Oceanspray, also known as creambush, is an understory shrub common in the Pacific Northwest and California, from sea level to 7,000 feet. It occupies a diverse set of environments, from moist, coastal forests to arid mountains. Its can sprout from the root crown when the top is destroyed, so it recovers quickly in recently burned areas and is often one of the first species to send up shoots after a fire event. As a generally fast growing species, oceanspray is quick to colonize other disturbed areas, such as recently logged land. This species is common in early succession landscapes, but occurs regularly in all seral stages.
This deciduous shrub usually grows 6-12 feet tall, and consists of multiple slender, branching stems with brown to gray bark. Its leaves, some of the first to emerge in spring, are small, alternate, and lobed. Oceanspray’s name refers to the profusion of long cascades of white flowers that cover the shrub from May to July, particularly where it grows in great abundance on marine bluffs. Terminal, plume-shaped clusters of tiny flowers emanate a sweet fragrance, attracting butterflies and providing food for honeybees. This plant is insect-pollinated and wind dispersed; the fruits are small (about 2mm long), dry, and hairy, each containing one seed. These seed clusters dry out in fall, and often persist in brown clusters into winter.
Oceanspray acts as a minor browse species for ungulates and provides nesting habitat and cover for small birds and mammals. Individual plants rarely live for over 30 years, but are highly salt and drought tolerant and can shut down or slow transpiration rates when water is scarce. This shrub can also tolerate a wide range of soil textures, and grows in soil with pH levels from roughly 5 to 7.5.
Oceanspray’s strong wood has historically been used by first peoples to fashion tools and furniture, including spears, nails and digging sticks. It is most commonly propagated from cuttings, as seeds are harder to establish.
Collect seeds when the clusters turn brown- this is during October and November. As the seeds are very small (roughly 500 seeds a gram), they can be separated from non-seed material by rubbing the clusters over a sieve. Seeds should be kept dry and refrigerated while stored.
Before planting, prepare the seeds by soaking them in fresh water for three hours. Drain water and place seeds in a freezer bag with pH neutral peat moss and stratify this mixture at 40 degrees Fahrenheit for 3-5 months, until radicles appear.
Sow seeds shallowly, being careful not to overwater. They should germinate roughly 14 days after sowing with a success rate of around 50% and should be transplanted into individual containers at this point. Seeds should establish after 28 days.
Written and illustrated by: Jasmine Doughty