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Our native Salal is so common and adaptable to our region that it tends to be overlooked if not totally ignored by the gardener; but it definitely deserves a second look: It is a lush shrub, growing typically 3-6 feet tall, forming thickets (good bird habitat) in shade or partial shade.
The leaves are somewhat large (2-4” long x 1-3” wide), with an almost reptilian texture of the richest green hue. The flowers, that are abundant in spring and early summer, are clusters of drooping bell-shaped white-to-pinkish flowers, delicate and lovely in contrast to the tougher-looking foliage.
The blue-black berries that follow were at one time a staple food of the native people of this region, and can be a tasty berry to make into jelly or jam. Or, simply left in place to provide food for visiting birds to your garden. As an evergreen, it provides color and texture to the winter garden, and year-round is relatively pest and disease free.
Salal grows best in partial shade, but is perfectly adaptable to a more open, south-facing sunny location as long as it has good drainage and a dampish root run; but because it can form a thicket it can become invasive. Nevertheless, it is perfectly suited to a small garden if kept in check. Right plant, right place: For a thick groundcover, it is a much better choice than some more invasive and destructive non-natives. Easy to care for, once established, it can be a treasured foundation of the garden.
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5050 SE Stark, Portland, OR
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Common Name: Salal (the other Gaultheria, G. procumbens, aka wintergreen, is an east coast native)
Characteristics: Broad-leaved evergreen shrub. Typically growing 3-6’ tall. Flowers are white to pink, drooping bell-shaped. Fruits are small, blue-black round berries.
Culture: Grows best in shade to partial shade, with moderate water and good drainage. That being said, it is admirably tolerant of differing soil and moisture conditions, though it may not appear at its most lush; it will take well to neglect, no bad thing, though it is not tolerant of excessively dry conditions.
Pests/Diseases: Salal is relatively pest and disease free; too much retained moisture and humidity without air circulation sometimes tends to bring on some leaf-spot, but nothing that seems to compromise the vigor of the plant.