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 Pacific Northwest

Native ornamental aquatics and tried and true
performers top the list!

Go With What Works

by Dave Brigante, Tualatin, Oregon
Click images to enlarge

Ahh, the mystery of Oregon’s Pacific Wonderland. Being so far north of San Francisco and so far south of Seattle, we consider ourselves our own little berg floating about as we please. I invite you to explore our northwest upper section of Oregon sandwiched between the Coastal Mountain Range and the central Cascade Mountain Range. We love our unique protected valley called Willamette, moderated by the Pacific Ocean’s influences and protected against harsh cold winds from the east by the Cascades. Thus and so as we all know, here we can grow almost anything, pushing the tropical limits as we go.

In considering what actually works here, native plants are always a sure thing. Some Willamette natives make great aquatic ornamentals for ponds and bogs. Check to see which of our favorites grow where you live.

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), above, thrives here even through our warm seasons. If given the slightest bit of shade they come charging back in the fall to bloom again.

Skunk Cabbages (Lysichiton americanum) cover vast boggy areas shooting up their yellow spathe-like flowers followed by large one-foot by three-foot (0.3 by 0.9 meter) leaves (larger in a bit of shade). The stinky “fragrance” comes from the flower, but it smells nothing like a skunk.

Lysichiton and Caltha

Monkey Flowers (Mimulus guttatus and Mimulus cardinalis) grow quite prolifically here in certain areas. Both flourish along creeks skirting the edges in our higher elevations, but not usually together.

Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) still thrives in limited areas. Between it being sold as an aquatic and having been used way-back-when as a food source by some native Indian tribes, it’s not as prevalent here anymore. 

Slough Sedge (Carex obnupta) grows along the whole Oregon coast. Sometimes it reaches five to six feet (1.5 – 1.8 m) high. Its brown seed clusters sow and sprout quite readily on their own. Birds use them as a nesting and feeding resource.

Our rushes are prolific here to say the least. Two in particular work well in our ponds and bogs. Blue Spreading Rush (Juncus patens) is two to three feet (0.6 – 0.9 meters) tall, steel blue and very hardy. Soft Rush (Juncus effusus) grows three (0.9 meter) to four feet (1.2 meters) tall. Soft Rush features olive-green foliage with nice coffee-brown flowers that persist well into winter. Not all of these grow only in Oregon. I know them as local and reliable; they can’t be beat.

Again, we consider the wonders of our climate. Summers are usually dry for most of three months. In summer we broach the 90°F (32°C) temperature range only ten to fifteen times on average. Heat rarely becomes a deterrent considering most ornamental aquatics. Some of our favorites here follow.

Gunnera chiliensis

< ^ Gunnera manicata

The Mighty Gunnera (Gunnera manicata or G. chiliensis) survives our winters when properly protected. Given constant moisture throughout the summer, we can create some real monsters.

Irises (Iris ensata and I. laevigata) do very well here. The wide range of color and blossom variation make for a beautiful spring show. We have a little trouble with Louisiana Iris (leaf spot) so the previous two are more suited for us.

Acorus calamus variegata ^ >

Acorus gramineus
Sweet Flags (Acorus gramineus and A. calamus variegata, etc.) are tried and true survivors. As an aquatic marginal or as a terrestrial, these always survive our winters. Our USDA Zone 8 winter conditions don’t seem to bother them. A slight shearing in late winter is soon covered by spring’s new growth. 

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