Docent Guide – July

Garden focus: Smith-Mossman and Tribal Life Trail

Stories to tell:

Azaleas (SM garden)

The western azalea is one of only two species of rhododendron native to the West Coast of North America (the other is Rhododendron macrophyllum which are planted in the Legacy Garden). The collection at the Lake Wilderness Arboretum shows the diversity of the species, blooming in different colors (including pink, white and yellow), shapes (frilly, single or double) and sizes (1/2 inch to 3-4 inches). There are even some that are known as chimeras, which means that the plants have blooms of different colors on different age wood on the same plant. But with all that variety the one thing that stays the same about all of them is that they have the most captivating fragrance. Be sure to visit the garden in May or early June to experience the beauty and fragrance.

In 1989, the Washington State Centennial Commission selected one of Dr. Mossman’s azalea hybrids, [(R. occidentale x R. bakeri) x ‘Santiam’] to honor the state of Washington’s one hundred years of statehood. Rhododendron ‘Washington State Centennial’ has light orange-yellow flowers, gradually softening to white with a blotch of vivid glowing yellow on the upper petal. The frilled petals and fragrant flowers fill the garden with charm and sweetness each spring. It is an azalea truly worth of its place of honor.

Cultivars (SM garden)

The origin of the term “cultivar” arises from the need to distinguish between wild plants and those with characteristics that have arisen in cultivation. The word cultivar means “cultivated variety”. Therefore, cultivars were selected and cultivated by humans. Cultivars generally occur as ornamentals and food crops – think about Malus ‘Granny Smith’ or Malus ‘Red Delicious’ which are cultivars of apples propagated by cuttings or grafting. Popular ornamental garden plants like roses, camellias, daffodils, and rhododendrons are cultivars produced by careful breeding and selection for flower color or form.

Some cultivars originate as sports or mutations on plants. Other cultivars could be hybrids of two plants. Many of the dwarf conifers in the Smith Mossman Garden originated as witch’s brooms, a branch that grows differently than the rest of the plant, often in a tight, compact manner. Cuttings are taken and a new cultivar is named.

The naming of cultivars is an important aspect of cultivated plant taxonomy, and the correct naming of a cultivar is prescribed by the Rules and Recommendations of the International Code of Nomenclature for Cultivated Plants (the ICNCP, commonly known as the Cultivated Plant Code). A cultivar is given a cultivar name, which consists of the scientific Latin botanical name followed by a cultivar epithet. The cultivar epithet is enclosed by single quotes. Cultivar epithets published before January 1, 1959 were often given a Latin form and can be readily confused with the specific epithets in botanical names; after that date, newly coined cultivar epithets must be in a modern vernacular language to distinguish them from botanical epithets.

Vine Maples (SM garden)

Many people are familiar with Washington’s versatile native vine maple, Acer circinatum, which is popular in both cultivated and natural environments. This handsome species is desired for its dramatic colors and tolerance of sun and shade making an excellent ornamental, especially prized for outstanding fall color. Interesting enough to make a good specimen tree, they also do well as the understory to conifers much as they do in nature.

Given the wide variety of shapes, sizes, and colors observed in the wild, and the popularity of the tree in landscaping, it is not surprising that several cultivars of Acer circinatum are now available in nurseries. These cultivars have been propagated vegetatively from naturally occurring variations found in the wild. The beauty of a cultivar is that you always know what you are going to get (they are all identical to the original plant). Accordingly, while you still enjoy the benefits of a native plant, you can now buy a vine maple that will have the specific shape, size, and color that you want. The Smith Mossman garden features a native vine maple right next to the water feature and 15 different cultivars throughout the garden.  The cultivars vary in foliage color (yellow, burgundy, green), colored bark (red, green, yellow) and size (2 feet tall up to 18 feet tall).

Maple Valley has close ties to the vine maple as the city was once known as Vine Maple Valley. The area was settled in 1879 by three men who were improving a trail and brought their families in. When a name for a future community was proposed, the names Vine Maple Valley and Maple Ridge were suggested. A vote was taken by writing the names on slips of paper and placing them in a hat. Vine Maple Valley won by 2/3, but the word “vine” was later cut by the post office because it made the name too long.

