Ecological Restoration Specialists

Archive | Plant of the Month

Salmonberry – Rubus spectabilis


Plant of the Month

Rubus spectabilis

Salmonberry is a deciduous shrub in the rose family. This shrub is one of the earliest to flower, and its vivid magenta blossoms can be observed right now. It has fine prickles along its woody stems, trifoliate, toothed leaves, and edible berries. The edible fruits are delicate and raspberry-like, with many drupelets, and they range in color from yellowish to rosy, pink-tinged orange. Salmonberry fruit ripen from mid-June to late July, with a juicy tart flavor that sweetens somewhat when they are about to fall off.

Hummingbirds love salmonberry flowers. Many native mammals, such as elk, graze on its twigs, leaves, and buds, and the plant tends towards thickets that birds and smaller mammals can use as nesting habitat. Salmonberry shoots and berries are a traditional food source for First-Nations people in the Pacific Northwest, and the name derives from the traditional springtime pairing of salmonberry shoots with salmon meat or dried spawn. The Rubus genus also includes other edible berries such as blackberries and raspberries.

Salmonberry prefers moist, forested areas in partial shade. It can be found from northern California up into Alaska, from low to subalpine elevations. Salmonberry takes well to disturbed sites, and its deep roots can help stabilize slopes and streambeds. It can be grown from cuttings and rhizomes as well as from seed.

Grand Fir – Abies grandis

Abies Grandis
(Grand Fir)
          Grand fir is native to the Pacific Northwest from Montana to the Pacific coast and southern British Columbia to northern California, and it inhabits altitudes from sea level to 1800 meters. Unlike Douglas-fir, Grand fir is a “true fir” of the genus Abies. True firs have flattened needles with blunt tips, and they bear sticky, resinous cones that stand uniquely upright near the tips of the upper branches, unlike any other conifers. True firs typically occur at high elevations, and grand fir is the only true fir in the western US that occurs down to sea level. Abies grandis is shade tolerant enough to establish itself under a thick canopy, and once it breaks through the canopy, along with douglas firs, it tends to dominate late-succession forests in this region. Mature individuals usually range from 40-70 meters in height, and have a trunk diameter of two meters at the thickest.
Leaves on this fir are needle-like and flat. The upper side of the needle is glossy dark green but the underside has two narrow, whitish bands of stomata that run lengthwise. Each needle has a miniscule notch at the end, on the same plane as the middle vein. Leaves are arranged on the branches in a spiral, but each leaf twists at the base, creating a distinctive appearance of two flattened rows of needles that seem to alternate between short and long. The mature crown is usually narrow and dense. This tree has both male and female cones- the male cones cluster underneath the needles, while the tall female cones stand upright above the needles and are much larger.
            When true fir cones mature, the cones shed their seeds while still borne on the branches, unlike Douglas-firs and other conifers. The seeds fall into the litter below the parent tree, where they spend the winter. During this time, the seeds stratify, which means that frost and weathering soften the hard seed coat so they may sprout. Because of this process, the seeds are not viable past their first spring.
For current availability of grand fir, click here.

Western Hemlock – Tsuga heterophylla

TSHE drawing 3


Tsuga heterophylla
(Western hemlock)

The western Hemlock is easily identifiable by its drooping, conical top and similarly drooping branches. It ranges from 165 to 230 feet in height, and can reach up to 9 feet in diameter. Its needles are flat, short, and rounded, and their dark green top surfaces contrast with the bottom surface, which is dominated by two white parallel stripes. These needles are arranged in a spiral, but twist around at the base in order to form two flat rows. The hemlock is monoecious, meaning that it has male and female cones- male cones are small, yellow, and appear at the bases of needles, whereas female cones are purple, brown when they mature, and situated terminally on branches.
Preferring high humidity and precipitation, the Western Hemlock tends to grow near the Pacific coast, and its native range reaches from the northern end of California to the southern tip of Alaska. It can be found in a range of elevations, from sea level up to 7000 feet. Seedling growth starts out very slow, and young plants often grow from nurse logs and other coarse woody debris. Because of the species’ tolerance for shade, these hemlocks are able to establish themselves under a thick canopy until a gap can be exploited, which leads to rapid growth and the shading out of other less-shade tolerant plants. This makes the species a late-succession specialist, which thrives in areas where fires, which would restart succession, are actively suppressed by human intervention. In addition, these trees are long lived, with recorded individuals of up to 1200 years.
The Western Hemlock has been used in the timber industry, which is a major reason for its introduction to temperate areas outside of its native range, such as the eastern United States and western Europe. Its cambium is edible, and fresh needles can be brewed to make a bitter but vitamin c-rich tea. The tree also forms ectomycorrhizal relationships with edible fungus, such as several chantrelle species, so it’s a good one to keep an eye out for while mushroom hunting.
For current availability of Western hemlock, click here.

Swamp Gooseberry – Ribes lacustre

Ribes lacustre


Ribes lacustre
(Black Swamp Gooseberry)

This gooseberry is a member of the Ribes family, and can be found throughout temperate regions of North America all the way from sea level to subalpine elevations. It is known to grow in a wide variety of habitats, which include slopes, swamps, stream banks, open woodlands, forest margins, and rock outcroppings. Nitrogen rich and relatively wet soils are preferred by this plant.
The plant itself is a deciduous shrub that is erect to spreading, with reddish brown bark on older areas of the stem and branches. It grows .5 to 2 meters high, and all branches and stems are covered with sharp yellowish spines, which are generally small except at nodes, where they are several times longer. The leaves are a variant on the characteristic Ribes leaf-shape, with palmate, toothed lobes. The small, geometrically beautiful flowers are arranged in a hanging raceme, and tend to be pinkish to maroon. Though covered in a thin layer of black hairs, this plant’s dark purple to black berries are edible and tart, and can be eaten raw or cooked.

For current availability of swamp gooseberry, click here.