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Nature on Trail: Forest Floor Plants

By Joan Burton

Baker River Forest
Deep forest, Baker River Valey. Photo by Stephen Cole.

These sixteen small, forest floor plants will enchant hikers in lowland forests. You’ll have to keep your eyes down, though. These plants are not conspicuous. Unlike the brightly colored flowers of alpine meadows, because sunlight is limited under the forest canopy, most of these plants have flowers that are white, cream or pale pink. They bloom throughout the hiking season, though some, like the trillium have only one flower that blooms for about three weeks.
It’s fun to speculate about the origins of their common names. Did hungry miners resort to eating miners’ lettuce?

Does “sweet after death” refer to the vanilla smell of the vanilla leaf plant once it has been dried? Did Indians wrap fish in those leaves to keep them fresh?
Is the plant that sends new leaves out of the center of its old leaves named youth on age or piggy-back plant because of its growth pattern?

Foamflower could be said to resemble a spray of foam, and surely the shape of the western starflower gave rise to its name.

Our tiny Twinflower creeping vine has a famous pedigree. Carl Linnaeus, the 18th century Swedish botanist who organized the plant kingdom into genus and species, chose this delicate evergreen groundcover with its tiny, fragrant double pink bells to bear his name—Linnaea borealis.

Good trails on which to see these forest floor plants are the Ashael Curtis Nature Trail, Greenwater Lakes Trail, Barclay Lake Trail, Lake 22 Trail, Lena Lake Trail, Duckabush River Trail, Troublesome Creek Trail, and the Dorothy Lake Trail.

Bunchberry
Bunchberry, photo by Ron Sholand.
1. Bunchberry or dwarf dogwood. Cornus canadensis. Its flowers are miniatures of the Pacific dogwood tree, and its berries are bright orange-red in the fall.
False Lily Of the Valley
False Lily of the Valley, photo by Pam Roy.

2. False  lily-of-the-valley. Maianthemum dilatatum. Similar plant to lily of-the-valley, but its leaves are heart- shaped, and the small white flowers rise erect above them.

Foamflower
Foamflower, photo copyright Ben Legler.
3. Foamflower. Tiarella trifoliata. Tiny delicate flowers appear at the end of wire-like stalks.
Fringecup
Fringecup, photo by Elf Eliasson.
4. Fringecup. Tellima grandiflora. Greenish-white fragrant flowers rise on long stalks above basal leaves.
Miner's Lettuce
Miner's lettuce, by Rob Lohr.
5. Miners’ lettuce. Claytonia perfoliata. Basal, fleshy, egg-shaped leaves have white or pinkish five-petaled flowers that seem to perforate the leaves. Early settlers may have made their salads from miners’ lettuce.
Spring-beauty
Spring-beauty, photo courtesy Olympic National Park.
6.  Spring beauty. Montia cordifolia. White flowers similar to miner's lettuce, but with heart-shaped leaves.
 
Wood sorrel
Wood-sorrel, photo by Heptazane, Wikimedia Commons.
 7. Wood-sorrel. Oxalis oregana. Another three-leaved plant carpets the forest floor with shamrock- shaped leaves and white flowers with pink veins. The clover-like leaves close in the cold.
 

Pacific Bleeding Heart
Pacific bleeding heart, photo by Ron Sholand.

 8. Pacific bleeding heart. Dicentra Formosa. Pink to lavender heart-shaped flowers grow in drooping clusters above fern-like foliage.
 
Pigg-back plant
Piggy back plant, photo by John A. Krzmarzick, Wikimedia Commons.
  9. Piggy-back plant or youth-on-age. Tolmiea menziesii. These plants reproduce by sending new leaves directly up out of old ones. Flowers are pale lavender and also rise above new leaves on stems. Tolmie was the Hudson’s Bay Company botanist, and Menzies was the first European botanist to explore the North American coast.
 
Queen's cup
Queen's-cup, photo by Alan Bauer.
 

10. Queen’s cup or bead lily. Clintonia uniflora. Leaves are like lily leaves, the exquisite flower is pure white with six petals, and the seedpod is a turquoise blue metallic bead.



 link to photo
 

11. Smooth alumroot. Heuchera glabra. This is a native form of coral bells, the popular garden plant available at nurseries.

 
 12. Twinflower. Linnaea borealis. This delicate evergreen trailing vine has tiny pink, fragrant, trumpet-like blossoms appearing in pairs.
 
 13. Western  starflower. Trientalis latifolia. Pink to rose star-shaped flowers with six petals above a rosette of leaves.
 
Trillium
Western Trillium, photo by Nancy Higgins.

 14. Western trillium or wake robin. Trifolium ovatum. Large, distinctive, three-petaled cream flowers turn pink as they age.
 
Wild Ginger
Wild ginger, photo by Alan Bauer.

 15. Wild ginger. Asarum caudatum. This plant has evergreen shiny, dark green, heart-shaped leaves with a hidden purple flower. While growing, the leaves do not smell like ginger, but if crushed they are reminiscent of lemon-ginger.
 
Vanilla leaf
Vanilla leaf, photo by Ron Sholand.

 16. Vanilla leaf or sweet after death. Achlys triphylla. Leaves are fan-shaped and segmented in three parts. Flowers are white spikes. Indians used it to preserve fish, perfume their long houses, and as as insect repellent.

 



 

 

 

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