Plants in the Wild

If You Lived Here...'d understand why my garden is minus a gardener. It's not that I've crossed over to the dark side so much as I've become a zealous devotee of the wild side.

Every spring, sometimes as early as March, anyone listening can hear the call of the flora as it breaks bud along the Columbia Gorge. After twelve years living in the NW, that call's become deafening.


According to the field book I'm packing these days, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest, we've got FORTY-ONE distinct species and varieties of penstemon, and that's not counting the scads of varieties sold and grown in NW gardens. (Portland area's Joy Creek Nursery offers almost fifty). So forgive me if I don't stick my neck out and i.d. this one, which is out by the gazillions amidst the balsamroot in the upper meadows of the Tom McCall Preserve. Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ketzel Levine, NPR

It didn't used to be this way. Time was, nothing could get me out of the garden come spring, particularly when I was gardening in D.C. where the race was on to finish everything before the weather turned like a rabid dog.

But as gentle NW rains continue to fall on my garden, lulling me into a false sense of of calm re: planting and mulching for the summer to come, I am nobody's gardener. Instead, I am a grateful witness to a miraculous if fragile world.

lupine hill

Here's an overview of that balsamroot -- rioting here with lupine -- on the relatively steep hike to the top of the Preserve. We've got eight species in the NW; this one's Balsamorhiza deltoidea Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ketzel Levine, NPR

Of course not all the flowers in the Columbia Gorge are so bold and gregarious. Because of the continued wet and cold, a number of species remain reluctant to bear their souls.

shy larkspur

A bashful monkshood (it is, isn't it? I thought delphinium, but it's too robust), one of hundreds now shuddering at the top of Multnomah Falls, waiting for the right moment to unfold. Now that I think about it, I'm not entirely sure this is the native monkshood. Damn! Guess I'll have to climb back up after work today, just to be sure. Ketzel Levine, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Ketzel Levine, NPR



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

so beautiful, so inspiring!

Sent by jehan | 1:22 AM | 5-29-2008

Delighted to hear of your conversion to the wild side. I've been a native plant fanatic for more years than I can remember and proselytize everywhere I go. Having visited the NW several times I can attest to your native richness. However, as a resident of Alabama, I MUST brag that we have more native plant diversity (not to mention amphibian) than any state other than the largest few with 17 (I believe this number is correct) species of trillium and 38 of oak. Come visit in April sometime and I'll show you around.

Sent by Linda Wilson | 11:52 AM | 5-29-2008

Hi Ketzel.
I think, given the location and time, that is indeed Delphinium trollifolium. You can see other D. trollifolium blooming right now at Angel's Rest and along I-84 in the Multnomah Falls area. I love the Turner/Gustafson field guide but when you are in the Gorge the book to have is Russ Jolley's Wildflowers of the Columbia River Gorge. The penstemon from Tom McCall is Penstemon glandulosus, Sticky-stem Penstemon. Russ' book may be out of print now, but if you have a hard time locating it (try Powell's), I have an extra copy I can loan you.
I volunteer with Friends of the Columbia Gorge and lead wildflower hikes for them and for the Portland Garden Club. I would be glad to show you some of the wildflower trails. I have to say, out of loyalty to this beautiful area, that there are over 700 species of wildflowers in the Columbia Gorge, 16 endemics (species found nowhere else). When you combine the grand vistas with these delicate floral jewels, it is easy to see there is no other place like it in the world!

Sent by Angie Moore | 1:51 PM | 5-29-2008

Angie, I'm so glad you weighed in. I do have the Jolley book, thanks. Re: that delphinium. I got thrown off by this other wildflower guide which didn't show anything robust enough to be the bashful beauty hiding above. But I have been driving past the waist-high blooming larkspur along the Old Columbia Highway and now see these are the plants in question. Thanks!

Sent by ketzel levine | 10:10 PM | 5-29-2008

I thought Delphinium, too, but clearly I am outclassed...:) I love your photography and your descriptions of the PNW. I moved here two and a half years ago and just love gardening (and blogging!) here...

Sent by Jean Ann Van Krevelen | 10:45 PM | 5-29-2008

I just returned to Ohio from a visit to Portland and Seattle. Our trip to the Columbia River Gorge was the highlight of our 10 day visit. The larkspur was a blue blanket along the roadsides of the Historic Highway. I took many many pictures of wildflowers as we hiked the trail between Wakeena Falls and Multnomah. It was gorgeous beyond words. So I am happy to see this story, and agree that it is a spectacular area. Also the residents of Portland seem to love cultivating beautiful gardens, perhaps inspired by their surroundings.

Sent by Marilyn Zwayer | 8:39 AM | 5-30-2008

Linda from Alabama, What? More native plant diversity than most other states? I had NO idea. Even NC? So immediately I wonder if I"m the last to know or if this is a much too well-kept secret. What's the scoop?

Sent by Ketzel Levine | 12:20 PM | 6-12-2008

OK - you asked so here goes! I teach the Master Gardener course on Native Plants in our county and have garnered a number of facts about Alabama's botanical diversity.

Alabama ranks 6th nationally in the number of plant and animal species by state -- CA is 1, TX is 2.

AL ranks 8th nationally in rarity by state.

AL ranks 2nd nationally in the number of extinct and missing species. Hawaii is 1st.

AL has 38-40 oak species (only 12 in the whole Appalachian chain) and 7 species of magnolia.

Al was a refugia during the last ice age- 18,000 years ago. The Northern plants were pushed down with the glaciers and stayed when the melt occured and then the Florida plants moved up.

One square meter in a south AL pitcher plant bog has a greater number of species (not plants) than any other comparable area in North America. Up to 63 species. (This was a bonanical study several years ago).

The Eastern US is 2nd only to China in botanical diversity.

There are 38-39 species of trillium in America, 8 in Asia and 18 species of trillium in Alabama -- more than anywhere else in the world - several species are endangered.

And check out this website:

Alabama has a variety of habitats - we have Gulf Coast beaches that rival the Caribbean (without all the colorful fish!), we have swamps, pine savannahs with orchid and pitcher plant bogs, and at the northern end we are in the foothills of the Appalachians with Mountain Laurel and Rhododendron. Come visit one of our National Forests during April and you won't be able to step off the trail for the spring ephemerals.

We are also on the eastern bird migration route and get northern birds as winter visitors. Although I'm not an expert on amphibians, I have attended several programs and our amphibian species count is also in the upper echelons.

I appreciate the opportunity to brag about my state. It isn't all about George Wallace and police dogs.

Sent by Linda Wilson | 12:24 PM | 6-12-2008

OOOH I have a trip to POrtland scheduled for this Sept - you have me salivating.

Sent by Kathy J, Washington (DC) Gardener | 6:40 PM | 6-14-2008

I tried seinding you a one of these photos but i do not think it came through. Some of them are beautiful.
The budding flower, field of flowers, the dog...:)

x Maria

Sent by Charlotte | 6:07 AM | 7-2-2008

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from