Fall remains one of the best times to collect native plant material to create colorful dyes. Plenty of wild plants exist that provide beautiful dyes, but avoid picking endangered plants since harvesting the plants may contribute to their extinction. When picking plant material for dyeing, remember to take only a third of a plant to allow the plant to produce more the following year.
Also known as rabbitbrush, chamisa (Chrysothamnus nauseosus) features silvery-blue foliage on plants that grow up to 5 feet in height and width. The pungent yellow flowers of this drought-tolerant plant stat blooming in early fall and feature 12 small, tubular blooms on each stem. The flowers, leaves and twigs make a strong yellow dye most often associated with Native American blankets.
English and French settlers in North America used goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) as one of the first native dyes. The plant flowers in late summer and early fall, and grows up to 6 feet in height with leaves growing up to 5 inches long. Clusters of bright yellow flowers bloom on the top of the plant. Collect the plant in late August until the first hard frost. While the whole plant gets used in dye, certain parts of the plant give the dye subtle color changes. The flowers provide a clear yellow dye while the leaves offer a greenish-tan yellow.
Several lichens that grow on large boulders on steep slopes yield dyes. Two lichens, rock tripe (Umbilicaria hirsute) and toadskin lichen (Lasallia papulosa), grow as gray, brown and black plants, but both produce a deep purple dye. Even the ancient Phoenicians used lichens to create purple dye for their clothing. In Scotland, some lichens went extinct during the Industrial Revolution due to over-harvesting.
Roots from the native Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) make a strong yellow dye. Oregon grape grows in acidic, well-drained soil where it reaches up to 8 feet in height. Clusters of small yellow flowers appear in the spring, eventually fading and turning into powdery-blue berries that resemble small clusters of grapes. The plant also attracts wildlife who eat the berries.
A wide range of colors come from the native sumac, also known as staghorn sumac or Rhus typhina. The small tree or bush grows from 15 to 30 feet high with feather-like leaves and red fruit clusters. While the the bark on the new growth of the bush makes great dye, Native Americans used all parts of the plant to make dye, including the leaves, berries, twigs, bark and roots. The Navajo and Hopi Indians used sumac to create a black dye from boiled leaves and twigs.