The small purplish fruits of the Oregon Grape were a part of the traditional diet of the aboriginal people from the Pacific Northwest.
When shredded and boiled, the bark of Oregon’s state flower produces a brilliant yellow dye.
Despite its name, the Oregon state flower is unrelated to the grapes you find in your supermarket produce section. This low-growing, evergreen plant derives its name from its edible, bluish-purple berries, which grow in grape-like clusters in the fall and are a favorite for birds.
Similar to a shrub, Oregon Grape reaches a typical height of three to four feet. The plant’s spiny leaves are waxy and green and bear a resemblance to the holly plant. In early summer, Oregon Grape blossoms into small, orb-shaped flowers that are yellow and green in color.
The Oregon state flower is found mostly in the Pacific Northwest, where it thrives in mountainous regions and alongside rivers and streams. Visitors to Salem and Eugene might detect its spicy scent along the Willamette River. The flower is also found along the Columbia River, which flows through Portland. In fact, it was in this region that Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis & Clark Expedition) made an early documentation of the plant, referring to it in his journals as “mountain holly.”
Outside of the western part of the state, the Oregon state flower is less common. However, the plant does appear as far north as British Columbia and as far south as California.
Well before the state’s horticultural society and legislature tapped it as the Oregon state flower in the 1890s, Oregon Grape was already valued by Native Americans who used its berries and roots as medicinal herbs. Today, some herbalists believe that drinking tea made by steeping the plant’s root can relieve a variety of ailments.
Oregon Grape berries are also used in cooking. Though bitter when raw, the berries become sweet when cooked. The stewed fruit is frequently combined with the berry of another native Oregonian plant, the Salal, to produce a grape-like jelly.
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