My mom always tells me that spring in Oregon is a flirt. With each glorious sunny day, the season leads you on, just to wreck your inflated heart come the next storm cycle. Following a mild winter, this spring, perhaps climate-change-induced, is something similar, though seemingly more hormonal. With each clear, 60 degree day comes both glee and guilt, while each squall of rain and dustings of snow thereafter brings resentment and relief. To ease the pain of these ups and downs, take notice of the Northwest’s native, bountiful early-blooming plants.
Often found in forest understories, one shrub stands out in particular: Indian plum. Oemleria cerasiformis in Latin, cerasiformis is said to mean cherry-like, due to the small stone fruit the plant produces later in the year. Ripening at a much smaller size than our domestic cherry varieties, but in a similar range of colors from yellow, to red, then finally to purple, these berries are an important food source for small mammals and birds, such as cedar waxwings, and are edible to humans as well.
More relevant to this season however, are the darling, drooping clusters of white flowers that precede the berries and act as an important source of pollen for our native mason bees. In the bursts of sun that often follow bouts of rain this time of year, these flowers shine like jewels.
Sighting suggestions: Often under-recognized as a worthy natural area is Martin Luther King, Jr. Park on the northwest corner of town. The paved bike path from the main parking area off Walnut Blvd ends on Ponderosa Ave, and along the way parallels Lamprey Creek. In the riparian zone between the bike path and creek, Indian plum can easily be found by an intentional eye.
In more human landscapes, Indian plum works well as a member of a diverse hedgerow. Pair it with other early bloomers such as red flowering currant and tall Oregon grape for maximum effect.
On March 2, you can stop by the Native Plant Market at the Benton County Fairgrounds from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. to get your own Indian plum and other native species at affordable prices.
By Ari Blatt