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Information on Native Plants in a Natural Setting

Elymus glaucus (Blue Wild Rye) photographed by James Ellingboe.
Elymus glaucus (Blue Wild Rye) photographed by James Ellingboe. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.

Natural History, Geology, & Ecology of the PNW
Identifying Native Plants - Useful Guides
Enjoying Native Plants in the Wild
Accessible Recreation
Rare Plants and Species at Risk
Noxious and Invasive Non-Native Plants

Whether you are interested in what grows in the woods nearby, which plants are not native, how to identify a plant by its winter twigs, where to glimpse roadside displays, when to photograph the wildflowers, where to hike to stunning vistas, or learning more about our rare plants, numerous resources are ready to get you started.

A solid beginning is to understand Washington’s natural history and how volcanic and glacial geology has made our soils, climates, and ecological niches. Or you could take first steps on the life long journey of identifying native plants . A 10x magnification hand lens makes it even more fun! Start with the most common 20, expand to 50 …and so on. The lily family has easy to recognize beauties. Grasses and sedges might take a dissecting microscope and bushels of patience. Labeled native plants in public gardens make first attempts at identification less intimidating. Need tips on venturing out and enjoying native plants in the wild ? Whatever level of activity you choose to learn more about Washington’s native flora, let the fun begin now!

Natural History, Geology & Ecology of the PNW - References

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” – John Muir

Alt, David and Donald Hyndman. Roadside Geology of Washington. Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, MT, 2003.

Franklin, Jerry F. and C.T. Dyrness. Natural Vegetation of Oregon and Washington. University of Oregon Press, Eugene, OR, reprinted 1997 (1988).

Kozloff, Eugene N.. Plants and Animals of the Pacific Northwest – An Illustrated Guide to the Natural History of Western Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. University of Washinton Press, Seattle, 1976.

Kruckeberg, Arthur R.. Geology and Plant Life: The Effect of Landforms and Rock Types on Plants. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2002.

Kruckeberg, Arthur R.. The Natural History of Puget Sound Country. University of Washington Press, Seattle, reprinted 6/03 (1991).

Matthews, David. Cascade-Olympic Natural History. Raven Editions, Portland, Or, 2nd edition 1999 (1988).

Nesbit, Jack. Singing Grass, Burning Sage – Discovering Washington’s Shrub-Steppe. Graphic Arts Center Publishing, Portland, OR, 1999.

O’Connor, Georganne P. and Karen J. Wieda. Northwest Arid Lands: An Introduction to the Columbia Basin Shrub-Steppe. University of British Columbia Press, Victoria, B.C., 2001.

Identifying Native Plants - Useful Field Guides

Botanist’s primarily use the Flora of the Pacific Northwest by Hitchcock and Cronquist to differentiate plants first by FAMILY then down to subspecies. Pojar’s and Parish’s field guides are handy for ID, ecology, and ethnobotany information. As a rule, line drawings of features are more descriptive than a photo. The other texts listed here vary in format (drawings or photos) and focus (region, site, or habitat). If a book is out of print, the Botanical Resources - Elisabeth C. Miller Library at the UW’s Center for Urban Horticulture or 206-543-0415 may have a copy.  Other libraries throughout the state may also be checked.

(NOTE: the list of references below is for ID purposes. For edible, poisonous, & gardening with natives, see Landscaping with Native Plants)

-------, Watchable Wildflowers – a Columbia Basin Guide. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, 1997. Wenatchee Resource Area (509) 665-2100, Spokane District (509) 536-1200.

------, Winter in the Woods – A Winter Guide to Deciduous Native Plants in Western Washington. Washington State University Cooperative Extension, Native Plant Salvage Project, Thurston County, revised 10/03. (WSU-CE order number MISC 0274).

Adkinson, Scott and Fred Sharpe. Wild Plants of the San Juan Islands. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 1985.

Arno, Stephen F. and Ramona P. Hammerly. Northwest Trees – Identifying & Understanding the Region’s Native Trees. The Mountaineers, Seattle, 2 nd revision, 1999 (1977).

Audubon Society Field Guides: Pacific Northwest, 1998. North American Wildflowers-Western Region, 16 th printing, August 2000 (1979). Mushrooms.

Biek, David. Flora of Mount Rainier National Park. Oregon State University Press, Corvallis, OR, 2000.

Clark, Lewis J. Wildflowers of Field & Slope in the Pacific Northwest. Harbour Publications, Madeira Park, B.C., 3rd edition, 2002.

Cooke, Sarah Spear, Editor. A Field Guide to the Common Wetland Plants of Western Washington & Northwestern Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle, 1997.

