COOL PLANTS!

NATIVE FLORA: COOL PLANTS THAT DESERVE SOME R-E-S-P-E-C-T
By Shirley Doolittle Egerdahl

Finally, native plants gain some respect! Even the Rodney Dangerfield of local plants, the Stinging Nettle, is becoming well-known as valuable butterfly habitat.

We need to keep encouraging our neighbors to plant native plants in order to protect our water quality and our fish. Just a basic review of reasons here (at the risk of haranguing):
1) Native plants conserve water. Once established in appropriate locations they need no watering, because they are adapted to our droughty summers.
2) They are also adapted to soil and climate conditions here and thus require less fertilizer and pest control than many imported ornamentals. This keeps excess nitrogen and toxins out of the surface and ground water.
3) They provide habitat for wildlife, including salmon and other fish. For example, insects (which salmon eat) find homes in the native plants they evolved with. And shadows cast by streamside plants cool the creek for salmon fry.
4) Our native plants really look beautiful, and make Western Washington the green place we love.

But you probably knew all that already. Let’s get to the fun stuff – some plants you and your neighbors can cultivate in your own gardens.

SPINY WOOD FERN (Dryopteris expansa)
and LADY FERN (Athyrium filix-femina)
Spiny Wood Fern has nothing “spiny” about it. Perhaps its other common names better describe it: Shield Fern, Spreading Wood Fern, Triangular Wood Fern. The leaflets of this semi-evergreen fern form a triangle-shaped frond. Below the leaflets, the stem of the frond is scaly and rough. The fronds come up in a cluster, like Sword Fern or Lady Fern. It looks very similar to Lady Fern.
For the longest time, I didn’t recognize Spiny Wood Fern as a different plant than Lady Fern. I finally learned to tell them apart when I was out in the woods one fall. The Lady Ferns’ wilted and colorless fronds were dying back for the winter. But in among the dead fronds stood fronds as green and fresh as ever. That’s when I took a closer look. Lady Fern’s light green frond almost looks like a long diamond, the largest leaflets in the middle of the frond. The frond has leaflets almost all the way down to its base.

Spiny Wood Fern’s leaflets are more divided than Lady Fern’s. It is also darker green. In the last couple of years, we have had pretty mild winters, and I noticed that it stayed green almost all through the winter.

A couple of other differences: Lady Fern, in its favorite conditions (wet and shady) can grow huge – with fronds up to seven feet long! Terrific for that jungle look! Spiny Wood Fern’s fronds only reach about three-and-a-half feet at the max.

While they both like full shade to partially sunny conditions, and often grow together, Spiny Wood Fern tends to grow in drier areas than Lady Fern, such as wooded hillsides and up on rotting logs.
Lady fern can fend for itself in fairly dry conditions, however. I have one sprouting from my rockery, where it gets sun for much of the day. In drier conditions, Lady Fern will stay smaller, and may be a lighter green. A recommendation: Plant Lady Ferns in a mostly shady area, with bunches of Foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata) between.

TWINFLOWER (Linnaea borealis)
Professor Art Kruckeberg voices respect for this creeping vine in his classic book, GARDENING WITH NATIVE PLANTS OF THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST: “It is of sterling quality in or out of flower.” And according to family lore, Twinflower was recognized as an esthetic asset generations ago. Garlands of Twinflower adorned the Paradise Lake picnic area at a 1930s reunion of the Paradise Valley homesteading families.

The serviceability of Twinflower as an evergreen groundcover in partial to full shade stands out if you take just one look at the creeping stems covered with small, round, shiny leaves. But the magic of Twinflower lies in its dainty pink flowers. From May into August, goblet-shaped blossoms lift a few inches above the rich green mat of foliage like pairs of fairy streetlights.

When my daughter was little, she used to pretend the nodding blooms were tiny princesses in ball gowns. “They have a little head and a little shawl,” this now 20-year-old little girl recently confessed.

With that flight of fancy in mind, another common name for Twinflower, “Twin Sisters,” sounds very appropriate. Another common name “Ground Vine,” is too boring to bother with.

Twinflower/Twin Sisters naturally grows in either moist or dry conditions under cedars, Doug Firs or hemlocks. It carpets the ground rapidly once established, but I have never heard it described as “aggressive.” Don’t pass up an opportunity to get hold of it!

MORE BIZ
To see good pictures and get more information o Twinflower and Lady Fern, get on your computer and surf on over to Washington State University’s Native Plant Identification website at. Click here to see a good picture of Spiny Wood Fern.

Want more ideas? Get your mitts on April Pettinger’s book, Native Plants in the Coastal Garden. She takes an ecological approach, writing about the natural plant communities in which various plants grow. She emphasizes plants that are native to coastal (which includes the greater Puget Sound area) Washington and British Columbia. This book is one of several sources used to help compile this article.

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One Response

  1. […] COOL PLANTS! « – Finally, native plants gain some respect! Even the Rodney Dangerfield of local plants, the Stinging Nettle, is becoming well-known as valuable butterfly habitat. We need to keep encouraging our neighbors to plant native plants in order to protect our water quality and our fish. Just a basic review of reasons here (at the risk of haranguing): 1) Native plants conserve water. […]

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