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Where did the summertime go? It feels like it flew by way too fast this year, so before we are fully into the depths of winter we wanted to share with you all some of our summertime plant adventures and explorations.
While we often look towards analog climates the world over as a source for new plant material there is an astonishing amount of diversity to be found right in our own backyards! Wild seedlings with interesting characteristics, undervalued natives, unique hybrids and old homestead trees provide a treasure chest of new plant material for those willing to ramble around a bit and search them out.
Thankfully for us we have the majestic Siskiyou Mountains in all their botanical glory just a half day’s drive from Portland! This area has long been a source for endemic species, subspecies and wild hybrids but we’ve yet to fully utilize the horticultural potential that lies within this magical area.
Darlingtonia californica, also known as California Pitcher Plant or Cobra Lily is a native carnivorous plant! Growing in boggy, usually acidic, nutrient poor soils it gets much of its nitrogen from digesting insects that fall down its slippery cobra throat! It always gives us a thrill to see this one in the wild!
Notholithocarpus densiflorus var. echinoides, otherwise known as the Dwarf Blue Tanoak offers some of the most stunning blue foliage you might ever come across. We have a real soft spot in our hearts for this one! New growth emerges a bright and fuzzy pinkish blue before settling to the gorgeous gold you see above and eventually easing into a stunning powdery blue. Gorgeous!
Especially in the late afternoon sun and with the golden seeds ripening the whole plant looks like it is glowing!
And don’t forget about the view from below! A soft whitish blue that looks like the underside of a guava leaf adds amazing texture to this already stunning shrub. Unlike the more common tree form of tanoak these little dwarf blue tanoaks only get 3 or 4 feet tall and are excellent plants for harboring wildlife of all kinds. Requires very coarse, well draining soil and little to no water once established. Growing on nutrient deficient serpentine soils these plants are tough as can be! A natural fit for parking strips all over the Northwest!
Chrysolepis chrysophylla, the Golden Chinkapin! Few native trees can match the Golden Chinkapin’s golden beauty but don’t let its looks fool you. The Chinkapin nuts are also some of the most delicious wild foraged nuts you might ever taste, if you can beat the jays to them! Tasting like a sweet caramel chestnut, the Golden Chinkapin is the top food source for just about every mammal in the area. It is unfortunately quite difficult to cultivate in a garden setting but that hasn’t stopped us and many others from trying.
Siskiyou Mountain Magic!
Something about the Siskiyous, maybe it’s all the drought and high heat, turns the leaves of so many of our favorite plants just a shade bluer than you usually find them. Though certainly not the most blue form of Evergreen Huckleberry, we thought this one was quite cute.
Old abandoned orchards on mountain roads are always a good find! As if we need any more mystery figs in our lives! But we just couldn’t help but take a few cuttings off these 3 giant old trees.
Wild plums are one of our favorite summer treats and this one was one of the best we’ve ever had! Surely a seedling of an improved Japanese or European variety these were one of my favorite plums of the summer! Growing along the Siskiyou River, our good man Evan Short who owns Southern Oregon Bokashi pointed this tree out. That guy lives the good life. Thanks Evan!
And then as we get a ways into California some real fig fun begins! As you come into the areas where the fig wasp (Blastophaga psenes) has naturalized, seedling figs begin to pop up along waterways, next to lakes, in old drainage ditches, all over the place!
We discovered this wild seedling fig growing out of the rocks near Whiskeytown while taking a quick dip a few summers back. Naturally we took a couple cuttings off of it because the leaf shape alone was so unique and beautiful. It wasn’t until this summer that we finally got to taste some fruits off of it!
And ooooh boy was it tasty! Incredibly sugary sweet, and not even at the full peak of its ripeness yet! Our original cuttings off this plant are still too young to be fruiting so we took some of the fruits home with us so we could sow the seeds and see if the fruits were indeed caprified by the fig wasp.
And just as we were getting over the excitement of finally tasting the fruit off that tree, we found another one! Just a half mile down the road!
This one even bigger, and quite likely the mother to our other beloved wild fig. It was along a very rocky stretch next to the highway so we had to swim along the shore to get to it.
And thank goodness we did! This tree was absolutely loaded with figs at peak ripeness! We picked as many as we could get back to the car and ate figs until our bodies told us to stop!
The few figs that finally made it back to the nursery were our crew’s favorite figs of the entire year! Now the caprification might have a large part to play in that, as it is said that caprified figs are far tastier than common or San Pedro figs, so we saved a bunch of the seeds to see if they were viable.
And it turns out they are viable seeds! We now have hundreds of seedling figs coming up in the greenhouses. Which only adds to the mystery of if these trees will perform well up here in Oregon with less heat and no fig wasps to pollinate them. We’re crossing our fingers that they’re common figs and at least half as tasty as we remember them being. Only time will tell!