Ever wish you knew what all the plants are in a place you love to visit? Most people get overwhelmed by the variety out there. So, start out by learning just one at a time.
Fall is a great time to get out and go for a walk before the cold, snowy months ahead. Children love to explore trees when the leaves turn bright colors and flutter in the wind; so it’s a great time to inspire their love of nature. The trees at the Cove Palisades State Park in the Crooked River campground and in the day-use areas are putting on their final burst of the season.
(photo credit to Jacy Sequeria Brooks)
Black Cottonwood Trees (Populus trichocarpa ) are native to western North America. They are large, fragrant, deciduous, broadleaf trees, with thick, deep fissured, grey bark and diamond-shaped leaves which are dark green on top/greyish-green underneath and turn a brilliant yellow in the fall. They grow quickly, up 100 feet tall and up to six feet in diameter which makes them the largest popular tree species in the Americas. They are also one of the largest hardwood trees in North America. They are named for their cottony seeds. Cottonwoods serve as food for some species of caterpillars.
The Cottonwood’s Place in History
Few sights were more welcome to America’s early pioneers than the cottonwood. As they pushed westward with their wagons, these brave men and women found food for their livestock in the tree’s leaves, as well as shade for themselves and timber for their dwellings. The beauty of the cottonwood leaves as they turned in the wind may also have revived memories of eastern forests, and sustained many a flagging spirit. On the more practical side, cottonwood trunks provided dugout canoes, and the tree’s bark was used to produce both forage for horses and a bitter medicinal tea. And in regions with few trees, the very noticeable cottonwoods often served as gathering places and trail markers, and as sacred objects for several Plains tribes. Today, cottonwood is most commonly used in making plywood, matches, crates, boxes, and paper pulp.
– Arbor Day Foundation
The Twisted and Gnarled World of the Western Juniper
“The western juniper is far from statuesque, not even close to colossal when compared with other tree species, and is given to growing in contorted, stunted, twisted, warped, crumpled, distressed and arthritic configurations.” – Jim Witty, Bend Bulletin
(Old Growth Juniper in the Oregon Badlands, photo by Greg Burke)
Western Juniper (Juniperus occidentalis) commonly found in the western United States, it is also known as the Sierra Juniper in California and Nevada. Juniper is a type of Cedar and unlike most cedars, juniper is an evergreen. This bushy, fragrant shrub grows in dry, rocky, open, mountainous regions up to 10,000 feet in elevation. It’s leaves are scale-like and grow in whorls of three. Juniper provides habitat for elk, mule deer, pronghorn, more than twenty-seven species of nesting birds, and a variety of small mammals and reptiles. The cones are round, waxy-blue and provide an important food source for wildlife. Western Juniper is considered a highly competitive invasive species. The United States Forest Service (USFS) estimates that during the past 150 years, western juniper has extended its range and now occupies approximately 42 million acres in the Inter-mountain West and that juniper currently grows over four million acres in the Pacific Northwest alone. USFS sites that climate change, overgrazing and fire suppression are the main causes of the abundant increase.
Some Native American peoples traditionally used western juniper wood in making bow staves. American settlers found that juniper wood was solid and sturdy and used it for fence and corral posts, some posts lasting more than 50 years in the ground. Since the trees were abundant in areas, they also used it as firewood. Today, juniper is used to create log homes, paneling and flooring, custom furniture, landscape features, floral design, BBQ chips, incense, essential oils and so much more. Juniper berries are used as a seasoning and to flavor gin.
Fun Facts: The Bennett Juniper, located in Stanislas National Forest in California, is the largest and oldest known juniper tree in existence. It measures 85 feet tall, more than 12 feet in diameter and is believed to be more than 3,000 years old. According to Oregon State University, the largest western juniper stand is found near Bend, OR on pumice soil and the oldest standing dead tree has a pith date of approximately 50 B.C. The oldest Western Juniper in Oregon, estimated at 1,600 years old, is located east of Bend.
If you visit The Cove in April, one of the first wildflowers to emerge in the spring is the Balsam Root Sunflower.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata)
These are perennial flowers in the Sunflower Family. Showy yellow flowers bloom with large bright green “arrow” shaped leaves. Balsamroots are native to western North America. It is known as the “Oregon Sunflower.” This plant grows on dry hillsides and dry open meadows. (Often confused with Mule’s ears (Wyethia)). The flowers are good browse for wildlife.
Fun Fact: Native Americans used the sticky sap from the balsamroot as a topical antiseptic for minor wounds. All parts of the plants were used as food from the roots to the stems and even the seeds. (Note: these are educational facts and are not intended for modern use as medicine or food.)
It is important to know the dangerous plants in a place so that you can avoid them. The Cove is a pretty dry place but there are areas that are wet and inviting to this next species.
Western and Spotted Water-Hemlock
(DANGER – Poisonous)
Water hemlock is the most violently toxic plant that grows in North America – says the USDA.
This native, perennial is found only in wetlands areas. It is in the Apiaceae (parsley/carrot) family. It grows 2 -8 feet tall, it has distinctive, dark green, serrated leaves and blooms a small, white, umbrella shaped flower head in June. The root is a thick, tuberous root-stalk. This plant is sometimes mistaken for wild parsnip. It is also related to Poison Hemlock (similar name, but different plant, both are poisonous). Toxic to humans and live stock.
One of my favorite wildflowers is Indian Paintbrush. It’s the State Flower of Wyoming and inspired a wonderful children’s story the Legend of the Indian Paintbrush by Tomie dePaola. There are many varieties ranging in color from yellow, to bright red, to orange, to magenta and the do indeed look like brightly colored paintbrushes scattered on the ground.
Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja), also known as prairie fire, is a native to North America and blooms late spring or early summer. It attracts birds. This unusual native relies on other plants for part of its nutrients. Its roots will grow until they come in contact with another plant’s roots. It will then tap into the host plants roots to obtain valuable nutrients. The host plant is commonly a grass plant and is not usually harmed by the relationship.