In the Pacific Northwest, we are fortunate to be home to a wide variety of plant species, rich in color, texture and local history.
Many of the northwest native species we stock originate from the Willamette Valley, and often specifically from the Portland area. We also have some from east of the Cascades or southern Oregon that are prime candidates for a container or rock garden, bringing their own distinct personality to your yard or patio.
Camas, lupine, monkeyflower and fiddleneck are among the more than 800 wildflowers native to the Columbia River Gorge. Russ Jolley and Nancy Russell provide a video tour and explain why the gorge is such a good place for biological diversity.
For ideas on including natives in your garden, download our brochure on Gardening with Northwest Natives.
We have also compiled a List of Northwest Natives that you are likely to find at the nursery at some time during the year. (Note: it's a good idea to call for availability, for it can vary from year to year and even within a single season.)
Are you Species Specific?
When you see a northwest native plant with a name in single quotes attached, like Acer circinatum 'Pacific Fire', you know it is a cultivar. This means it was originally found occurring naturally in the wild, selected and propagated to maintain the distinct or desirable individual quality.
Cultivars are random or sporadically-found variations; they must be propagated vegetatively from divisions, cuttings, etc. in order to maintain their individual characteristics. A seed collected and grown from a cultivar will not necessarily produce the unique feature. A variety, by contrast, is a consistent variation of the original species, and is able to be propagated by seed.
Native plant variations that are selected to be propagated as named cultivars are done so for a variety of reasons potentially attractive to the home gardener: Garrya eliptica 'James Roof' has particularly long and showy catkins.
Acer circinatum 'Monroe' is shorter in stature and has more finely cut leaf structure, making it more suitable for containers and small gardens; the native Kinnickinnick cultivar 'Vancouver Jade' was found to be more tolerant of our wetter soils and demonstrates more vigorous growth in the west Cascades lowlands than the original species.
Since cultivars must be propagated by divisions or cuttings and don't "come true" from seed, the subsequent plants are clones, rather than offspring. Therefore, there is debate over whether or not cultivars can truly be considered "native."
Each gardener interested in using native plants has to decide for themselves where to draw these lines. There are solid arguments on both sides of the debate. A couple of advantages of cultivars are that the selection has often been made because of increased vigor and disease resistance, both of which can be important features to the home gardener.
Also the straight species of a native plant is sometimes in relatively limited or sporadic supply — Cornus nutallii is a prime example -- and the presence of cultivars allows us to be able to make at least versions of these plants more readily available to gardeners.
At Portland Nursery, few of the native cultivars we stock are kept in the native plant area. Space is given first and foremost to the original species, as is available. When that availability is lacking, or if a cultivar has a particular trait that might make it especially useful for the home gardener, we'll include it.
We also post signs explaining about cultivars and what they mean. Most of all we want our customers to be able to make informed choices for their gardens and landscapes.