Native Plants

Thanks to all those who attended our native plants workshop last Wednesday.  Marika Smith, our lovely facilitator (as well as our wonderful office and volunteer manager), gave us lots of information and fun facts about the plants we were studying, as well as a chance to get hands on and explore the native plant garden here at the Compost Education Centre.  There was a wealth of knowledge among the workshop participants as well, so good discussions and skill-sharing abounded, which is always a bonus.

Yerba buena

For those of you who missed the workshop, I wanted to pass along some facts and resources so you can start your own native plant explorations.  A great place to start is right here in the garden of the Compost Education Centre.  We have a rain garden right out front of the office that also serves as a native plant garden.  You can find cool plants such as ninebark (whose bark helps an upset stomach), ocean spray (whose wood is so strong it can be used to make harpoons), oregon grape (whose bark yields yellow dye), yerba buena (which makes amazing tea), and many more delicious, useful and beautiful native species.

Indian plum: beloved by hummingbirds everywhere

Marika also recommended some great books and websites.  Naturescape BC has a brochure about native plants for the home garden that is available on their website.  It’s an amazing guide for the home gardener, and includes a sample layout for a native plant garden, as well as a comprehensive chart of plants organised by level of sun they prefer, the type of plant (tree, shrub, etc) and their wildlife values.  The wildlife value is a particularly cool organising principle, as you so rarely see anyone suggesting that you choose plants based on their ability to provide forage for mammals, berries for wildlife to eat, or as an attractor of butterflies and bees.  In terms of books, Plants of Coastal British Columbia by Andrew MacKinnon, Paul Alaback and Jim Pojar is great (and available at the library), as is  Native Plants in the Coastal Garden: A Guide for Gardeners in B.C. and the Pacific Northwestby April Pettinger and Brenda Costanzo.  As well, there is a well-maintained database of all plants of B.C. available online.

To give you a taste of the great information Marika gave us, here is a sampling of some native plants and their traditional uses, as well as a picture of each one. 
Mock Orange :  Saanich used wood for bows and arrows and knitting needles,; rubbed leaves and flowers foam into lather used for cleansing skin.


Nootka Rose:  Makah used rose petals to flavour food and dried for tea, branches and bark used as an eyewash for cataracts, chewed leaves were applied to bee stings and rose hips were steeped and given for diarrhea in infants.

Saskatoon berry: Haida and Salish dried berries into cakes for winter storage, wood was used to make digging sticks and drying racks.




Salal:  Most plentiful and important fruit for FN communities, eaten fresh and dried into cakes, young leaves were chewed as a hunger suppressant and used to make temporary cups.

If you’re feeling inspired and intrigued by this post and would like to learn more about native plants, Marika has kindly made a copy of her presentation available in PDF format.  Drop me an email at if you’d like to have a copy sent your way.


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