By: Teo Spengler
You may know and love azaleas, but how about its kissing kin, false azalea? What is false azalea? It’s actually not an azalea relative at all, but a shrub with the scientific name Menziesia ferruginea. Despite its common name, false azalea, also called fool’s huckleberry plant, is a great little shrub worthy of considering for your garden. To learn more about how to grow false azalea, read on.
If you need a deciduous shrub for your shade garden, don’t be put off by the common names of Menziesia ferruginea. It can’t be blamed because of its resemblance to azalea or huckleberry plants. This shubby flowering plant thrives in moist shady areas, growing to 12 feet (3.6 m.) tall. The loosely grouped, spreading branching can make it a little straggly.
The shrub produces oodles of small, upside-down, urn-shaped coral or yellow flowers in summer. They are attractive on the plant, but if you crush them, they smell like a skunk. Recognize this shrub by its wavy-edged leaves that appear in clusters on mahogany colored stems. Careful though, the leaves as well as the stems are sticky to the touch.
The flowers develop into fruits in late summer. They look like woody capsules. When they are ripe, each one splits into four sections and releases the seeds.
If you are thinking of growing false azalea or fool’s huckleberry plant, you’ll have the easiest time in the Pacific Northwest. Fool’s huckleberry plant is native to the forests of this region. Look for wild false azalea on steep slopes with northern exposure from Alaska down to Northern California, and east to parts of Montana. That’s where the plants find the abundant moisture they need to thrive. They also grow in the wild on cut-over forest land.
Fool’s huckleberry care is simple if you grow the shrubs in their native range. How to grow false azalea in other locations? Mimic the cool, wet conditions in the Washington and Oregon forests. Growing false azalea in a shady, moist area works well as long as you pick a site with well-draining, slightly acidic soil. The main elements of fool’s huckleberry care are locating the plant appropriately and providing some water in dry stretches.
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Tree hosting lichen and moss © DY of jtdytravels P1100423
Up until this point on our walk with David in the forest at Ideal Cove, we’ve been looking down at small plants, mosses and fungi under the trees but if we look up, we’ll see that many lichens and mosses have taken up residence on the branches.
Beware of prickles! © DY of jtdytravels P1100392
And while we’re looking up and out instead of down, it’s worth being very aware of the prickly plants in this forest. They don’t know not to grow over board walks!
Streptopus amplexifolius © DY of jtdytravels P1100429
Back down in the understory of the forest, David found this Streptopus amplexifolius, an unusual plant, commonly called Clasping Twisted Stalk. The base of each leaf surrounds or clasps the stem which kinks and twists after each leaf. The buds and bell shaped flowers hang down below the leaves at each leaf axil. They can only be seen by lifting the large leaves.
Another common name for this plant is Watermelon Berry, which refers to the water-melon coloured berries. Although the berries are very juicy, they are not very flavourful.
Coptis asplenifolia © DY of jtdytravels P1100431
Another interesting plant which grows on the forest floor is Coptis asplenifolia, commonly known as Fern-leaved Goldthread. Its a delicate, evergreen herb, with fern like leaves. It grows from gold coloured roots hence the common name. The photo shows the unusual seed head a ring of up to twelve seed filled capsules on an upright stalk. Each time a capsule is hit by a raindrop, a seed is ejected. Because these plants are slow colonizers, when found in a place like this, they signify that this is an old growth forest.
Aster sp. © DY of jtdytravels P1100432
This delicate pink aster was a surprise find in the depths of this forest.
It’s not a garden escapee! There’s not a garden for many miles. It belongs here.
Fauria crista-galli © DY of jtdytravels P1100434
Fauria crista-galli is commonly called Deer Cabbage. The flowers certainly look attractive but they have a very bad aroma a pretty sure sign that they are pollinated by flies!
Platenthera unalescensis © DY of jtdytravels P1100438
Platanthera unalescensis, is one of the Alaskan Rein Orchids. You need to be fairly observant to find this delicate plant with greenish flowers. It grows in dry to moist coniferous forests, so is happy in the area that we’ve been exploring with David.
