of insects depend on native plants for food. Local insects evolved with native plants and are attracted to particular leaf chemicals.  The leaf chemical allows the insect such as the Fender Blue butterfly and pollinators to find food. Only 10% of insects are generalist feeders.

Here are 7 reasons on why native plants are important according to Gredler.

  1. Resource conservation:  Native plants do not need a lot of extra water. They are drought resistant. Most native plants that would grow in Oregon and (Washington, British Columbia) valleys do not need extra water in the summer time. They need well adapted to our dry summers.
  2. Save on the use of fertilizers and pesticides:  Native plants do not need pesticides. They are already acclimated to insect populations and can take care of themselves, thank you.  Fertilizers are applied sparingly.  Having plants grow in correct soil types is more helpful.
  3. Insects need them to survive. As already mentioned: 90% of insects depend on native plants for their survival. 37% of animal species eat herbivorous insects.
  4. Native plants in landscapes will stop the desertification of Cascadia.
  5. Habitat fragmentation is a hazard to wildlife.  Bringing natives back will stop the ecosystem collapse. Native plants provide food, water, and habitat for wildlife.
  6. Plants are the only thing on the planet that can harvest the sun’s energy and create their own food.
  7. Native plants are not necessarily aggressive and can be out done by non-natives. They will need our help to come back.  We need to stop planting aggressive non-natives like the Butterfly plant.

Here are few more from other sources:

8.  Native plants are important to human health. The vast array of natural chemicals is already the basis for ~25% of all U.S. prescriptions, ranging from aspirin (bark of willow tree) to taxol (bark of pacific yew tree).  These plant based medications easily break down in our ecosystems unlike pharmaceutical synthetic hormones and drugs. Use native plants for healing and stop the chemical soup poisoning of our world.

9. Native plant heritage: plants were used for almost everything that humans needed to survive. Think what the world would be like if we stopped producing toxic plastic “stuff” and went back to living simply with few things, essentials made from plants: clothes, homes (not from trees but from fast growing plant fiber and earth such as in Cob buildings).  Paper not made from our forests but from fast growing plant fibers. Humans lived with this technology for hundreds of thousands of years.  We may have to adjust to new ways of living to survive.

10. Native plants can be used to restore our land.  They easily adapt to harsh conditions and have been used in the repair of streams, meadows, savannahs, forests, and other fragile landscapes.

According to Gredler since the 1840’s over 80 million acres have been taken out of native landscapes.  Landscapes have been paved over, planted in non native turf grass and tilled for non native crops.  Gredler called this process the “desertification of Oregon”.  I call this process the desertification of Cascadia because this destruction of the bio-region is happening everywhere.

According to my other source Kartz and Morse, although only about 737 native plant species are protected by the Endangered Species Act, it is estimated that nearly 25 percent of the 20,000 native plant species in North America are at risk of extinction. It is becoming generally recognized that in order to preserve individual species, their plant communities must be preserved. This includes the preservation of native plants that are not yet in danger of extinction, but still play an important role in native ecosystems.

Native plant species provide the keystone elements for ecosystem restoration. Native plants help to increase the local population of native plant species, providing numerous benefits. There are specific associations of mycorrhizae with plants, invertebrates with woody debris, pollinators with flowers, and birds with structural habitat that can only be rebuilt by planting native plants.

 We need your help.  Begin today to tear out the turf and aggressive non-natives and plant your yards to become a native plant repository and sanctuary.

Resources:

Where to find a list of reputable native plant nurseries in cascadia

1. Online PDF booklet of native plant nurseries in Oregon and Washington

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/yamhill/sites/default/files/wholesale_np_nurseries.pdf

2. Sources of Pacific Northwest native plants – a online Pdf booklet

http://extension.oregonstate.edu/yamhill/sites/default/files/sources_for_native_plants.pdf

3. The plight of the Fenders Blue Butterfly and its relationship to Kincaid’s Lupine

http://www.xerces.org/2010/12/10/saving-the-fenders-blue-butterfly/

If you would like to learn more about the relationship between insects and humans, animals and plants, check out the Xerces Society website at:    http://www.xerces.org

References

Kartesz, John, North Carolina Botanical Garden, and Larry Morse, The Nature Conservancy. 1997. Personal communication

Kim, Ke Chung (1994) Biodiversity and Conservation, Volume 2, Number 3, 191-214, DOI: 10.1007/BF00056668, Center for Biodiversity Research, The Pennsylvania State University. http://www.springerlink.com/content/q465056vr1t45u67/

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