Spiraea, Pink Beauty Of The Marsh

Hardhack is a pinkish-purple beauty, a wetland shrub with a mass of fuzzy pink flowers. This tough and reliable shrub is ideal for a wild garden where a leggy and somewhat untamed plant will be allowed to thrive.

What is Hardhack?

Hardhack is a spiraea, a member of the rose family. Its formal name is Spiraeadouglasii.

Many plants and animals in the Pacific Northwest were named after David Douglas, an early explorer in the area. The flowers grow in a long cluster, bunching together to look like pink fuzz. They vary in color from light pink to a deep pinkish-purple. The flowers have a peculiar scent, reminiscent of potpourri left in a drawer. Its leaves are long and somewhat egg-shaped.

How to Grow Douglasii

This spiraea is a sturdy plant. Hardback will grow in sun to part shade and tolerates a wide range of soil pH. Its only requirement is that hardhack loves moist soil. It’s fast growing, and if left to its own devices in a suitable location, hardhack will grow into a nearly impenetrable thicket. Find it in wetland areas in the Pacific Northwest of North America, growing around the fringes of streams and marshes. This shrub can grow up to two meters high.

Propagating Hardhack

Since the plant is so vigorous, propagating it from suckers in the spring seems to be the most logical method of propagation, though Plants for a Future does suggest that it can be started from seed in a cold frame.

Hardhack is a Useful Plant

Hardhack’s branches are thick and wiry, perhaps leading to its common name. For those who are interested in using the plant, its branches can form tough wreaths and brooms. They were used as implements by indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest. Nancy Turner’s Thompson Ethnobotany (1990) states that an infusion of the seeds can be used to halt diarrhea. The branches are the most useful part of the plant, and they have been used to make brooms, hang salmon to smoke, and string clams for roasting.

Using Hardhack to Attract Wildlife

The dense shrub forest created by a group of hardhack plants makes a good place for wetland birds to nest. Bees also love the fuzzy flowers. For those who live by the edge of a forest, grouse are said to be attracted to the dried flowers.

Hardhack is a vigorous and leggy plant well-suited suited to the wild wetland garden. Plant it at the side of a stream and let its beautiful flowers and fragrance adorn the side of the water garden. Give it some space, and hardhack will act as a great backdrop to a native plant garden in the Pacific Northwest.


Skunk Cabbage, Beauty Of The Marsh

In early spring, things can get smelly in the marshes of North America. Who is responsible? Not a skunk, but a plant named for one: the skunk cabbage. A swamp full of these plants emits an odor that permeates through the forest. The stinky smell is a cunning way to attract pollinators that flock to rotting things. Flies, beetles, and other carrion-feeders love skunk cabbage.

Western Skunk Cabbage Has a Beautiful Yellow Bract with Tiny Flowers

Smell aside, the skunk cabbage is a strikingly beautiful plant. In western North America, the Western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton Americanus) is also called swamp lantern for its striking yellow hood. The tiny flowers are found on the central part of the spike, or spadix, while the yellow hood that looks like a yellow flower is actually a bract. Skunk cabbage also has large, oval leaves that are a beautiful and substantial addition to a pond or wetland garden. These leaves can grow up to a meter long and over 30 centimeters wide.

Western Skunk Cabbage Used by Bears and People

The Western Skunk Cabbage has an interesting connection to animals outside the wetland environment. The plant is one of the first to appear in the spring. Black bears will eat the root of the skunk cabbage, using it as a laxative as they come out of hibernation. While most parts of the plant were steamed, roasted, and eaten by indigenous people in times of famine, skunk cabbage should not be eaten raw. It can be very painful to the mouth, since it contains calcium oxalate. Skunk cabbage was also used as a medicinal plant for burns.

Eastern Skunk Cabbage: Another Smelly Marsh Plant

Eastern Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus Foetidus) is another member of the arum family, although it is not in the same genus as the Western Skunk Cabbage. The plant is slightly smaller than its Western counterpart, and it has a brownish-red bract. Those who walk through the swamp should take care around this plant, since its damaged leaves produce a strong smell. Another adaptation to its marsh environment is the odd root system that the skunk cabbage exhibits. Most plants grow taller as they get older, but the skunk cabbage roots contract, pulling the plant deeper into the wet soil. This makes them hard to remove from the garden and difficult to dislodge from a natural marsh.

Unique Wetland Plants Create Their Own Heat

Both species of skunk cabbage are noted for their ability to flower and pollinate in the very early spring, when snow may still be on the ground. It is actually able to melt surrounding snow by creating heat, a technique called thermogenesis. While scientists do not yet fully understand the way in which plants can create heat, this appears to happen as a byproduct of cellular respiration. Whatever the cause, don’t be surprised if skunk cabbage appears from under the snow, digging itself out in the early spring.

Growing Skunk Cabbage in the Pond or Water Garden

Skunk cabbage is grown in North America as a native plant, but it is also grown in Europe for its yellow bog flowers. It can be a cornerstone of a marsh or pond garden. The plant is stunning when grown by the water’s edge as a feature plant with leaves drooping over the side of the pond. Make sure that it has wet roots, though! Even those with pools of water in the garden can grow skunk cabbage, since puddles are its preferred growing environment.

Bringing unusual plants into the pond or wetland garden is a way to explore the diversity of species in the wetlands of the world. Skunk cabbage is a beauty, with exotic characteristics and large foliage that makes it a great candidate for the bog or pond garden.