Linnaea borealis © Dy of jtdytravels P1100440
The boardwalk crossed boggy, undrained land, known in Alaska as muskeg. It’s characterised by sphagnum moss vegetation and David found the very small plant called Linnaea borealis growing in the mosses. Since the plant itself is less than 10cm tall and the drooping flowers are only 2-5 mm long, this was another case of needing to get down to ground level. By doing that, David was able to actually look into the flowers and show us that the bell is darker inside than out. It’s a shame that he couldn’t bring us back the smell of these flowers, too, as they produce a very fragrant perfume. All in all, a truly lovely plant.
Linnaea borealis © DY of jtdytravels P1100437
The plant is so lovely that it was said to be the favourite plant of Linnaeas, the Swedish botanist who became famous for introducing to science the system of using binomial Latin names. And so the generic name for the plant is Linnaea, in his honour. The plant’s specific name is borealis, meaning northern. In Alaska the plant is found only north of Ketchikan.
Linnaea borealis © DY of jtdytravels P1100436
Twin Flower is the common name of Linnaea borealis and that’s very apt. Each upright flower stalk divides into a Y and each branch of the Y bears a single, delicate, bell shaped flower. The stems themselves are rather hairy, slender, semi-woody. The plant is evergreen and spreads across an area from runners. Seed is also dispersed when the fruit, or dry nutlets, which have sticky hairs, catch onto the fur of animals and the feathers of birds.
Lysichiton americanum © DY of jtdytravels P1100444
Another plant very common in the wet, boggy muskeg is Lysichiton americanum. It’s common name of this plant with huge, rubbery leaves is Skunk Cabbage. The tiny flowers of this plant are arranged on a fleshy spike called a spathe. Deer enjoy eating these spathes and brown bears dig up the roots to eat. They don’t seem to be put off by the ‘skunky odour’!
Carex lyngbyaei © DY of jtdytravels P1100447a
Another very common plant is Carex lyngbyaei, Lyngby’s Sedge. They are grass-like but they are not grasses. The leaf base of a sedge forms a triangle in cross section while the the leaf base of a grass is round. The whole of this plant is rich in protein and is a very important source of food for bears, especially in spring before the berries fruit and the salmon run
Still no sighting of a bear today, though.
Moneses uniflora © DY of jtdytravels P1100448
Moneses uniflora is a member of the Wintergreen family and is also known by the name of Pyrola uniflora. It’s common name is Shy Maiden, coming from the greek derivation of its name monos, meaning one and hesia, meaning delight. And delightful it is. However, it’s a difficult flower to photograph as it grows low to the ground (only 3 – 17 cm tall) in the shade of the deep forest. This was yet another time that David needed to get down to ground level.
Another common name for this plant is Wax Flower because of the single white, waxy flower that grows from a rosette of roundish leaves. However, the common name that I most like for this demure flower is Shy Maiden, for obvious reasons!
Menziesia ferruginea © DY of jtdytravels P1100441
A much larger plant, a scraggy shrub, is Menziesia ferruginea often called Rusty Menziesia, from the species name, ferruginea which refers to the rusty salmon colour of the flowers. But this common forest shrub is also known as Fool’s Huckleberry or False Azalea. It seems to be masquerading as something other than itself! The urn shaped flowers are somewhat similar to the huckleberry flower in both colour and form, hanging down. But when this plant is in fruit, the flower stems turn up and the fruits are not delicious berries, but very dry inedible capsules.
Rubus spectabilis © Dy of jtdytravels P1100442
One plant that certainly did have edible fruit was the Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis. Found close to the edge of the forest, they made a tasty bight for weary walkers on the way back to the shore line. They certainly look inviting and taste something like raspberries.
