Indigenous Oregon flora provide environmental benefits, too

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Asarum caudatum, or wild ginger, grows in the Pacific Northwest and is also found in British Columbia, California, Idaho and western Montana.Year-round color, blooms that bring in hummingbirds and pollinators and bewitching foliage that fills in lackluster corners, all in a garden that practically takes care of itself may seem elusive, but it’s not too good to be true.

That dream is within reach of every Northwest gardener who invests in native Oregon plants, which not only provide beauty for yards and gardens, but yield numerous environmental benefits, too.

Linda Hardison, coordinator of Oregon State University’s Oregon Flora Project — a program dedicated to researching the state's 4,500 or so plants that grow without cultivation or horticultural practices — is excited about informing the public about native plants and their benefits.

Planting Oregon natives “maintains genetic diversity that exists in our area and helps keep the natural heritage alive by maintaining plants that naturally occur in an area,” Hardison said, adding that “animals find natives, which help them coexist in urban environments.”

Planting a wide variety of Oregon natives supports the local ecosystem year-round, Hardison added. Mixing perennials and annuals means blooms and colorful foliage throughout the seasons, and food and habitat for creatures throughout the year — especially important in winter when pickings are often scarce.

Native plants are also more likely to thrive and often require less maintenance than non-native plants. They provide food and habitat to native creatures.

"Planting natives helps conserve Oregon’s unique flora. They grow here because they’ve adapted to the soils and climate. They know how to live in Oregon,” Hardison said. “When they get established in the right place, they take care of themselves like they did before people came along.”

Experienced gardeners are adventurous enough to give a few unusual natives a try — they’re anything but boring. Timid planters should start out with beauties that are easy to grow.

Gardeners who plant flowers, trees and shrubs that are adapted to Oregon, Hardison said, are “more likely to have success.”

Her favorite picks include Trilliums, which she described as an “iconic woodland plant,” and Pacific Madrone, an evergreen broad-leaved tree with rich, red-orange bark that grow to be 75 to 100 feet tall.

Two of Gaston botanical illustrator John Myers' favorites (See story, page A1):

n Vine Maple: A deciduous shrub that grows to be 10 to 20 feet tall with red and white flowers inn the spring, and showy fall foliage. Prefers partial shade.

n Wild Ginger: A perennial ground cover with beautiful spring flowers and heart-shaped leaves. Prefers shade.

If you're looking to attract hummingbirds, try Pacific Bleeding Heart, whose delicate pink, heart-shaped flowers adorn partially shaded areas from spring to summer and spreads by seed; Camas, a perennial that reaches about 30 inches in height and boasts purple spring flowers; Red Columbine, another perennial that reaches three feet in height and displays bright blooms in spring and summer while attracting butterflies; or Oregon's state flower, the Oregon grape. Both low- and tall-Oregon grape have early bright yellow spring blooms that feed hummingbirds and butterflies and and fall fruit feeds wildlife.

If you're looking for plants that spread easily, try:

n Yarrow: White flowers bloom from spring to fall and prefers full sun.

n Pearly Everlasting: White flowers bloom from summer to fall and silver-gray foliage shines. Prefers partial sun.

n Slough Sledge: This grass-like plant boasts subtle brown flowers from spring to fall.

n Coastal Strawberry: Has white flowers from spring to summer and provides fruit for wildlife. Prefers partial sun.

n Seaside daisy: Light purple flowers show off from spring to fall. Prefers partial sun.

n Yellow Monkey Flower: This plant prefers partial sun and its yellow flowers bloom from spring to summer.

For more information about native plants and to find more options for your yard, visit Metro at, Oregon State University Department of Horticulture's guide at or Portland Bureau for Planning and Sustainability's Portland plant list at

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