Native Plants of the Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest region includes British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and Northern California. these areas are lush, moist and green. The climate is considered to be temperate. The area receives rain nine months out of the year, yet there is a two-to-three month long summer drought period. The Pacific region is home to a diverse group of native plants. These plants have adapted well to the contradictions in weather and can reach large proportions.

Pacific Northwest Trees

The Pacific Northwest is considered a mixed conifer forest. The woods consist of tall evergreen conifers, and several layers of lower story trees. The conifers can reach up to 200 feet tall near the ocean. Common species are Western red cedar (Thuja plicata), with reddish stringy bark, scale-like foliage and tiny cones. The Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) have short stiff needles and larger cones. And Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) has soft foliage and weeping branch tips. Common throughout the region is the Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). A short distance inland on dry sunny slopes, you will find the Pacific madrone (Arbutus menziesii). This tree stands out with its smooth brown trunk, and peeling bark. It appears almost tropical with its long evergreen glossy leaves. There are two common maples: the big-leaf maple (Acer macrophylla), and the vine maple (Acer circinatum). Common fruiting trees are blue and red elderberry (Sambucus), and service berry (Amelanchier alnifolia). Mixed in are spindly scrub trees like alder (Alnus) and Western hazelnut (Corylus Californica).

Pacific Northwest Shrubs

The forested areas are thick with shrubbery. The Pacific rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophylla) dots the slopes at the edge of the tree line. It has lavender-pink flowers and long evergreen leaves. Another broad-leaf evergreen shrub is the tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium). Two lower growing Oregon grapes are 'repens' and 'nervosa.' A common low shrub is salal (Gaultheria shallon). It has glossy evergreen leaves, urn shaped flowers and edible blackberries. In damp areas, you will find salmon berry (Rubus spectabilis), and thimble berry (Rubus parviflorus).

Pacific Northwest Ferns

Ferns encompass large areas of the forest floor. The delicate maidenhair fern (Adiatum pedatum) lines the slopes of creek and river banks. The Western sword fern (Polystichum munitum), can be found in both moist and dry shade areas. Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) can be found growing on logs and along the trunks of trees. The delicate lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) grows freely in moist shady areas.

Pacific Northwest Wildflowers

Wake robin (Trillium ovatum) is one of the first flowers to bloom in spring. It has three white petals and three leaves. Other early woodland wildflowers are shooting star (Dodecatheon), fawn lily (Erythronium), and lady's slipper (Paphiopedilum). Under the trees, you will find Inside out flower (Vancouveria hexandra). The tall purple spikes of camas (Camassia quamash) line ditches and marsh areas. The Douglas Iris, bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), and lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) can be found along roadsides and forest slopes.

Keywords: mixed conifer forest, native plants, broadleaf evergreen shrub, peeling bark

About this Author

Marci Degman has been a Landscape Designer and Horticulture writer for since 1997. She has an Associate of Applied Science in landscape technology and landscape design from Portland Community College. She writes a newspaper column for the Hillsboro Argus and radio tips for KUIK. Her teaching experience for Portland Community College has set the pace for her to write for GardenGuides.com.