Fern © DY of jtdytravels P1100397
Some forest plants are easy to overlook simply because they are common… like ferns. These plants form an important part of the understory especially at the edge of the forest. They maybe common… but are really rather lovely.
Fungi © DY of jtdytravels P1100451
Something else on the forest floor that many people walk past without so much as a glance is fungi. But how stunningly simple and beautiful are these another down on the ground photo!
End of the forest walk © DY of jtdytravels P1100457
I’m sure there were more plants to find and photograph, but, as always happen in a group situation, someone calls ‘time’ time to go back to the ship.
Fucus distichus © DY of jtdytravels P1100462
But even as David left the depths of the forest and stepped back on the rocky shore, he found yet one more plant to share with us all, the Rock Weed, Fucus distichus. This brown alga grows in clumps or tufts from a basal ‘holdfast’ that anchors it to the rock. It lives in intertidal zones. When covered with water, this plant is erect, very stiff and cartilaginous. However, as shown here, when out of the water the fronds don’t stay erect but fall against the rocks.
Ross Weinberg, Vidiographer © DY of jtdytravels P1100466
Sitting amongst the Rock Weed, and also waiting to go back to the ship, and lunch, was our expedition’s professional videographer, Ross Weinberg. His task wast to prepare a video diary of the trip for everyone…. and he did an excellent job including places, people and some of the fun that we shared. David often uses video but, on this trip, he chose photography to enable us all to share his plant hunting expeditions by means of this diary.
‘Sea Lion’ awaits in the bay © DY of jtdytravels P1100458
And so, the first walk of the expedition came to an end. It was time for lunch!
All Photographs © David Young and Jennie Thomas of jtdytravels
Mountain Huckleberry The Heath Family– Ericaceae
Vaccinium membranaceumDouglas ex Torr.
Names: Mountain Huckleberry is also known as Thin-leaf Huckleberry (membranaceum = thin, like a membrane). It is also known as Big, Black, or Blue Huckleberry. It is Idaho’s State Fruit.
Relationships: There are about 450 species of Vaccinium worldwide, about 40 in North America with about 15 in the Pacific Northwest. The genus Vaccinium includes Blueberries, Huckleberries, Cranberries, Lingonberries, Whortleberries, Bilberries and Cowberries.
Distribution of Mountain Huckleberry from USDA Plants Database
Distribution: This species is found in the west from the Yukon Territory to Northern California, mostly in the Cascade Mountains eastward through the Rocky Mountain States and Provinces reaching to Minnesota, Upper Michigan, and Ontario, on the east side of Lake Superior.
Growth: Mountain Huckleberry grows from 1 to 4’ (30-150 cm).
Habitat: It sometimes grows as an understory shrub in dry to moist coniferous forests but is most numerous on open subalpine slopes. In the Cascades, it is frequently found with Beargrass, Xerophyllum tenax. Roots may penetrate to a depth of 40” (100cm) rhizomes grow at between 3 to 12” (8-30cm) of the soil profile. After low to moderately severe fires, Mountain Huckleberry resprouts from the rhizomes. Fire exclusion reduces Black Huckleberry populations over time as they are overtaken by larger shrubs and trees. Wetland designation: FACU+, Facultative upland, it usually occurs in non-wetland but is sometimes found in wetlands
Diagnostic Characters: Mountain Huckleberry has thin leaves with finely toothed margins that are pointed at the tip. Flowers are urn-shaped and creamy-pink. The berries are purplish or reddish-black, without a waxy bloom.
In the Landscape: This species is prized for its delicious berries. Its leaves turn a spectacular red to purple in the fall. Mountain Huckleberry does best when it has little competition from other plants and is ideal for a rock garden or on a slope with plenty of organic matter. Plant it together with its natural companion, Beargrass, to reproduce the look of a subalpine hillside. Soil moisture will affect the quality and quantity of berry production, although it still will fruit even after 4-6 months with no rain.
Phenology: Bloom time: Late spring to June. Fruit ripens: Mid-summer to late August.
