Stinging Nettle

Urtica dioica

Photo by Greg Rabourn

Stinging nettle can be quite the nuisance during an afternoon hike through the Pacific Northwest. This weedy species loves to inhabit stream banks and open forests often growing in disturbed habitats forming thickets. The reason this plant can become a nuisance is because of the irritation it can cause your skin. The stinging nettle features many hollow hairs that grow from the stem called trichomes. The trichomes extend from glands containing formic acid which when broken will result in secretion that irritates the skin. The irritation can last up to a couple of days for some people depending on the exposure to nettle. A common forest remedy that is said to relieve the irritation is to rub the nettle sting with the underside of a fern. The sori from fern leaves is said to help soothe the itch. Most commonly bracken fern and sword fern are the native ferns that are often associated with this method. This temporary remedy tends to vary with people so just in case always remember to pack an anti-itch cream!

As annoying as the sting can be though nettle is known to be very nutritious! Nettle is high in vitamins A, C, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. When cooked the nettle has a similar flavor to spinach which has earned it the name Indian spinach. The robust taste of nettle makes it a fantastic substitute for any recipe that includes spinach, my personal favorites being pasta recipes. The best time to harvest nettle is in late March and April, the rule of thumb being that if a nettle plant has begun to flower then it is no good for harvesting. Leather gloves, long sleeves, and plastic bags are a must when headed out for a harvesting excursion. When preparing the nettle for cooking be sure to separate leaves from the stalk and let leaves sit in warm water for 10 minutes to rid them of their noxious itch. Using these tips you can make wholesome and healthy foods from plants grown right in the backyard! Bon Appétite!

Two of my favorite recipes: Nettle Soup and Nettle Pasta

“If they would drink nettles in March,

And eat mugwort in May,

So many fine maidens,

Would not go to clay.”

Salal

Gaultheria shallon

Photograph by Keith Lazelle

A great evergreen shrub that can be found all over the ground of native forests in the Pacific Northwest, salal can tolerate a range of conditions, from upland forests to wetter lowlands and prairie meadows.  As one of the best-known evergreen shrubs west of the Cascades, salal is often found under the dry shade of taller conifers.  The shrub can vary in height, depending on the habitat, ranging from only 20 inches to 10 feet or more.

While salal is slow to establish, it can be useful in controlling erosion, and can be a worthwhile addition to many types of gardens.  Salal produces small, downward-pointing whitish flowers that give way to round, dark purple berries. The leaves of the plant are ovate and finely toothed with a thick, leathery feel.  The nectar found in the flowers attracts butterflies, the foliage feeds larvae, and salal berries are also edible.  A recipe for salal berry jam can be found here.

View the Salal native plant ID card from WNPS.

Trailing blackberry

photograph by Kerry Neijstrom

Rubus ursinus

It’s high time we did a post on the mild-mannered cousin of the invasive blackberry we spend so much time trying to eradicate. Trailing blackberry is native to the northwest and also produces sweet berries from white to pink flowers. The smooth, thin, cylindrical stems have small thorns and a dull gray- green powdery coating, and trail delicately along the ground. The leaflets are toothed and split into three pointed leaflets.

These features set trailing blackberry apart from the invasive species, which have stiff, tall, arching, dark green stems with ridges and large thorns. The leaflets on the evergreen blackberry are deeply toothed and jagged-looking, on the Himalayan blackberry they are rounded. Both have five leaflets per leaf.

View the trailing blackberry native plant ID card from WNPS,

and take a look at the Himalayan and evergreen blackberry weed ID card to compare.

Vanilla leaf

Achlys triphylla

Vanilla leaf can be found in the understory of upland forests. This groundcover plant grows in groups called colonies. Stems stretch straight up, 4″ to a foot tall, and support a single leaf. Leaves are thin and soft, and divided into three wide, triangular leaflets. Small white flowers have no petals and are clumped on a spike growing from the center of the leaf.

View the vanilla leaf native plant ID card from WNPS

Salmonberry

Rubus spectabilis

One of the many great berry-producing native plants that make up the understory of a healthy northwest forest. Pink  flowers appear in the spring. Salmonberry fruit,  shaped similarly to a raspberry or blackberry, ranges from yellow to dark orange and provides food for local wildlife and people. The tall shrub (up to 8′) can be distinguished by its pointed, sharply toothed leaflets, and shaggy, light brown stems covered in thorns. In comparison, invasive Himalayan blackberry has rounded leaflets and arching green stems. Salmonberry can be found in both upland and wetland riparian forests.

View the Salmonberry native plant ID card from WNPS

Western Hemlock

Tsuga heterophylla

Another commonly-seen tree in the Pacific Northwest forest canopy, at up to 180′ tall the western hemlock regenerates from some of the tiniest cones out there. Their distinctive small, rounded, brown cones are only 3/4″ long and are good identifying features. New needles are bright green, and older needles are dark green with two sharp white lines on the undersides. Hemlock needles are also shorter than those of most other evergreens, and lay flat along the stem. From a distance, the western hemlock has a stockier silhouette than the tall, thin Douglas-fir.

View the western hemlock native plant ID card from WNPS.

Oregon grape

Mahonia nervosa and Mahonia aquifolium

Both varieties of Oregon grape are common in Puget Sound urban forests. They are evergreen shrubs and important understory species. Their leaves look somewhat like holly to the untrained eye, however, compound Oregon grape leaves are thinner and more delicate than those of the holly. Holly leaflets are shaped slightly differently, and are much thicker and pricklier. Both species of Oregon grape are true shrubs, and never grow to be trees like holly. They have small yellow flowers in the spring and blue-purple berries in late summer.

Dull Oregon grape is smaller in size at 1′ -2′. Its leaves have between nine and nineteen leaflets, which are thin and lighter green. The Tall Oregon grape has five to nine dark, shiny leaflets per leaf, and grows 3′ – 10′ tall.

View the Dull Oregon grape and Tall Oregon grape ID cards from WNPS.