Category Archives: Small Trees and Large Shrubs

Vine Maple

Vine maple (Acer circinatum)
Acer circinatum

Acer circinatum (Vine Maple) is a species of maple native to western North America, from southwest British Columbia to northern California, always within 300 km of the Pacific Ocean coast.

It most commonly grows as a large shrub growing to around 5-8 m tall, but it will occasionally form a small to medium-sized tree, exceptionally to 18 m tall. The shoots are slender and hairless. It typically grows in the understory below much taller forest trees, but can sometimes be found in open ground, and occurs at altitudes from sea level up to 1,500 m.

The leaves are opposite, and palmately lobed with 7-11 lobes, almost circular in outline, 3-14 cm long and broad, and thinly hairy on the underside; the lobes are pointed and with coarsely toothed margins. The leaves turn bright yellow to orange-red in fall. The flowers are small, 6-9 mm diameter, with a dark red calyx and five short greenish-yellow petals; they are produced in open corymbs of 4-20 together in spring. The fruit is a two-seeded samara, each seed 8-10 mm diameter, with a spreading wing 2-4 cm long.

Vine Maple trees can bend over easily. Sometimes, this can cause the top of the tree to grow into the ground and send out a new root system, creating a natural arch.

It is occasionally cultivated outside its native range as an ornamental tree, from Juneau, Alaska and Ottawa, Ontario to Huntsville, Alabama, and also in northwestern Europe. It is closely related to Fullmoon Maple, Acer japonicum, and Korean Maple, Acer pseudosieboldianum, from eastern Asia, and is an excellent native alternative to these trees.

Wildlife uses

Vine maples are important trees for wildlife. They provide nesting sites and cover for many birds and mammals. The vireo often weaves basket-like nests that hang in the forks of the branches. Birds use the seed stalks and leaves for nest building. As a food source, squirrels, chipmunks and birds eat the seeds. The caterpillars of the Brown tissue and Polyphemus moths forage on the leaves of their host plant.


  • Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade
  • Water Requirements: Moist
  • Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
  • Growth Rate: Moderate
  • Spreads: No
  • Wildlife Support: Pollinators, Pest-eating Insects, Birds or Mammals
  • Edible: No
  • Mature Height: 20-25ft
  • Mature Width: 15-20ft

Red-osier Dogwood

Red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea)
Cornus sericea

Red-osier dogwood is a medium to tall deciduous shrub, growing 1.5-4 m tall and 3-5 m wide, spreading readily by underground stolons to form dense thickets. Cuttings readily root, and it is an excellent shrub for live-staking along stream banks and in wetlands. In the wild, it commonly grows in wetlands and other habitats with damp soil. The branches and twigs are dark red, though they may lack this coloration in shaded areas.

The ovate to oblong leaves are opposite, 5-12 cm long and 2.5-6 cm broad. In the fall, the leaves are commonly bright red to purple. The flowers are small (5-10 mm diameter), creamy white in color and growing in attractive clusters 3-6 cm diameter. This species lacks the showy, petal-like bracts commonly associated with other dogwood species. The fruit is a white berry 5-9 mm diameter.

Red-osier dogwood is a popular ornamental shrub, often planted for the red coloring of its twigs in the dormant season, attractive white spring flowers, and fall color. It is particularly useful for restoration sites, wet areas, and stream banks.

Red-osier dogwood is known by several Latin names, including Cornus sericea, Cornus stolonifera, and Swida sericea. Other common names include redtwig dogwood, red rood, American dogwood, and (subsp. occidentalis) Western dogwood. It is a variable species, with two subspecies commonly accepted:

  • Cornus sericea subsp. sericea – throughout the range of the species. Shoots and leaves hairless or finely pubescent; flower petals 2-3 mm.
  • Cornus sericea subsp. occidentalis (Torr. & A.Gray) Fosberg – western North America. Shoots and leaves densely pubescent; flower petals 3-4.5 mm.

  • Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade
  • Water Requirements: Moist, Seasonally Wet, Perennially Wet
  • Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Spreads: Yes
  • Wildlife Support: Pollinators, Hummingbirds, Birds or Mammals
  • Edible: No
  • Mature Height: 15ft
  • Mature Width: 6-9ft

Cascara

Cascara (Rhamnus pershiana)
Rhamnus purshiana

Cascara, also known as Frangula purshiana, is found along the Pacific coast from British Columbia to northern California along riverbanks and in other moist locations. It forms an attractive shape, and is often planted in Portland’s parking strips. It will sometimes reach 50′ but also grows as a shrub to only 15′. The dark green, glossy leaves are highly decorative and stand out against the small, green-white flowers that form in loose clusters. In late autumn, the leaves turn a delicate yellow and persist through many a winter storm.

Wildlife

Birds relish the cherry-like fruit, but they are potentially toxic to humans and should be avoided.

Uses

The cured bark is used extensively as a potent laxative (hence the name “cascara” which means “skin” in Spanish). The tree can be cut at the soil line for harvest, and will usually re-sprout to form a new tree.


  • Light Requirements: Part Shade, Full Shade
  • Water Requirements: Moist, Seasonally Wet
  • Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
  • Growth Rate: Slow
  • Spreads: No
  • Wildlife Support: Pollinators, Birds or Mammals
  • Edible: No
  • Mature Height: 30ft
  • Mature Width: 20ft

Osoberry

Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis)
Oemleria cerasiformis

Osoberry is a fast-growing, multi-stemmed shrub to small tree with purplish-brown bark. In open sunny locations it may form a dense shrub, while in the shade it becomes more open to sprawling. This is one of our first native shrubs to leaf and flower in the spring, providing an important early nectar source for pollinators.

In the early spring, female plants produce attractive, dangling clumps of whitish flowers. These are followed by small hard fruit. A favorite of birds (and technically edible, but bitter for people), the fruit is peach-colored early in the season and matures to blue-black.

Note: all plants are dormant at the time of the plant sale, so we are unable to determine gender.


  • Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade, Full Shade
  • Water Requirements: Dry, Moist
  • Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Spreads: No
  • Wildlife Support: Birds or Mammals
  • Edible: Yes
  • Mature Height: 15ft
  • Mature Width: 5-10ft

Blue Elderberry

Blue elderberry (Sambucus caerulea)
Sambucus cerulea

Blue elderberry is a deciduous shrub to small tree with soft, pithy twigs and opposite-growing leaves divided into lance-shaped leaflets. Showy clusters of creamy-white flowers mature into small blue-black drupes covered in a white bloom.

Wildlife

The berries are a valuable food resource for many birds. Elders are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera (moth) species. Dead elder wood is the preferred habitat of the mushroom Auricularia auricula-judae, also known as Judas’ ear fungus or wood ear fungus.

Uses

The berries are best not eaten raw. Both flowers and berries can be made into elderberry wine, and Hungary produces elderberry brandy (requiring 50 kg of fruit to produce 1 liter of brandy).The berries can be made into jam, pies or Pontack sauce. All green parts of the plant are poisonous, containing cyanogenic glycosides (Vedel & Lange 1960).

The flowers may be used to make an herbal tea, which is believed as a remedy for colds and fever. In Europe, the flowers are made into a syrup or cordial that is diluted with water before drinking. The popularity of this traditional drink has recently encouraged some commercial soft drink producers to introduce elderflower-flavored drinks. The flowers can also be used to make a mildly alcoholic, sparkling elderflower ‘champagne’.

  • Light Requirements: Full Sun, Part Shade
  • Water Requirements: Dry, Moist
  • Ease of Growing: Easy to grow
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Spreads: No
  • Wildlife Support: Pollinators, Pest-eating Insects, Birds or Mammals
  • Edible: Yes, but parts of the plant toxic
  • Mature Height: 10-25ft
  • Mature Width: 18ft
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