Take Five: Profiles of Five Great Natives

Good things come in small packages. Plant profiles in groups of fives, for instance. It seems a reasonable amount. Here's a post easily filed away for the next time you're at a nursery shopping for plants and say: "Hey, what was that plant?" Now you can look up your "Take Five" blog posts (this will be a new series if it sounds like a reasonable idea). I thus present a small grouping of what is either looking good or blooming in the garden this week.

  Viburnum trilobum, or American cranberry bush

Although it can be described as a backdrop to your more spectacular specimens, I  think it holds its own with its layered branches of laceap white blooms.

 In addition to the gorgeous layered flowers, it does have three solid seasons of interest. Spring for leaves and blossoms, summer for blossoms, fall for spectacular color and bright red berries. This is a great tree for wildlife, too. The pollinators dig the flowers and birds adore the berries.

A bit difficult to see in this photo, but the flowers hold horizontally and in the shade it's especially useful for brightening it up back there. The top reaches the sun, so it does well where I have it sited. It took a while and was in near total shade for about three years but it kept going - now reaching about 8 feet high.

These blooms will turn to vibrant red berries in the fall that don't last long as birds devour them. The fall color on the leaves is spectacular - the main reason I got this plant.

Here are the stats for Viburnum trilobum or American cranberry bush:

  • zone: 2a - 8b
  • type: deciduous shrub/small tree
  • height: 6 - 15 feet
  • spread: 5 - 10 feet
  • full sun, part sun, part shade,
  • moderate moisture
  • bloom time: early to mid spring
  • flower color: white
  • style: woodland
  • characteristics: native to the northern U.S., attracts songbirds, pollinators, native, showy fall foliage, showy flowers, showy fruit
  • I bought mine at Bosky Dell Natives. I have found it at Portland Nursery.

 Lonicera ciliosa or orange honeysuckle.

Technically, we've covered this before; however, I had not taken any good photos of the blooms. How lovely are these? Bright orange which is so fun for a woodland shade plant, and the hummingbirds love them.

The blooms start off creamy yellow and darken to orange as they age. They are just starting to unfurl and become trumpet shapes. The aphids tend to like this plant, but I blast them off with a stream of water and that seems to do the trick. This is not a honeysuckle for super hot dry locations, it is a woodland plant native to the West Coast, and I have seen it happy as a clam in forest of the Puget Sound area in full shade with a group of hummingbirds fighting over it. It can ramble along the forest floor or climb up a tree or fence. It is not invasive or aggressive, rather it might take a while to establish. A lovely addition if you can find it, I have one in full sun and one in full shade reaching to sun and they are both doing well. They also have their feet in fairly wet soil except during the summer. I do not give them supplemental water much in summer, only in the driest of times. In shade, they can handle drier soil.

  • zone: 5a - 9
  • type: twining deciduous vine
  • 15 to 30 feet
  • spread: 15 feet
  • part sun, part shade, shade
  • moderate moisture
  • bloom time: early spring through July
  • flower color: orange
  • style: woodland
  • characteristics: Western native, attracts hummingbirds, bumble bees, fruit in fall
  • propagation: hardwood cuttings best
  • available at Humble Roots Farm and Nursery. I have found it at Bosky Dell Natives

 Physocarpus capitatus or Pacific ninebark

These buds have yet to fully bloom, but it's still worth showcasing. They turn to fluffy white flower heads, and then in summer to papery red fruits with yellow seeds. In winter, the exfoliating bark (hence the name, ninebark) is exposed and quite interesting.

Its graceful, arching branches create a lovely canopy setting. It also takes well to pruning (that's the apple tree trunk, not the ninebark in the middle).

This shrub has the ability to knit soil together so is quite valuable for erosion control along stream sides, water ways and generally wet areas that require some solution.

Update: Here's its blossom opened up, about a week later. 

  • zone: 4 - 10
  • type: deciduous shrub
  • height: 6 - 14' (can be upright or spreading depending on how it is pruned)
  • spread: 4 - 7'
  • full sun or shade
  • moderate moisture
  • not picky about soil type
  • bloom time: mid to late spring
  • flower color: white, dome shaped blooms
  • style: woodland
  • characteristics: native, attracts butterflies (and their larvae) and bees, showy exfoliating bark, great for hedgerows and for creating shelter for birds
  • valuable for erosion control in stream bank areas
  • generally pest and disease free

  Rhododendron occidentale or Western azalea. It is one of only two species of rhododendron native to the West Coast of North America.