Propagation:In nature, Mountain Huckleberry propagates mostly vegetatively by slow expansion via adventitious buds on its rhizomes. Although seed reproduction is reportedly rare in nature, seeds can be propagated with about a 42% germination rate. It is best to plant seeds as soon as they are ripe in a cold frame. Stored seed may require a 3 month stratification period. Cuttings are difficult but possible from half-ripe wood taken in August, with a heel. More success is likely with division of the rhizomes.
Use by People: The flavorful, juicy berries were collected by natives, eaten fresh or cooked, mashed and dried into cakes. Today, many families make special trips to the mountains to pick huckleberries. They go back to the same patch every year, unofficially claiming it as their own– hesitant to share the location with others. This is the species of huckleberry most commonly used in huckleberry Jams, syrups and other products marketed to tourists.
Use by Wildlife: Huckleberry flowers are pollinated by bees. Mountain Huckleberry is the dominant species of huckleberry consumed by Grizzly Bears and Black Bears they eat the berries, leaves, stems and roots. Elk, moose and deer will also browse on the foliage. Small mammals, grouse and other birds also eat the berries as well as use the shrub as cover.
Before planting, you need to find shade-loving plants such as coral bells.
Most full shade plants and trees complement each other.
While there are thousands of options, plants for the shade fall into five major categories:
Azaleas and Rhododendrons. These acid-loving shrubs thrive in USDA zones six through nine. They need a pH between 4.4 and 6.0. Azaleas need consistent moisture to produce foliage.
Oregon Grape Holly. Oregon grape holly is a tough and drought-resistant plant. It is available as an upright shrub or with a trailing form, which is especially attractive in a garden.
Alpine currant. This tough plant can grow as far north as USDA zone three, making it suitable for the cold weather garden. Choose dwarf varieties as understory garden plants.
Hydrangeas. Hydrangeas need consistent moisture, but they tolerate and even prefer shade. In zones six through nine, you can grow mophead or French hydrangeas. In zones four through five, you’re better off growing panicles or arborescent hydrangeas.
Pieris Japonica. Pieris Japonica is native to eastern China, Taiwan, and Japan where it grows in mountain thickets. It is hardy to USDA zones five through eight.
Tree Peony. Hardy to USDA zones four through nine, the giant flowers of the Tree Peony are sure to catch the eye. The woody shrubs lose their leaves in the fall but their woody stems do not die.
Camellia. This beautiful flowering shrub boasts a long blooming season and loves the southern climate. It is hardy to USDA zones six through nine.
Mountain Laurel. This broadleaf evergreen shrub is hardy to USDA zones four through nine. It comes with white, pink, or rose-colored flower clusters that bloom in late spring.
Ninebark. This perennial deciduous shrub features dark green to reddish leaves. It gets its name from its bark, which can be peeled off in multiple layers.
Spirea. Most spirea varieties are hardy to zones three to nine. Newer spirea cultivars boast vibrant foliage that is attractive year-round.
Japanese Maples. Though it is technically a tree, Japanese maples are available in many smaller sizes.
Yews. The yew is a great shrub for borders, entrance ways, paths, and hedges. They can grow anywhere between eight and 65 feet tall.
Alpine Currant. The alpine currant is mostly confined to high altitudes. These low maintenance shrubs have very little ornamental appeal. They are loved in the garden for their dense green foliage and shade tolerance.
Junipers. There are over 60 different species of Juniperus in the Cypress family. With the many varieties, there is a juniper fit for any garden.
Snowberry. There are about 15 different species of Snowberry shrubs. They produce white, bell-shaped flowers in the spring and white, globe-like berries from early fall to late winter.
Anemone. The anemone flower blooms in both the spring and the fall. It is a great groundcover choice if you are looking for bright, showy, multi-colored blooms. Many species offer double flowers.
Japanese Spurge. This evergreen perennial is a member of the boxwood family. It produces white flowers in the spring. Nonetheless, people love it for its leathery, dark-green leaves.
