We’re wild for wildflowers! Pacific Northwest wildflowers, our “Forest Feature” for April, add more than just their beauty to our landscape. Flowers also play an important role in sustaining a healthy ecosystem in national forests!
A bumble bee collects pollen from a flower on the Ochoco National Forest in an undated USDA Forest Service photo.
Wildflowers produce pollen that feeds bees, hummingbirds and butterflies, provide seeds that are eaten by birds and small mammals, and offer cover from predators for many kinds of wildlife. Native butterfly species often rely on specific species of plant to nurture and nourish their caterpillars.
Some native Pacific Northwest flowers and the wildlife that depend on them have become threatened or endangered as the plants have lost ground to development, habitat changes, and crowding from noxious weeds and invasive exotic plants.
Flowers are fun, and functional!
Many Pacific Northwest wildflowers have been used by native cultures, western pioneers, and even modern scientists to help produce food, fibers, dyes, perfume, and medicine.
The details on this basket-weave tray, created by a member of the Tohono O’odham people of Arizona, is made from beargrass leaves, coiled with dried yellow and fresh green yucca leaves and seed pods from the Devil’s claw (Proboscidea parviflora ssp. parviflora) plant. USDA Forest Service photo by Teresa Prendusi.
According to The North Cascades Environmental Learning Center, the roots, stems, leaves and seeds of the arrowleaved balsamroot are all edible. Beargrass has thick roots that can be roasted or boiled, like potatoes, and the bulbs of some lilies can be eaten raw. Oils extracted from species of violets and lavender are used to produce scents for perfumes and soaps and to flavor foods like herbal tea and ice cream.
The chemical found in foxglove was the original source for digitoxin, a compound used in medication to treat atrial fibrillation and heart failure. Yarrow has been used for centuries to produce cough medicine, relieve pain, stop bleeding, and its leaves can be rubbed on skin as a type of insect repellent.
For more information about “Medicinal Plants of the North Cascades,” visit: https://ncascades.org/discover/north-cascades-ecosystem/files/Medicinal%20Plants%20of%20the%20North%20Cascades.pdf.
Learn more about ethnobotany – the study of plants sustaining people – at: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethnobotany/index.shtml
Don’t pick the flowers!
Indian paintbrush, cow parsnip and lupine are native wildflowers found throughout the Pacific Northwest, as seen in this undated USDA Forest Service photo.
Bringing home a bouquet of flowers seems like the most natural thing in the world – but the Forest Service asks that visitors leave flowers as they find them in national forests. Picking flowers interrupts the flower’s natural life cycle. If too many are picked, it hurts plants’ ability to perform its ecological role sheltering and feeding wildlife, and reproduce.
Remember: Take only photos, leave only footsteps!
For more information about wildflower ethics, visit https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/index.shtml
Free-use and forest products permits for collectors
There are some ways to legally collect plants on national forests. Permits allow the Forest Service approve removal of plants that aren’t at-risk, while monitoring what is being removed, how much, and providing information to collectors about any seasonal restrictions or information they need to prevent gathering of rare plants by mistake.
Apply for a permit to gather plants for either personal or commercial use at the district ranger’s office for your forest you want to visit: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethics/permit.shtml
Helping forest flowers from home
Planting native flowers at home is a great way to help local wildlife and wild plant species!
Native flowers that are already adapted to your environment, which can reduce the need to use pesticides, which can harm bees, butterflies, and other pollinators in addition to insect pests.
Native flowers planted around your home and garden also provide shelter and food for wildlife that rely on those plants, expanding their habitat, while also producing seeds for new wildflower colonies.
Importing exotic plants is also a common source of invasive, non-native insect pests. And some non-native plants, like the butterfly bush, can become noxious weeds if they escape to wild areas!
Your county cooperative extension or master gardener program is a good source for information about choosing and caring for native plants and flowers in your garden or landscaping.
Find more information about landscaping with Pacific Northwest native plants, at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/yamhill/landscaping-with-pacific-northwest-native-plants-fact-sheets
Did you know? Many Pacific Northwest wildflowers are also fire-resistant, which helps create defensible space in the event of sparks fall near your home during wildfire season if used for landscaping. Wild strawberries, day lillies, flax flowers and lupine are just a few of the native flowers that are also fire-resistant and suitable for landscaping. The right landscaping can also keep water in the soil and reduce erosion in dry or drought-prone areas.
Learn more about gardening with fire-resistant native plants, at: https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9103
Fun projects for flower fans:
Now that you’ve learned about wildflowers, you can put your knowledge to use!
Julie Kierstead Nelson, forest botanist for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, created a coloring book depicting “Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest,” which is available for download from the USDA Forest Service website at: https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/kids/coloring/index.shtml.
Washington Native Plant Society: https://www.wnps.org/
Native Plant Society of Oregon: http://www.npsoregon.org/
Forest Features highlight a new Pacific Northwest species (or sometimes family, order or genus) each month as part of our regional youth engagement strategy. If you’re an educator who would like more information about incorporating Pacific Northwest environmental and forest science in your classroom, email us at R6Update@fs.fed.us.
Hikers make their way up a trail through a field of wildflowers on the Willamette National Forest in an undated USDA Forest Service photo.