Corrigan, Tom. Mosses to Find in Western Washington. Tom Corrigan, La Conner, WA, 2001.

Hitchcock, C. Leo and Arthur Cronquist. Flora of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1973.

Jacobson, Arthur Lee, Trees of Seattle, Arthur Lee Jacobson, Seattle, 1990.

Jacobson, Arthur Lee, Wild Plants of Greater Seattle, Arthur Lee Jacobson, Seattle, 2001

Lyons, C.P. Wildflowers of Washington. Lone Pine Publishing, Renton, WA, 2nd edition 1999.

Lyons, Chess and Bill Merilees. Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to Know in Washington and British Columbia. Lone Pine Publishing, Renton, WA, 1996.

Parish, Roberta, Ray Coupe and Dennis Lloyd. Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia and the Inland Northwest. Lone Pine Publishing, Renton, WA, 1996.

Pojar, Jim and Andy McKinnon. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, Renton, WA, 1994.

Strickler, Dee. Wayside Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest – Showy Wildflowers along the Roads and Highways, Trails and Byways of the Pacific Northwest. The Flower Press, Columbia Falls, MT, 1993.

Taylor, Ronald J.. Sagebrush Country – A Wildflower Sanctuary. Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, MT, 7 th printing 2001 (1992).

Turner, Mark and Phyllis Gustafson, Wildflowers of the Pacific Northwest, Timber Press, Portland, OR., 2006.

Van Pelt, Robert. Champion Trees of Washington State. U of Washington Press, Seattle, 1996.

Van Pelt, Robert. Forest Giants of the Pacific Coast. U of Washington Press, Seattle, 2001.

Vitt, Dale H. et al. Mosses, Lichens & Ferns of Northwest North America. Lone Pine Publishing, Renton, WA, 1993.

Washington Natural Heritage Program. Endangered, Threatened & Sensitive Vascular Plants of Washington. Washington Department of Natural Resources, August 1997.

Weinmann, Fred, Marc Broule, Ken Brunner, John Malek and Vic Yoshino. Wetland Plants of the Pacific Northwest. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, 1984.

Enjoying Native Plants in the Wild – How, When, Where

To practice your new identification skills, now it’s time to explore local parks and plan trips to catch the seasonal native flora highlights around the state. As visitors to the native plant’s home, please follow the “Leave No Trace” backcountry ethic and abide by the universally accepted policy of not removing wild plants or any parts without permission. You might want information about backcountry hiking and where to obtain permits and maps. Links to outdoor organizations, state parks, natural preserves, national forests and parks, and wildlife refuges will expand your possibilities. Maybe you need to know were accessible ( ADA) sites are located. Many native plants are endangered, threatened or sensitive primarily due to habitat loss and invasive plants. Knowing which plants are at risk and those that damage ecosystems is another exciting aspect of appreciating our native flora. Please help our native flora remain strong and wild.

  1. Take self-guided tours of Seattle parks and environs: www.cityofseattle.net/parks.

Dolan, Maria and Kathryn True. Nature in the City: Seattle. The Mountaineers, Seattle, July 2003.

Jacobson, Arthur Lee, Trees of Seattle and Wild Plants of Greater Seattle (see ID books above).

McDonald, Cathy M. and Stephen R. Whitney, Nature Walks In & Around Seattle – Exploring Parks, Forests &Wetlands, The Mountaineers, Seattle, 2 nd edition 1997 (1987).

