Pacific wax myrtle (Morella californica)

Adaptability is a valuable skill to have in this day and age. The Pacific wax myrtle is an expert in adaptability and could teach those of us who want to improve in this area a few important tips.

This evergreen shrub is native to the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington, growing quickly up to 30 feet tall and 10-12 feet wide. Pacific wax myrtles flourishes along both streams and sand dunes in this region.

This tree is often used for habitat restoration  thanks to their ability to adapt to a variety of environments. They thrive in wet soil, but are also drought tolerant and will grow in sandy, loamy, or clay soil.

The Pacific wax myrtle also transfers nitrogen and other nutrients to plants in its vicinity.

Identification

The lance-shaped leaves of the Pacific wax myrtle are a bright, glossy green with black dots. They have a fragrant, spicy smell.

The small yellow flowers create purple berries that ripen during autumn. The berries fall to the ground in early winter, attracting birds such as flickers, finches, and robins.

Berries

The fruit carries one seed per berry. Berries are coated with white wax that can be extracted and made into scented candles and soap.

Next time you find yourself in a challenging situation, think about the Pacific wax myrtle and its unique ability to thrive in a wide range of environments.

It may provide just the inspiration you need to succeed in the task you want to accomplish.

You probably know that the bedrock along the entire coast of California and southern Oregon is comprised of a chaotic mix of rock types, generally referred to in the literature as Franciscan mélange.

Pillow Basalts

Pillow basalts are among the most common rocks of these types. They are shaped like a pillow with glassy margins and interstitial calcareous mud. They formed under water, in this case the Mesozoic ocean floor, prior to subduction.

In addition to these rocks, there are so-called exotic blocks within the mélange. Their origin is much more problematic because they have been thoroughly metamorphosed at great depth during the subduction process. They have since been uplifted and are now found in various localities including the Bandon area.

Minerals

The minerals in these blocks, some as large as houses, are hard and dense, imparting great resistance to erosion. They form some of the best sea stacks along the coast.

The second image here is a close-up of some of these minerals. The blue mineral is glaucophane; the spherical red mineral is garnet; and, the green mineral is pyroxene that is rich in jadeite.

People occasionally find gem quality jadeite along the beaches there. All of these minerals are strictly metamorphic, having formed at depths on the order of 20 km and temperatures on the order of 500 degrees Celsius!

(Thanks to Dr. Jim Stout for his insights into local geology!)

You can enhance your next visit to the coast by hiring a professional guide to reveal some stories of the fascinating coastal rock formations! One such company is Wavecrest Tours in Coos Bay

Red Alder (Alnus rubra)

The red alder (Alnus rubra) is a deciduous tree native to the U.S. Pacific Northwest that has proven important to both Native Americans and wildlife in the region. Its range extends from southeastern Alaska to southern California, generally within 125 miles of the ocean.

This tree is a pioneer species that establishes rapidly in openings created by forest disturbance, including landslides, logging or fire. It is a host to nitrogen fixing mycorrhizae that lives on its roots. This association allows alder to enrich nitrogen-poor soils which enhances the growth of other trees such as Douglas-fir.

Red alder is one of many trees in the U.S. Pacific Northwest used by Native Americans. The bark was used for dyeing basket material, wood, wool, feathers, human hair, and skin.

The wood is low in pitch, which makes it a good wood for smoking meat. Native Americans also used the bark to treat many health problems from insect bites to lymphatic disorders.

For wildlife, red alder provides an important deciduous component in the predominantly coniferous forests found in the region. Most of the seeds remain on the tree well into the fall and winter months, providing valuable resources for birds, insects, and mammals when other foods are scarce.

Beavers eat the bark and build dams and lodges with the stems. Red alder trees also provide valuable nesting for birds and thermal cover for black-tailed deer and other wildlife.