A bit of magic happens along the Oregon Coast in April and May—the wild rhododendrons begin to bloom!
Rhododendron macrophyllum or more commonly the ‘Western Rhododendron’ produces a lovely five-lobed, bell-shaped bloom. Imagine 20 or more single pale pink to rosy-purple blooms clustered in trusses that cover a small tree or large shrub with large green leaves. Now imagine miles of blooms peeking out on each side of road.
Blooms are visible along State Highway 101 typically during late April and early May. Some communities, such as Florence, Oregon, even host an annual festival (May 14-16, 2021) with parades, flower shows, and many family-friendly activities. Festivals and displays, such as these plant festivals, can be a fun and easy expeditions for garden buffs.
R. macrophyllum thrives in disturbed habitats such as roadside embankments and recently deforested wildlands. They can also live in mountainous areas.
If you hear disparaging comments about rhododendrons from Loggers or Foresters it is probably about this plant. Unlike most other rhododendrons, R. macrophyllum (and other plants in the Pontica section) create a very thick undergrowth which can make some terrains nearly impossible to traverse.
A few rhododendrons in the Pontica section, like R. macrophyllum, contain a natural neurotoxin (grayanotoxins). Persians and Greeks used this knowledge in warfare, literally using rhododendron honey to over-throw invading armies.
Shore pine and lodgepole pine are two different varieties of the species (Pinus contorta). In the Northwest, the coastal lowland form is called shore pine. Inland, mountain forms of this species are called lodgepole pine.
Shore pine is found between Alaska and Northern California and typically colonizes infertile sites near sea level where other trees grow poorly, if at all. When grown in tough, windy locations, shore pine can be twisted and irregularly shaped (hence the name ‘contorta’).
Although shore pine can live to be 250 years old, they are typically grow to between 20 and 35 feet in height due to the harsh conditions where they live.
Native people used shore pine pitch medicinally and apply to open sores. Various pine species are used to treat arthritis, muscle pains, sores, wounds, and pains.
Today, the lumber is sometimes used for furniture or cabinets, sometimes as paneling or other finished products. Its inland sibling, the lodgepole pine, grows straight and tall, and was used by natives for the central pole in tepees.
Nationwide, pines are second only to oaks in the food value to wildlife. They have nutritious, oily seeds that are favored by many birds and small mammals. Foliage is eaten by grouse, and deer; porcupines and small rodents eat the bark and wood.
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.
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.
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.
Associate Professor - Tourism and Business Development
College of Forest Ecosystems & Society
Oregon State University Extension - Oregon Sea Grant
Equal Opportunity/Accessibility https://extension.oregonstate.edu/equal-opportunity-accessibility