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.

Varieties of Yellow Pond-lilies can be found across the US.

Why is it possible to drown a common house plant and yet there are plants that grow gleefully in water?

The common Yellow Pond-lily has a beautiful bloom and large, heart-shaped floating leaves (nearly 18-inches in length). The bloom is nearly 4-inches and held just above the water surface in spring through early fall.


The Yellow Pond-lily has developed a specialized type of underwater tissue that helps it survive. This tissue, called aerenchyma, facilitates the underwater movement of large amounts of oxygen and other gasses. This tissue holds eight times the amount of oxygen, compared to a house plant.

Respiration in water lily-type plants is anaerobic (meaning the process occurs without oxygen). Many ponds and slow-moving waters where it grows are often low oxygen. This respiration process creates ethanol (a type of alcohol) within the plant’s cells.

This alcohol is poisonous to the plant. To get rid of the alcohol quickly, the plant evaporates it up through the aerenchyma cells and bloom. The pretty yellow blooms smell strongly of alcohol which attract pollinating flies, and create a small bottle-shaped tuber to store sugars in (explains the common European name of ‘Bandy-bottle’).


Yellow Pond lilies have been used in traditional medicines remedies. There are warnings related to tannins and selecting materials from a clean water source (see the Natural Medicinal Herbs website at Note: Not all varieties or parts of the Yellow Pond-lily are edible or appropriate for use.

The Edible Wild Food website ( reports that the Yellow Pond-lily was a common food source for many Native people. Natives leached the rootstocks collected in the spring and winter of tannins and boiled or roasted for flour. Seeds were often cooked like popcorn. Flowers can make a refreshing drink.

The National Park Service reports Yellow-Pond lily species ‘Nuphar polysepalum’ growing in the Denali National Park/Preserve lowlands in Alaska. When cooked, this variety is also tasty (see Denali National Park, Alaska,

Where to find it

Yellow Pond Lilies grow in a wide variety of aquatic habitats as far south as Baja California, and north into Alaska. Habitat ranges from hot desert ponds to ponds frozen more than half of the year!

Want it?

Propagate Yellow Pond Lilies through seed or division and will grows in containers!

For more information, see Plants for a Future at Image is Royalty free from

Agricultural Engineers?

You might not think of a lowly lichen as an engineer. Most people might laugh at the idea. A few though would know their story.

Frog Pelt Royalty free images from


Lichens are fairly common on the moist Pacific Northwest central coast. One can find them growing on mossy rocks, soil, and dead trees in moist areas typically under the 2,200-foot elevation.

If we were to travel north into Canada, we could find areas hosting nearly 30 different lichen species. We could even find some in northern California.

Would we see them?

Peltigera lichens are found on all continents. There are several different types of lichens that includes over 580 species of macrolichens and over 1,400 species of microlichens. Our region is particularly rich in lichens.

Easy to Overlook

Frog Pelt or Dog Lichen is commonly found in the Pacific Northwest. This small lichen is easy to identify.

Frog pelt creates relatively large rubbery olive green-gray lobes. The lobs are typically between .04 and .9 inches wide and nearly flush to the ground.

What makes them special?

Lichens are ecologically important as food and shelter for wildlife, large and small, and indigenous Americans

Lichens are fairly intolerant of environmental change and are very sensitive to changes in air quality, moisture, and drainage. They won’t thrive in dirty air.   


All lichens share a common ancestry and all Peltigera associate with nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria Nostoc. This association allows them to pull nitrogen from the atmosphere.

Nitrogen is required for healthy plant growth. It is often in short supply in forests. In more arid lands, lichens help stabilize soil and sand.  

Other Uses

Peltigera lichen have been used medically. This includes: Treating wounds, urinary disorders, thrush, cough remedies, tuberculosis, antioxidant, and rabies.

Dog lichen is not typically a mammal food source.

An Engineer?

Lichens are a hard working combination of fungus and algae. They have evolved from a simple scavenging fungus to a lichen by cultivating a ‘symbiotic’ (or mutually beneficial) relationship with algea.

Algea creates the food. The fungus provides the protection and support structure. This organism can live several centuries.

Keep in mind, this sometimes disheveled-looking plant has no roots, stem, flowers, or leaves. It depends on slender holdfasts to stay in place and bears raised orange-ish fruiting bodies along the lobe margins. Simple, yes. Simply amazing. Oh YES.

–Common Macrolichens of the Pacific Northwest, Oregon State University (
–US Dept. of Agriculture, NRCS (
–Wikipedia, Peltigera (
–USDI, Bureau of Land Management, Survey and Manage (
–The New Garden Encyclopedia, Wise & Company
–Royalty free images from