Our native of the Buckthorn family, Rhamnus purshiana, is a real “sleeper” among our native trees -- frequently overlooked and under-appreciated.
Yet it is a widely-adaptable small tree that is a favorite for birds and suitable for the smaller urban garden; growing as a shrub to about 15 feet, it can also reach 30 feet as a small tree.
Described once as looking like “an alder crossed with a birch with a cherry thrown in” -- the Cascara’s mottled gray bark is topped with deeply-ridged, oval leaves usually dark green on their topside with lighter green underneath.
Depending on the amount of sun it’s grown in, the fall color can range from yellow to orange - red in the fall. The flowers are small, creamy greenish-white, generally hiding amongst the foliage in small clusters. Butterflies like them, however, and will seek them out. The fruit that follows are small, purple-black beads that attract many species of birds.
Cascara grows in a wide variety of conditions – wet to dry, sun to shade – though it will perform best in a partly sunny, moist site with well-drained soil. That being said, it will happily take summer dry conditions, making it an appropriate site for seasonally wet areas like a rain garden.
Although aphids can sometimes be a pest of Cascara, and its foliage has been noted to be susceptible to Phytophthora, it seems that it tends to be mostly problem-free; and all of its virtues of adaptability, seasons of beauty and attractiveness to birds far outweigh the risks.
We offer a great selection of Northwest Natives from spring through fall. The plants featured are highlighted favorites, but they do not represent ALL of the plants we carry. For a more complete list, see our Northwest Native Plant List.