Atlantis Arisen/Chapter 17
ABOUT THE BOTANY OF THE NORTHWEST.
Many of the flowering shrubs of Oregon and Washington have already been mentioned in the chapter on forests. One of the first to blossom is the red flowering currant ( Ribes sanguine- rum), which puts forth its flowers before its leaves are fully expanded, like the Judas-tree of the Missouri Vallejo which it resembles in color. There appear to be two or three varieties of this species, as the color varies from a pale rose-color to a full crimson. The flower is arranged in clusters upon a slender stem like the green blossoms of the garden currant, but is much larger, and of a different shape. The bush is highly ornamental when in blossom, and generally introduced into gardens for decoration. It flowers in March. East of the Cascades is a yellow species very similar. Both of these grow near streams, and in the edge of the forest.
Of the spiraea there are several species. The wax-berry, with its tiny pink flowers and delicate leaves, is found in bottom-lands and on river-banks. In autumn the bottoms of the Columbia furnish thickets of wax-berries which, growing side by side with the wild roses, make a pretty contrast to the crimson capsules of the latter. In higher ground, yet subject to overflow, is found the Spiraea tomentosa , or hardhack, as it is commonly called, which grows in thickets and bears a cluster of a purplish-pink color. But the most beautiful of the spiraeas is the kind known as sea-foam ( S . aricefolia ), which its great creamy-white clusters really resemble. This grows along the river-banks and in the shade of the forest’s edge, and blooms in June and July, according to its locality. It sometimes grows to a height of twenty feet in the shade, though usually about five or six feet high. The stems are very delicate, like all the spiraeas , and bend most gracefully with the weight of the clusters.
Side by side, usually, with the last-named spiraea is the beautiful mock-orange ( Philadelphus ), with its silvery-white flowers crowding the delicate green leaves out of sight. Throughout
Oregon this shrub is called syringa, to which family it does not belong. It is very ornamental, and blooms in June and July.
Of wild roses there are several species and many varieties, from the dainty little £i dime rose,” of a pale pink color, to the large and fragrant crimson rose which grows in overflowed ground. There are always some roses to be found from June to December. It is usual to find the shrubs here mentioned growing in close proximity; and these, with the flowers of the woodbine (Lonicera Occidentalism, and the blossoms of various kinds of wild fruit trees, make a perfect tangle of bloom and sweetness along the river-banks in summer.
We have elsewhere spoken of the dogwood, which is as handsome as a magnolia-tree when in blossom, and of the wild cherries and other fruits whose flowers are sweet and beautiful. The Oregon grape, or holly-leaved barberry, bears a flower that is very ornamental, of a bright yellow color, in clusters a finger long. The leaves of this shrub are also very beautiful, which makes it desirable to cultivate. Its fruit is ripe in August, and is of a bluish-purple, like the damson plum.
In Southern Oregon, the Rhododendron maximum is one of the glories of the mountain-tops, with its immense branches of rose- colored flowers. It is occasionally seen in gardens. The buft- colored Azalea occidentalis is also confined to the southern and eastern portions of Oregon. It is said that the clematis grows east of the Cascades, but we have not seen it; and also the ilex- leaved mahonia. The wild grape ( Vitis Californica ) is another shrub or vine which is confined to the southern portion of Oregon. In the Rogue River Talley, in October, it is a striking ornament in the landscape, the foliage being turned a rich ruby-red color, and forming clumps upon the ground or hanging pendent from way-side trees. It does not seem, however, to furnish much fruit.
Of field flowers there are a great many in all parts of Oregon and Washington, beginning with the early spring to beautify the earth, and kind succeeding kind throughout the summer and autumn. There are, especially near the Columbia, where the soil which covers the rocks is often a thin, black mould, countless varieties and species of very minute flowers, so small frequently as to need a microscope to analyze them successfully, but of
lovely shapes and colors. I have found within the range of an acre forty kinds of flowering plants in the month of July, half of them of this minute size.
Of the plants peculiar to the Northwest which bear handsome flowers the Camas family is prominent. The Camasia esculenta , or edible camas, of whose roots the Indians make bread, grows about eighteen inches high, and bears at top a bunch of starshaped flowers, of a beautiful lavender color, with a golden centre. The leaves grow from the root, and are lanceolate. The places where they are most abundant usually are called “ Camas prairies,” and they form a feature of Eastern Oregon and Idaho. They are also plentiful in Western Oregon. The flowering season is about the middle of May near the Lower Columbia. There are several species of the camas, one of which is poisonous.
Only a very thorough and industrious botanist could enumerate the flowering plants native to this country. Among the most useful is the yellow lupine, which with the white, blue, and purple varieties grows abundantly in East Oregon. The yellow variety is found to be a power in reclaiming the sandy wastes where it is sown. The seed should be mixed with rye, which grows faster and protects the young plant from the encroachments of the sand ; but once the lupine is fairly above the ground it becomes aggressive, not only defending itself, but absorbing the life of the rye. In the autumn the lupine sheds its leaves, which form a pasty muck over the ground, while new ones start out; and this it does for five years, when it dies, having fulfilled its mission. The ground can now be sown with grass and harrowed, when the grass comes up richly, and the billowy sand waste is a verdant plain. It was by this means that the military reservation and G-olden Gate Park at San Francisco were reclaimed. The same method might be applied to making the sandy Union Pacific Railroad line along the upper Columbia more comfortable, as well us more agreeable to the eye.
