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.

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.

Western hemlock

Western hemlock thrives in humid areas of the Pacific coast. It is commonly found in temperate rain forests, usually within 100 miles of the coast.

Size

This large conifer can grow up to 200 feet tall and 9 feet in diameter. It is also long-lived, with the oldest known hemlock coming in at 1200 years!

In addition to being well known for its gorgeous wood, hemlock is used for a variety of other purposes. Western hemlock tolerates shade and grows abundantly underneath mature trees, where it provides an important source of food for deer and elk. Older trees are prone to rot, which makes them excellent sources of cavities for birds.

Native Americans on the Pacific coast carved hemlock wood into spoons, combs, roasting spits, and other implements. Hemlock bark is rich in a substance useful for tanning hides.

Foods

Hemlock is also a source of different kinds of food. In addition to offering edible canbium (the spongy cork interior of the bark), a hemlock forest is the preferred place for chanterelles and other edible fungi to grow. The needles can also be chewed or made into tea.