Native Plants in our Natural Areas

Photos courtesy David Grandfield

Spring has sprung around Portland and it is the time of year to emerge from the house and get outside.  Whether it be just in your yard or out for a hike, Portland is home to natural areas that can help you get your wilderness fix.  We asked David Grandfield, a Horticulturist working seasonally with Portland Parks & Recreation, and regular Portland Parks Foundation Instagram follower (see David’s beautiful pictures @davidgrandfield), to share some of his favorite natural area parks and native species that you can pick up at local nurseries this spring.


           David Grandfield

          David Grandfield

One of the benefits of living in Portland is our access to natural area parks. ‘Natural area parks’ are the wilder cousins of our typical neighborhood parks; they are larger, have a wild aesthetic, and are managed to promote growth of native plant species.  They are also great showrooms for displaying the native trees and shrubs that could work in the little piece of nature in your front or back yard.

Why plant natives? Native trees and shrubs provide food and refuge for wildlife, and best of all pad your pocketbook because after establishment do not require water in hot summer months. Here are a list of 5 Pacific Northwest native shrubs and where you can see them growing in their natural habitat at Portland natural area parks:

Red Flowering Currant [shown above]

This fragrant shrub is one of the first to bloom in late winter, it's pink flowers attract hummingbirds and bumblebees. It can grow up to 8 feet, and will survive in full sun with little to no water in the summer. This is one of the most widespread plants in Portland natural area parks, and can be found in Southeast Portland alongside walking trails in Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge.

Douglas Spirea

This shrub usually stays about 5 feet tall and has deep pink blooms in midsummer. Although this plant can handle dry landscapes, it does best in wet areas in full sun. Its brown seed heads add texture to landscapes in winter months. It can be found in East Portland growing at Tideman Johnson Natural Area and near Powell Butte Nature Park.

Indian Plum ­or­ Osoberry

This versatile shrub can grow in full shade or full sun and has drooping white blooms in early February. It’s small, raisin sized fruit are a favorite food for birds in late summer. Whitaker Ponds Natural Area in Northeast Portland is a great place to see Osoberry shrubs.

Blue Elderberry

This large shrub is widespread in Pacific Northwest landscapes. Its large clusters of creamy white blooms emerge in early spring and then turn into small powdery blue berries toward late summer. Although it naturally grows up to 30 feet tall, it can be kept around 10 feet tall in home landscapes with regular pruning. One great place to see Blue Elderberry is Foster Floodplain Natural Area in Southeast Portland.

Big Leaf Lupine

This plant is not as large as the others listed above, it stays about 1­2 inches tall and produces a tall spike of purple flowers in late spring. It does best on stream banks and open meadows in full sun. Many species of lupine can be found on the hillsides of Madrona Natural Area Park in North Portland.

Portland Parks Foundation encourages you to visit your Portland natural areas and sign up to volunteer for the many planting and clean-up parties throughout the year or at Parke Diem.  It is amazing that we have such wild areas that provide recreation, habitat and solace so close to the city, and we need your support to keep them beautiful!