My husband recites when needed a lot of statutes, from both Alaska and Washington. He defines words, and explains concepts from philosophy and events from history for me. But he’s a beginner at plant names.
When we first came here, I painted a series of familiar plants for his birthday. I did it to get to know the plants – specially the native plants – like the boy who buys his mom a fire truck.
Since last week was Native Plant Week in Washington, it reminded me to revisit our efforts. On a hike a few years ago in a patch of familiar-to-me wildflowers, I recited their names in a schoolmarmy, irritating way, suggesting my husband learn a few. He agreed, but only three plants at a time. “You have a tendency to clutter things,” he said.
So on a walk in the old fort close to home, I began again. Spotting trailing blackberry as we climbed a hill, white blossoms on prickly vines, I asked for an i.d. The confident answer came back: “Lilies.”
Moving on, looking for better success, I was struck again by the orderly way the natural world provides food. Rarely do all flowers or berries on a native shrub appear at the same time. Similarly, the bloom time of species is a progression of bounty through the season.
Tiny Indian plums already form, smaller than the end of a little finger, already in that plum shape. My husband easily names them – and earns bonus points for the added information that they were the first native plant to bloom.
White flowers on a vine (or thin branches) leaning over the trail puzzle me, but I ask anyway. The answer immediately provided, because they resemble a vine from Midwestern boyhood: “Honeysuckle.” This doesn’t seem quite right.
A stretch of trail is fragrant with many of the next plant – corrugated leaves alternate up the stem to a frothy, creamy-white cluster of blossoms. The answer is: “Solomon’s Seal.” Very close. False Solomon’s seal.
By now I had exceeded my quota of quizzable plants, but I can’t resist asking about the tiny, pale pink bells of salal blossoms. I offer a hint: shiny thick leaves – the most common Washington native plant?
The answer: “Clematis.”
We have some work to do. But all my testing (as is often the case) reveals my own uncertainty and my pleasure in learning the names.
The puzzling white flower, the misnamed honeysuckle, grows everywhere right now. I brought a stem inside and with the help of the bible of Northwest coast plants – Pojar, entertaining as well as informative and never irritating –– learn it is saskatoon (also called serviceberry), and that we can watch for it in August when its highly regarded berries will ripen. And can be identified!