Lamium. Vigorous but not invasive, Lamium is a great choice. It brightens up a shaded grove with dainty, blooms in white, pink, and purple shades.
Lily of the Valley. Lily of the Valley is quite invasive. It is also toxic to both animals and humans. However, it is loved for its sweet scent, simple elegance, and tough constitution.
Wild columbine. Columbines abound in woodland meadows. The state flower of Colorado, these plants have delicate flowers that belie their rugged nature. Columbines are short-lived perennials that reseed easily. They’re fairly drought tolerant, once established.
Wild ginger. Wild ginger needs some moisture, but it tolerates shade and spreads quickly. Its large, heart-shaped leaves form a dense mat.
Vinca. Vinca grows in full sun to partial shade and tolerates dry to moist conditions.
Hosta. Hostas are somewhat drought tolerant, although they’ll perform better with consistent moisture. This versatile plant comes in hundreds of varieties.
Bergenia. Bergenia is a clump-forming perennial that is hardy to zones three through eight. Grown primarily as a groundcover, it is loved for its large glossy leaves and colorful flowers.
Bleeding Heart. The heart-shaped blooms of the bleeding heart flower are glorious. If you need a spring show-stopper, this is your huckleberry.
Columbine. The columbine flower is a herbaceous perennial. It comes in a variety of bold-colored blooms in red, white, blue, yellow, pink, salmon, and purple. Some varieties are even bicolored.
Ferns. There are many different types of ferns. Creeping ferns make excellent groundcovers. Ferns are grown for their interesting looking green and lime green foliage.
Foam Flowers. Foam flowers are charming, shade-loving plants with small sprays of pretty flowers. Foam flowers perform well for years without losing steam. If they look dull, trim then and give them a chance to rejuvenate.
Hens & Chicks. Hardy to USDA zones three through 11, hens and chicks are great for woodland areas. They are one of the few succulents that enjoy shaded gardens.
Lungwort. Lungwort, or pulmonaria, is a very early spring blooming perennial. With bright, eye-catching blue, white, and pink flowers, lungwort will offer more beauty.
Milkweed. Milkweed gets its name from the sticky white sap that damaged leaves secrete. They bloom in late spring through summer. The flowers provide a nice splash of color and emit a wonderful fragrance. This attracts plenty of butterflies, birds, and wildlife.
Sedum. Sedum, also known as stonecrop, is a luscious succulent that has over 600 species. With that many varieties, there is a sedum that is suitable for any garden design imaginable.
Siberian Irises. Native to Europe and Central Asia, the Siberian iris is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial. Hardy to USDA zones three through eight.
Impatiens. The classic underplanting annual, impatiens tolerate deep shade, especially in hot weather. They need regular watering and frequent fertilizer.
Pansies and violets. Pansies and violets grow best in full sun, but they make good understory plants in spring. As a plant for shade, they bloom before and after shade trees leaf out.
Begonias. Begonias are available with white, orange, pink, and yellow flowers. Hardy to USDA zones seven through 11. They thrive in moist soil.
Coleus. There are few plants as vibrant throughout the year as the coleus plant. Hardy only in USDA zone 11, the coleus is particular about its environment. Though it flowers throughout the growing season, its flowers are removed before they bloom. This keeps the plant’s energy focused on producing a bushy plant.
Lysimachia. Native to Russia and Asia, the Lysimachia is a low maintenance ground cover. Though it is an aggressive grower, some varieties are more behaved than others.
Astilbes are virtually trouble-free, bothered by few diseases or insects. The tender, new growth may be nibbled on by groundhogs or rabbits, but once the plants have filled out, they typically don't suffer any long-term damage.
Astilbe is valued for bringing great long-lasting color to part shade borders, where tall colorful flowers are few. In addition, Astilbe provides a nice textural contrast to plants with large, broad leaves such as heuchera, hosta, and Ligularia. Astilbe can also be grown in containers.