Culturally Significant Plants of Oregon

Oregon and the Pacific Northwest region of the United States are home to a number of endemic plants. The heavily forested areas of the western interior valleys of the state support a robust timber industry that was utilized by early European settlers and Native Americans. Ornamental and edible plants, some native and other introduced, have had a significant cultural influence on the region that continues today.


The Douglas-fir tree (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the official state tree of Oregon. It is the next to the tallest tree in the world second to the coast redwood. Douglas-firs dominate the forests on the wet, western side of the Cascade mountain range, in the interior valleys and coastal mountain range. On the eastern and drier side of the Cascade mountains, Douglas-firs grow in mixed conifer forests. The size, quality of the wood and relative rapid growth rate has made the Douglas-fir the most important timber crop in the state. The tall old growth forests of Oregon brought many settlers to the area who were drawn to work in the timber industry. Douglas-fir trees grow naturally in small stands in urban and suburban areas of western Oregon and are commonly seen growing in large yards. They thrive in full sun with regular water.


In honor of the centennial of the Lewis and Clark journey to Oregon, in 1905 Portland residents planted roses along 20 miles of roads and earned the nickname "The City of Roses." The International Rose Test Garden was established 12 years later by the American Rose Society and the City of Portland as a public park. Here, newly created and unique strains of roses are sent from all over the world to be carefully cultivated and tested for market. By 1919 an awards program was initiated. According to the Rose Garden's website it is, "the oldest official, continuously operated public rose test garden in the United States." Today, this tradition is still celebrated with the annual month-long Rose Festival that has numerous events within Portland and the surrounding Oregon cities. The climate of western Oregon is well suited to growing many types of roses. The winters are mild and the summers are moderate and dry. Roses are grown in home gardens and public plantings. Even in abandoned and neglected yards, rose bushes often continue to thrive for many years.


Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Oregon Territory wrote about a field of camas near their camp: "the quawmash is now in blume and from the colour of its bloom at a short distance it resembles lakes of fine clear water, so complete is this deseption that on first sight I could have swoarn it was water." Camas (Camassia quamash) is a bulb and member of the lily family that produces small blue flowers similar to a hyacinth. Native Americans and early pioneer settlers cooked and ate the sweet tasting bulbs as a staple food. They were even farmed by the Native American women. The Portland, Oregon suburb of Camas, Washington is named after the plant.

Keywords: Douglas-fir, rose, camas

About this Author

Brian Albert has been in the publishing industry since 1999. He is an expert in horticulture, with a focus on aquatics and tropical plants like orchids. He has successfully run an aquatic plant business for the last five years. Albert's writing experience includes the Greater Portland Aquarium Society newsletter and politics coverage for a variety of online journals.