Dogwoods (SM garden)

For many people, dogwood blossoms signal spring and the Smith Mossman garden features a variety of dogwoods. There is the Pacific dogwood (Cornus nuttalli) which has the beautiful white flower the dogwood is known for. In addition, the garden is home to two cultivars of C. nuttalli ‘Colrigo Giant’ which has very large flowers up to 7” across, and C. nuttalli ‘Gold Spot’ which has green leaves that are wildly splashed with yellow-gold variegation. The Smith Mossman garden is also home to the native Cornus canadensis, with a flower just like the classic dogwood, only in miniature and on a groundcover that tops out at only six inches tall. Commonly known as bunch berries because of the red berries that appear in bunches, this lovely little groundcover is a jewel in the shade of the woodland.  And falling in between the tree and the groundcover are the shrubby dogwoods that show off brightly colored decorative bark in winter when the azaleas in the garden are resting. Twig color varies from dark maroon to coral to yellow depending on the species and variety.

Big Leaf Maples (SM garden)

Many people that live in the Pacific Northwest are very familiar with our native Big Leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).  This tree has the largest leaves of any maple, in fact its name translates into “large leaf” (macro=large, phylum=leaf).  You cannot mistake the tree’s distinctive five-fingered leaves that broaden to over a foot in both length and width.  As the second most abundant tree in the Pacific Northwest, the species proves its versatility and hardiness but requires a large space. The Smith Mossman garden features two cultivars that take the good characteristics of the tree and fit it into a smaller package. Acer macrophyllum ‘Seattle Sentinel’ grows to just 40 feet with a columnar habit, as opposed to 160 feet tall with a 50-foot spread.  For an even more compact version of the big leaf maple, check out Acer macrophyllum ‘Mocha Rose’, a stout, spreading maple that only gets to 8-15 feet tall and only 4 feet wide in 10 years. This stout, spreading tree has glossy, deep salmon-pink leaves in spring that turn to a rich mocha hue in summer.

Flowering Currants (SM garden)

Flowering currants (Ribes sanguineum) are native to western United States and Canada. It and its varieties and cultivars are popular garden shrubs, valued for their brightly colored flowers in early spring. They also provide early spring nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies, forage for the larvae of more than two dozen species of moths and butterflies, and nesting sites or cover for songbirds and small mammals. The Smith Mossman garden has eight different Ribes cultivars with flowers that range from white to dark red. This native shrub is happy in sun or shade and brightens up the woodland.

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)  – Tribal Life Trail

Salal, the Pacific Northwest native, which has a major presence in our woodlands was used extensively by the indigenous people for culinary and medicinal purposes. Salal’s dark blue berries and young leaves are both edible and are efficient appetite suppressants, both with a unique flavor. G. shallon berries were a significant food resource for native people, who ate them fresh and dried them into cakes. Some folded the leaves like cones for drinking.

The berries were also used for medicinal purposes for a wide range of ailments including but not limited to, treatment for cuts and burns, an infusion for indigestion, colic and diarrhea, respiratory distress from colds or tuberculosis, and as a convalescent tonic.

Considering how prevalent salal is in Pacific Northwest forests it is no wonder that native peoples found so many uses for the plant.

Western Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum) – Tribal Life Trail

Walking through any western woodland you are bound to find the evergreen Western Sword Fern, usually in large quantities. Because of its prevalence, native peoples could count on its availability year-round and developed many uses for the plant.

Western Sword Fern rhizomes were roasted, peeled and eaten when other food sources were scarce. At other times of the year, the fern’s fronds were used to infuse other foods with flavor. Perhaps because of the number of fronds that could be easily gathered, the fronds were used as for lining food storage boxes, berry picking baskets, drying racks, earth ovens and steaming pits. The fern fronds have a natural non-stick quality that led to them being used as a mat under fish when they were being cleaned and cut. Sometimes the fronds would be used for bedding or a floor covering.

The Sword Fern was also used for its medicinal qualities.  Infusions of the stems, or poultices of chewed leaves were used to treat skin sores and boils, a decoction of rhizomes could be used as a wash for dandruff.  Some indigenous women chewed the leaves to hasten childbirth, and other tribes would chew leaves as a remedy for sore throats or tonsillitis.