  1. Identify natives in Botanical Resources - Washington Native Plant Society. Elsewhere, check with your local city and county for information about your area’s parks.
  2. Download WNPS plant lists by Washington counties for more than 300 favorite sites compiled by WNPS members over the years - then happy hunting!
  3. Join WNPS for guided monthly field trips (varies by chapter).
  4. Read Leave No Trace – Minimum Impact Outdoor Recreation by Will Harmon, a Falcon Guide, Helena, MT., 1977. The Mountaineers posts this crucial information on its web site as well.
  5. See The Mountaineers website for wilderness hiking ethics, essentials, safety and first aid, climbing skills, and class information plus links to forests, parks, and permit needs. The Mountaineers hiking guidebooks, available through many book retailers, are packed with directions, descriptions, difficulty levels, seasonal access, cautions and more. Checking weather, avalanche, flood, and road/bridge conditions before each outing will help you have a safer, more enjoyable trip.
  6. Obtain maps from Metskers Maps in Seattle, from R.E.I. stores, The Mountaineers, and U.S. Forest Service.
  7. Enjoy Washington’s 120 state parks, some with ADA access.
  8. Hike in Washington’s unique, rare and/or scenic ecosystems as designated by the Botanical Resources - Washington Native Plant Society. There are currently 49 Natural Area Preserves protecting the finest remaining examples of bald, bogs, canyons, prairies, etc. The 28 Natural Resources Conservation Areas save at risk or scenic ecosystems for the future.
  9. Learn about the U.S. Forest Service Region 6 covering Washington and Oregon. Visit the six Washington national forests and three special areas – Alpine Lakes Wilderness, the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area, and Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
  10. Drive to roadside vistas to appreciate the plants and habitats of ten areas in the Columbia Basin. Order “Watchable Wildflowers” and “Watchable Wildlife” guides from the Bureau of Land Management (Dept. of the Interior). The large map is $2.00 plus $1.00 for mailing tube. The wildflower brochure costs $4.00 payable by check or credit card either by mail or phone (no on-line ordering). Brochures for the 10 areas are also available individually.
  11. Explore Washington’s three spectacular national parks: Mt. Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic. The National Park Service also manages Recreation Areas (2), Historical Parks (3), Historic Sites (2), and Historical Trail (1) in our state. Of particular native flora interest is Ebey’s Historic Reserve on Whidbey Island. See the U.S. Dept. of Interior website .
  12. Combine wildlife and flora viewing on Washington’s eleven National Wildlife Refuges. A variety of recreational and educational opportunities await visitors. Access may be restricted to a limited acreage or be seasonally sensitive. Learn more at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website.

Accessible (ADA) Recreation

Are you unable to walk very far, let alone up an arduous path? Do you rely on wheels (wheelchairs, baby carriages….not skateboards and mountain bikes) to get you out into nature? Since 1993, many of Washington’s 120 state parks have created outdoor recreation opportunities for people with access limitations.

Rare Plants & Species at Risk

Botanical Resources - Washington Native Plant SocietyEach state maintains site-specific data on their rare, endangered, threatened, and sensitive plants. One Washington native is the world’s only known example of that species. Habitat loss and invasive plants are the top two reasons a plant may disappear or decline to a threatened status. Poaching, pollution, pesticides, and pollinator disruptions may degrade habitat as well. The updated version of the 9/97 Endangered, Threatened & Sensitive Vascular Plants ofWashington is available only on-line through NHP’s website. Please see NHP for program details, rare plant regulations, and listed plants by risk category and county.

The Rare Plant Care and Conservation Program at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture helps NHP monitor and protect the state plants at risk. Volunteers are trained every spring to expand this effort. For more information on Rare Care, see:
Reichard, Sarah H. et al, Editors. Conservation of Washington’s Rare Plants and Ecosystems. Proceedings from a conference of the Rare Plant Care & Conservation Program, University of Washington, April 17-18, 2000. Pub. Washington Native Plant Society, 2000.

Noxious & Invasive Non-Native Plants

“Introduced, alien, exotic, weedy or even noxious and invasive” are terms given to the wilderness and garden thugs that hog sunlight and water, out-compete for space and nutrients, and even prevent growth and reseeding of native plants through toxic emissions. Most invasive plants are escapees from horticultural imports that were intended for home gardens.

The Washington State Noxious Weed Control Board and county weed boards maintain lists of foreign plants that must be removed or are encouraged to be controlled. English ivy, knotweeds, Scot’s broom, and tansy ragwort are extensive problems west of the Cascades. Knapweeds, leafy spurge, thistles and many others degrade eastern portions of the state. Loosestrife, milfoil, and parrotfeather clog waterways. Spartina and reed canary grass alter shoreline ecosystems. It is the property owner’s responsibility to control listed noxious weeds on his land. That means homeowners and every private or public entity.

What to do? Weed relentlessly and mulch. Don’t plant the listed thugs. Join Ivy O.U.T. and help King County urban parks be free of the invasive weeds. Volunteer to pull weeds in your city, county and state parks. Together we can make a positive difference...one weed at a time year after year.

Washington State Noxious Weed Board includes weed lists, laws, county weed boards and districts, educational resources, and links.

Washington Native Plant Society. Tackling invasive weeds is one of three top priorities for the next five years at WNPS.

Ivy O.U.T (Off Urban Trees)

The Nature Conservancy has global information on invasive plants, including methods of control.

Martinelli, Janet, Editor. Invasive Plants: Weeds of the Global Garden. Brooklyn Botanical Garden, winter 1996.

Taylor, Ronald J.. Northwest Weeds: The Ugly and Beautiful Villains of Field, Gardens & Roadsides. Mountain Press Publishing Co., Missoula, MT, June 2003.



Updated: August 15, 2016
Copyright 2000-2018 Washington Native Plant Society. All rights reserved.

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