Olympic Trip: Botanicals ~ 1

Blueberry relative, Pacific NW "salal" has many uses

Whirlwind tourism and botanizing do not mix well–about the same as tourism and meaningful photographic indulgences in the particulars of a place for mere seconds per view.

So, while I came home with a half dozen flowering plant, fern, moss and lichen images, they were all UNKs–unknowns likely to stay that way, in the absence of any field guides from that part of the world. So thanks, former Seattle native, Sean, for spotting this one as “salal” (Gaultheria shallon) and saving me the agony of gazing on a complete stranger of a plant for the duration.

I am always gratified, in my few travels at distance, to not be totally at sea with regard to the plants I see, often able at least to see family resemblance in new plants to old ones I know from the southern Appalachians. So for this one, it was obviously a “heath” relative, like blueberry and huckleberry and fetterbush and others in our woods.

But given the deeply creased, tough evergreen-looking leaves, I had guessed it close to trailing arbutus. Turns out, it’s closer to (in the same genus as) our teaberry. And like that local plant, this one has an edible berry that has been baked into cakes, made into jams, and the leaves are used extensively in floral arrangements. Salal was among the “new plants” discovered in 1806 by the Lewis and Clark expedition.

So I have made a new acquaintance, only hoping we’ll meet again, when I have more time to stop and visit.


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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. That’s fun stuff to know about. I have heard of Salal, but can’t remember what I learned about it. Keep on botanizing, Fred!