Ponderosa Pine (Pinus ponderosa
Ponderosa pines are iconic in the lands east of the Cascades. They are tolerant of drought, heat, and periodic fire. Their needles grow in bundles of 3, and are 5 to 8 inches long.
Once a tree is 80 years old, it’s bark turns orange, flakes like puzzle pieces, and smells delicious when warmed by the sun - go ahead, sniff a tree! Can you smell vanilla, butterscotch, or cookies?
The Rock Creek band, the indigenous people of this area, uses the boughs, pitch, and needles for medicine and insulation, the roots to make blue dye, and the trunk wood for building. Because of their value as timber trees, this forest was in danger of being sold for logging.
Garry Oak (Quercus garryana)
Also called Oregon white oaks, these deciduous trees are Washington’s only native oak species. They grow very slowly and can live to be 500 years old, providing the anchor for complex ecosystems.
Traditional low-intensity understory fire practices of First Peoples kept oak meadows open, and encouraged important partner plants like camas to produce more food.
This study and report on Indigenous Uses, Management, and Restoration of Oaks in the Far West US provides great insight into indigenous relationship with oak trees.
Garry oak acorns feed birds, deer, bear, and the endangered Western Grey Squirrels. It is estimated that since Western settlers arrived, only 5% of the original Garry Oak habitat remains intact.
Antelope Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata)
Antelope bitterbrush is a native shrub which provides crucial winter and spring browse for deer, and seed food for small animals and birds. The small yellow flowers bloom in late spring. Plants can grow up to six feet tall, and live up to 100 years old. Their taproots can reach 15 feet down to groundwater.
These shrubs are not fire resistant, but fire can clear away dense old shrubs and allow sunlight to reach the seed caches stored in the soil by ants and mice. Western tribes use Antelope bitterbrush as a poultice for rashes and insect bites, as a general tonic tea for colds, coughs, and fever, and as a remedy for stomach aches.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagitatta)
Also called the Oregon sunflower, this wild flower in the Asteraceae family is drought tolerant, fire-resistant, and its deep roots prevent erosion in rocky soils. The wide arrow-shaped leaves offer shelter and food to all sorts of critters. The bright sunflowers bloom in May and June, and by summer the leaves have dried up, and the plant is hard to find again until spring!
The whole plant is edible and medicinal, and Tribal peoples have harvested seeds to grind into flour, eaten the stems raw, used the leaves for tobacco, and used the root for a wide range of medicinal remedies, from toothache to burns. Please respect this fragile, slow growing plant, which takes 7-10 years to begin blooming, and do not harvest Balsamroot, unless it is traditional to your culture, because while it appears abundant here on Ekone land, much of its original habitat has been lost, making this place a refuge for the species.
Camas (Camassia quamash - or Camassia spp.)
A member of the asparagus family, beautiful blue-flowered camas grows wild in moist, open ecosystems like oak meadows, and attracts a variety of pollinators.
Camas bulbs are an important traditional food for tribes here, who have used controlled burning to clear land and improve growing conditions, and tended family camas plots like treasured gardens, which were inherited through the generations. Camas bulbs can be pit-roasted for 24–36 hours, giving them a sweet taste somewhere between a sweet potato and an onion. Don’t eat them raw though—they cause flatulence!
*White-flowered camas is extremely toxic and known as “death camas.” The bulbs look very similar to the blue camas, so camas must only be harvested when in bloom.
Ladyslipper Orchid (Cypripedium montanum)
Mountain Lady’s Slipper Orchids are rare wild native orchids that grow in mixed conifer forests throughout Cascadia. Their petals are purple brown and their lip or pouch is white with purple veins. They grow in symbiosis with fungi in the soil, and are known as “deceptive pollinators”, as their flower features a slipper-shaped pouch which entices insects with a honey smell, but is actually a temporary trap - the insects can’t get out of the pouch and must brush past the anther to escape through a skylight exit in the back of the flower, picking up pollen on their way through the narrow opening.
Native Americans called it moccasin flower, and harvested roots to powder for nervine tinctures. It should not be harvested, as it takes years to grow back, and it can also cause a skin rash.
Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) desert parsley, biscuit root
Lomatium, or desert parsley, grows in full sun in prairie grasslands, slopes, and rocky open ground. It blooms in April and May, with small yellow flowers in an “umbel” or umbrella-shaped flower cluster.
Lomatium root is used as a medicine for colds and respiratory infections, and as a dressing for cuts, sprains, and joint problems. Extreme care must be used in identifying lomatium though, as it is related to and looks similar to some toxic cousins. It may also cause a skin rash.
Lupine (Lupinus spp.)
Also known as blue pea, quaker bonnet, bluebonnet, and sundial, the Columbia Gorge broad-leaf lupine habitat ranges from the White Salmon River to east of Biggs, Oregon, and from 100 to 2200 feet in elevation.
Lupine blooms from June to August, and the flowers mature into seed-containing pods called legumes, which can be poisonous to sheep and livestock. Lupine can fix nitrogen from the atmosphere into ammonia, which helps soil fertility, and it is often one of the first plants to take root in disturbed soil, enabling other plants to thrive.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
A wild and cultivated member of the Asteraceae family, Yarrow is also known as bloodwort, carpenter’s weed, knight’s milfoil, noble yarrow, nosebleed, and staunchgrass. Yarrow blooms from April to October, attracting bees, butterflies, and other insects. It is native to the entire northern hemisphere—Europe, Asia, and North America—and has been used for centuries as medicine by many cultures, including the Greeks who named it after Achilles.
The tribes in this area use yarrow leaves to treat wounds and burns, and use the flowers as a tea for colds, fever, and headache. Chewed up Yarrow leaves can be applied directly to cuts, like a bandaid! It will stop the bleeding and help keep the wound clean. Yarrow is also an ally in the fight against invasive species like cheatgrass!