How to ID Five Common Native Wildflowers

Written by Katherine Anderson
Illustrations by Julie Notarianni

As a child growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I spied native wildflowers on family hikes in the lower Cascades, at camp in the San Juan Islands and on visits to my uncle’s ranch in Eastern Washington’s sagebrush country. Now, as I go about growing flowers on my small organic farm, Marigold and Mint, in the Snoqualmie Valley, I sometimes take breaks to walk in the adjacent forest, finding familiar comfort in the flowers of the understory.

In collaboration with Bridget McNassar, manager of the Native Plant Nursery at my family’s Oxbow Organic Farm and Education Center, I picked five favorites that span early spring through late summer. There are two from each side of the state: western trillium and red columbine from west of the Cascades; and bitterroot and orange globemallow, which are native to Eastern Washington. Common camas makes itself at home on both sides.

As you wander through Washington’s forests, meadows and steppes, keep your eyes trained low to the ground. Our native wildflowers are sometimes tiny beauties, but en masse can put on a spectacular color show.  And even if you aren’t getting out of the city, look for Northwestern natives in wooded city parks and along ravines. I can’t think of a more pure pleasure than stumbling upon a large patch of trillium while out for a spring run.

WesternTrillium Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

Western Trillium

TRILLIUM OVATUM

  • The parts are in 3’s: 3 green sepals, 3 white petals, 3 large ovate leaves on one solitary erect stem.
  • Shade-loving, usually found in the moist forest understory.
  • White flower turns rosy-purplish as it ages.
  • Seed is dispersed by ants!
  • Harbinger of spring, sometimes called “wake robin.”

 

Red Columbine Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

Red Columbine

AQUILEGIA FORMOSA

  • Five spurred red petals; flowers nod downward with bright yellow stamens hanging out; delicate fern-like leaves.
  • Blooms late spring through mid-summer.
  • Flowers are followed by capsules full of dark black seeds.
  • Grows in moist areas, open or partially shaded, from stream banks to meadows to forest edges, from the lowlands all the way up to high elevations.
  • Hummingbirds love them.

Bitterroot Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

Bitterroot

LEWISIA REDIVIVA

  • Small plant, just a few inches tall.
  • Cylindrical leaves start to wither when plant flowers.
  • Flower has about 15 petals, light pink to rose in color, quite a bit larger than the leaves.
  • Completely disappears aboveground after blooming.
  • Found on rocky, dry sites with thin soil.
  • The fleshy taproot was a food staple for some Native American tribes.

Orange Globemallow Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

Orange Globemallow

SPHAERALCEA MUNROANA

  • Up to 3’ tall, white hairs on leaves and stem make them appear soft and silvery.
  • Each flower has five petals, salmon-pink to bright orange, with many flowers on each plant reminiscent of hollyhocks.
  • Leaves are triangular and lobed.
  • Found in dry, sandy and rocky areas, often with sagebrush, in full sun.
  • Long bloom time, throughout the summer.

Common Camas Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest

Common Camas

CAMASSIA QUAMASH

  • Star-shaped 6-petaled blue-purple flowers on a spike; bright yellow stamens, leaves are grasslike.
  • Found in seasonally wet meadows and prairies throughout the state, low to high elevations.
  • Drifts of blue when they are in bloom.
  • An important food source for many Native Americans; bulbs were harvested in large numbers soon after flowering (not to be confused with death camas, which is white flowered and highly toxic, often growing in the same habitat). Eating requires a long cooking period to become digestible, usually steaming.
  • Katherine Anderson

    Katherine Anderson, a Seattle native, broke ground on her Snoqualmie Valley flower farm, Marigold and Mint, in 2008. She owns a shop of the same name in the Melrose Market on Capitol Hill, and is also co-owner of the flower shop, retail market and restaurant, The London Plane, in Pioneer Square.

  • Julie Notarianni

    Julie Notarianni is an art director, graphic designer and illustrator. She’s created award-winning visuals for The Washington Post, The Seattle Times, Microsoft, Museum of History and Industry, and Yes! Magazine to name a few.

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