Let There Be Green!

Now that the long and dreary winter is over, what better way to usher in the (hopefully) sunny days than with Native Plant Appreciation Week?

The Pacific Northwest is known for its lush flora year round, but each spring we are again reminded of its awe-inspiring emerald qualities. Right now our native plants are exploding with color and fresh new growth, quickly filling space with sun-thirsty leaves and brilliant blooms. The returning birds are wise to the bounty and celebrate each morning with a song as the sun rises, while most of us are still reaching for the snooze button. This week we are singing the praises of a few of our favorite native plants. Gain a better appreciation of our local plants with perspectives from Forterra Stewardship team members Michelle Quast, Charlie Vogelheim, and Stuart Watson.

Nettles can create a reaction on bare skin, but if you can brave that, you'll be rewarded with nutritious leaves.
Photo by: Giovanni Dall'Orto

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is easy to identify, once you brush against it. (Ouch!) The stems and leaves are completely covered in fine hairs that release formic acid when touched, creating a stinging sensation and sometimes a slight skin reaction. But, don’t be fooled! Fresh young nettle leaves can be eaten like spinach, raw or cooked, and boiled to make a nutritious tea that packs a powerful iron punch. Just remember to wear gloves while gathering your greens, and stay away from the older and taller shoots. Mature nettles are thick and fibrous enough that they can be used to make a strong twine!

– Michelle Quast, Stewardship Coordinator

Salmonberry have lovely purple-pink flowers and can be eaten in pies, jams or as a springtime snack. Even the bears love them!
Photo by: Michelle Quast

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) has the most fantastic, bright pink flowers this time of year. Even the hummingbirds find them irresistible! It is best known for its mildly sweet berries that ripen later in the summer that are notably orange and pinkish toned, similar to salmon flesh. The soft fruits can be eaten fresh, preserved to make jams, or cooked in pies and tarts. But until then, young salmonberry shoots can also be harvested for a springtime snack. Simply cut the short shoots and peel the prickly skin away to reveal a slightly sweet, green flesh that some people call “bear candy”.

– Michelle Quast, Stewardship Coordinator

The Vine Maple thrives in forests even where little light is available. The radiant bright green leaves provide their own type of light amid the forest.
Photo by: Charlie Vogelheim

I love Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) simply for its subtle beauty. This plant doesn’t show off, it doesn’t have any crazy adaptations, and it doesn’t feel the need to fill a unique niche. It barely grows big enough to be considered a tree. But on a cold spring day, walk into an old forest where the massive firs and hemlocks soak up the already limited light. When you come across a vine maple, you are suddenly bathed in its bright green light. This shrub seems to radiate with its own energy, like beacons inviting you to explore deeper into the forest.

– Charlie Vogelheim, Stewardship Coordinator

The skunk cabbage, or swamp lantern, draws in insects with the smell of rotting flesh—yum!
Photo by: Nicole Marcotte

Western Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) aka swamp lantern is a very cool native. The “skunky” odor actually attracts pollinators by tricking flies and beetles that are drawn to the smell of rotting flesh. Native Americans used the plant to treat injuries and would eat it in times of famine, despite the strong odor. It is also a favorite food of bears coming out of hibernation as it’s one of the earliest plants to flower in the spring. Look for splashes of bright yellow in wetlands and swamps…or better yet, follow your nose!

– Stuart Watson, Lands Manager