Deciduous and smells delicious.

Interesting buds in clusters ready to open.

Cheerful chartreuse foliage.

Ideal conditions are a moist, cool root zone with good warm air circulation above. If you can provide these conditions, it's worth growing.

These blooms smell like lilies, no kidding. The first time I smelled them I was blown away that something native to the wet Pacific Northwest could smell like it came from the tropics. I was told the key to growing these in either sun or part shade is that they need adequate water in the summer. Otherwise, they get powdery mildew. It sounds counter-intuitive, but that's the truth.

  • zone:  7 - 9
  • type:  deciduous shrub
  • height: 3 - 9'
  • spread:  3 - 5'
  • full sun or part shade
  • soil: acid, well-drained, moist
  • moderate and regular moisture - in the wild, a cool moist root zone is ideal and that can be achieved with mulch and/or shade
  • excellent air circulation helps prevent powdery mildew
  • bloom time: mid-spring through summer
  • flower color: pink to peach to yellowish colors
  • style: woodland to bogs, creek edges, edge of ponds
  • characteristics: native, attracts butterflies (hoary comma butterfly), bumble bees, wonderful scent
  • can be slow growing
  • I bought mine at Livingscape nursery in Portland, they can be found at Bosky Dell Natives and Portland Nursery and many others.

  Tsuga mertensiana or mountain hemlock

Mine was challenging to find, but maybe I wasn't looking hard enough. This slow-growing tree was spotted at Cistus Nursery at a recent visit with my mom. Their irregular alpine shapes are choice for focal points or as a specimen tree in a garden setting. A grouping would be stunning, especially if you were going for an alpine look in the garden.

Needles of the mountain hemlock. More star-shaped than the more readily available western hemlock (see below for comparison). Rounder and spirally arranged and equal in length. They are very slow-growing, naturally growing at 4,000 - 7,000 feet in elevation.

By contrast, here are needles of the western hemlock. They are much flatter and unequal in length. The western hemlock grows to 130' by comparison, not 50' as does the mountain hemlock. This is a much different tree, much faster-growing. Easy to confuse the two.

  • Zone: 5 - 8b
  • Type: evergreen tree, alpine conifer
  •  Height: 30 - 50' (usually only grows 15 - 20' in cultivation)
  • Spread:  8 - 20' (usually only 1 - 4' in cultivation)
  • full sun to light shade but does not tolerate extreme heat
  • soil: acid, moist
  • style: alpine woodland
  • characteristics: native, nesting sites for birds, seeds from cones
  • very slow-growing
  • I bought mine at Cistus Nursery (rather it was a gift)
  • no serious pests, but provide good air circulation
Here is what my Cistus tag says: Handsome, evergreen conifer, native along the Pacific Coast from southern Alaska to the mountains of central California. Can reach 20-30 ft tall x 10-15 ft wide in the garden. Enjoys cool temperatures and moist conditions; does well in part shade or in full sun if not allowed to dry out. Consistent summer water is best. Frost hardy in USDA zone 5. 

There you have it, a bit of detail for five great plant picks this week. Each is very different, with much to offer in the garden. For my "Take Five" series I won't only focus on natives as there are many other plants out there worth mentioning but these just caught my eye this time. Let me know what you think! What would you like to see? What do you think of the idea? Is five a good number? I'm full of questions tonight.

That's it for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you for reading and commenting and happy gardening!


  1. I have a couple of Pacific ninebark growing in my garden, in the native area in the northeast corner of my property. I love it, it's a great shrub! i wish I could get the native honeysuckle to grow here, I bought ten little starts at the Pierce Conservation District sale a few years ago, and they never took. I've read they don't take well to being transplanted.

    1. That's wonderful to hear Alison. I think Pacific ninebark is a great shrub and will add it to any garden I have here. I wonder about the honeysuckle, others have also expressed difficulty in getting it to grow. I must admit I first had mine in a container in full sun thinking it would be FABulous but no go - I almost killed it. I moved it to a shady damp-ish location where it struggled for a couple of years. I just left it alone and it finally reached above the fence line for some air circulation and now it's doing great. Just took five years.