The blue iris, familiar to all observers of the brook-side in spring, is not absent here; nor the purple larkspur; nor the musk-plant, Mimulus longiflorus; nor the Mimulus luteus; nor yet the buttercup, Ranunculus occidentalis. Violets blue and yellow embroider the verdant earth-mantle, and anemone detroidea shelters itself under every bush. Running over the ground in
the open woods is the yerba buena, or “good herb,” after which San Francisco was first named. It bears a tiny trumpet-shaped flower close to the main stem. Botanists call it Micromeria Douglassi , after David Douglass, Oregon’s first explorer in this field of science, who was killed by wild cattle on one of the Hawaiian Islands while in pursuit of his studies of plants. The early settlers used its aromatic leaves in place of tea, which caused it to be called Oregon tea. Side by side with the yerba buena is the twin-flower, Linncea borealis , with a very similar leaf, vine, and flower, except that it supports, upon a slender peduncle two inches in length, a pair of blossoms instead of a single one.
The red columbine, Aquilegia formosa , looks quite at home among the ferns in woodsy places and on mossy banks by the roadside; and the adder’s-tongue keeps company with the anemone among the bushes. The lilies, golden erythronium, Lilium canadense , and Lilium Washingtonium, display their royal robes as in the days of King Solomon, some in the fence-corners, some among the grass and ferns by the rivulet, and others in the grain-fields. The Washingtonium is a native of the Wallamet Valley. When it first opens it is a pure white dashed with some purple pin points of color. As it grows to be a day or so old it adds a pink blush to its whiteness, and in another day is of a very decided pink, so that, with several on a stalk in different degrees of development, it offers a pleasing range of color. In shape it resembles the tiger-lily.
The California poppy, JEschscholtzia, is found in Southern Oregon, and the golden coreopsis also. The Indian pink, Cas- telia brevifolia , asserts its right to look gay anywhere there is a bank of loose warm earth. In the shadowy edges of the forest one may find the Indian pipe shooting up its colorless stem, and the pretty “ tobacco-pouch” cypripedium , with its striped white, brown, and purple pocket held invitingly open.
In the fields and on sunny slopes grow the “shooting star” (Dodecatheon Meadia ), of several colors; flax-flower (Linum ); “bo 3 ~s and girls” ( Cynoglossum ), pink and blue on the same stem; convolvulus, white and pink; phlox (0 larkia ); Collomia grandiflora, in old-gold color; Hesperoscordum grandiflorum, white stars marked with green lines; Hosackia bicolor , white and
yellow, and dicentra, white and scarlet. Tangled among tall grass and bushes is the pea-vine ( Vicia Americana ); while such familiar plants as yarrow, sheep-sorrel, St.-John’s-wort, and spearmint inhabit about cultivated ground.
Bending over springs may be found the lady’s-ear-drop ( Delphinium nudicaule), red; and the dainty dew-bell ( Cyclobothra alba . The autumn fields display the aster, golden rod, and sunflower. but of lesser size than the same plants in the Eastern and Middle States. The native dandelion, too, is a small and ragged flower, while the imported plant blooms in extraordinary splendor, to the distress of lawn-keepers.
It is, indeed, to be remarked that seeds take lodgement in this soil without the encouragement of cultivation. An instance of this is to be seen in the valley of the Lower Umpqua River.
A lady brought with her from New York some common flower seeds early in the “ fifties,” there being among them the snapdragon. The wind scattered the seed from her garden, which took root outside of it, and these outside plants again scattered their seed, by the aid of the wind, further away, until now the whole valley about Gardiner for miles grows snapdragon as a common weed, and very troublesome, because poisonous, to cattle-owners. The traveller on the O. R. and N. Railroad may_ observe, between The Dalles and Hood River, a long stretch of blue bachelor-button, self-sown from the garden of some early settler. The same evidence of fertility and adaptability was noticed at the old mission in the Walla Walla Valley, where the red poppies from the mission garden spread themselves through the meadows of Mill Creek, where they were blooming luxuriantly a quarter of a century after the garden and all about had been destroyed by savage warfare.
The prevailing colors of wild flowers west of the Cascades are purple, yellow, and white, with a fair proportion of pink or red. East of the mountains there are still fewer red flowers. Blue flowers are very rare in any portion of this country, as they are everywhere. I remember to have seen some lovely blue flowers growing in the sands between Wallula and the first crossing of the Touchet, but they were unknown to me. Buff or salmon-color is still rarer, the Collomia being the only one 1 remember seeing. Yet, with all the different shades of the
common purple, yellow, white, and red, with their differing forms, a great deal of beauty may be expressed.
Southeastern Oregon has some handsome wild flowers quite new to me; and its marshes grow the Wocus. or yellow pond- lily, the seeds of which furnish food in large amount to the Indians, who macerate them and make them into a sort of oil-cake for winter use.
Yery few flowers are fragrant on the coast; while, on the contrary, very many of those found east of the Cascades are highly perfumed, as they are also in Southern Oregon, where the blue violet, quite scentless near the Columbia, is deliciously fragrant.
The soil and climate of Oregon and Washington are highly favorable to the growth of flowers, and we may find in the gardens here plants from almost every clime growing in more or less perfection. From- the plenitude of moisture, they continue to blossom very late in the season, a bouquet of roses and a dozen other varieties of elegant flowers being often gathered at Christmas. Frequently gardening can be resumed in February, which gives a large proportion of the year to the enjoyment of one of the purest and most wholesome of pleasures.
The United States Exploring Expedition collected, in the year 1854-55, three hundred and sixty species of native plants, of which one hundred and fifty are peculiar to the prairies of Oregon and Washington.
From a pamphlet published by Thomas Howell, of Arthur, Oregon, in 1887, it appears that a list of all the species and varieties known to exist in the territory west of Wyoming and north of California comprises twenty-one hundred and fifty-two species and two hundred and twenty-seven varieties of plants, or twenty-three hundred and seventy