  2. Beautiful natives Tamara, so ornamental they are and would make a fabulous addition to the garden even here (which makes them non natives here) :)

    1. Not natives where you are, no indeed! In fact some of our natives might be considered invasive, actually. I wonder which ones. Well, the ones that aren't and that would handle your very similar climate I will vouch for! :)

  3. Oooh, some nice ones here. I wasn't expecting to be able to grow any of these in my climate, but some might work. American cranberry bush is now Viburnum opulus var. americanum, although still found in many places as Viburnum trilobum. I suspect deer will eat this so I'm hesitant to plant it.

    If Pacific ninebark is anything like regular ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius) then PLANT IT! I don't know if I have a more rewarding and reliable shrub in my garden, although I prefer the dark-leaved varieties.

    Looking forward to more "Take Five" posts!

    1. Oh, of course - Viburnum opulus var. americanum. I will change that or add it. I have seen it both ways. Thanks for pointing it out! Sorry about the deer, I guess I should add that as a statistic but I never have to worry about it! Gosh. So sory.

      The Pacific Ninebark is WONDERFUL. I love it. It can be pruned in any number of ways - a big huge tree, a canopy-like cave, a waterfall effect weeping looking form, such flexibility and cool blooms. I will take photos when they open up. Thanks for the endorsement for the plant and glad you like the idea of "Take Five"! Kind of like posts on the go!

  4. Great post Tamara! They look ornamental and although non natives for us they would all make lovely additions to gardens here :)

  5. Great post! I hope you do turn it into a series. With the fence going up, I'll be able to enjoy more natives in my garden. There are actually more than two species of Rhododendron native to the West Coast, though only two are really considered garden-worthy. R. albiflorum is a deciduous species native to high elevations and supposedly difficult to cultivate. I remember seeing some success stories growing them in gardens somewhere, though. Members of the genus Menziesia were reclassified in 2011 as Rhododendrons, giving the West Coast several more Rhododendron species. They have small flowers rather like Enkianthus, but can have good fall color and shouldn't have any particular problems adapting to gardens.

    1. Nice Evan! Great to have more natives to enjoy. Thank you for the clarification about native rhododendron species - I got that information from a Pacific Horticulture article on R. occidentale, it is probably pre-2011 so would explain. Always helpful to have accurate info so many thanks! :)

  6. I think I was one of those people who reported difficulty in getting my Lonicera ciliosa to establish, well it appears that it finally has! I've had it for 2 years, although I moved it last year. After reading about yours I do fear it might be in too much sun, well at least until a few things around it mature. I hope it reaches the fence this year as I want to see those flowers!

    Love the series by the way, your in depth knowledge on the topics you choose to post on is so appreciated!

    1. I'm thrilled your L. ciliosa has finally made a home for itself at D. gardeniosa, about time! Well. I'm sure the sun will be fine eventually. My second one is in full sun (faces south and east) but it has its roots in pretty wet soil so that's likely why it does ok. It took a long time for it to get over its case of the icky no growth period, but I left it alone, gently kept training it to reach for the air and sun and fence to wrap around and this year it finally took off, so there's hope.

      Glad you like the idea of the series, I think it sounds like a good way to mix it up and give some straightforward info. Cool! Thanks for the feedback!

  7. Ooh Tamara, I definitely want that viburnum plant! Thanks for the list. Just in time too!

    1. OK! Let's be on the lookout for one for you and your new backyard habitat, Miss Fifi. Yay!

  8. I love that orange Lonicera, a beauty. Wonderful pictures and explanation.

    1. Glad you like it, it's a beauty allright! Do you have any native honeysuckles to Europe? I can't recall!

  9. I planted a Western Azala a few years ago . It's still quite small , and has struggled along . My fault , bad positioning in a too exposed spot . It did bloom last year though !

  10. Love that viburnum! Clearly this series is going to make me want more gardening space than I already lust after. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one cramming trees into pots. Ah the life of a city dweller.

  11. I love this, It allows me to learn native species from the PNW :) This way, if I ever go back there (what I hope) I´ll know more and more! I like the orange honeysuckle, it is so original.

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