Is Lavender Native to the PNW? (And Why Is It Everywhere?)

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As we explore the native plants of the Pacific Northwest, a question that may arise is whether lavender is native to this region. Lavender, with its beautiful and fragrant blooms, can be found throughout the area, making it an excellent choice for gardening enthusiasts. Before delving into the origins of lavender in the PNW, it’s essential to gain some background knowledge about this delightful plant.

Lavender belongs to the genus Lavandula, containing several species that thrive in various climates. Renowned for its calming fragrance and vibrant colors, this herb has been popular worldwide for centuries. While some species are surely associated with the Pacific Northwest environment, it’s important to explore the origins of lavender to classify it as a native plant.

In the Pacific Northwest, the most common plant community is dominated by large conifers, accompanied by a variety of trees, shrubs, and groundcovers. Lavender, with its preferences for full sun and well-drained soils, can be successfully cultivated in these conditions. Although it’s clear that lavender grows well in this region, it’s crucial to understand its native status compared to other plants in the ecosystem. By examining the distribution and history of lavender species, we can determine its true relationship with the Pacific Northwest.

Lavender Basics

We will cover the basics of lavender, focusing on its different varieties and origins, and its suitability for the Pacific Northwest climate. Lavender is a fragrant and beautiful herb that belongs to the genus Lavandula. These plants are native to the Mediterranean region, which consists of rocky hillsides, hot, dry summers, and cool, moist winters.

There are several varieties of lavender plants, some of the most popular being English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Spanish lavender (Lavandula stoechas), and French lavender (Lavandula dentata). English lavender, which is often used in the culinary arts and the production of essential oils, is known for its fragrant and strong purple-blue flowers. Spanish lavender has distinctively topped flower heads with a small tuft of purple blooms, while French lavender produces elegant, serrated leaves and less hardy blooms.

Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia) is a hybrid of English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia). This sterile hybrid is a favorite among crafters due to its large and productive plants. Lavenders are commonly used for various purposes, such as ornamental gardening, aromatherapy, crafting, and as a key ingredient in seasoning mixes like Herbes de Provence.

While lavender is not native to the Pacific Northwest (PNW), it can be successfully cultivated in this region. To achieve this, the plant requires a proper location with good drainage and full sun exposure. Lavender prefers sandy, well-drained soil and cannot tolerate wet conditions.

In summary, though lavender is not indigenous to the PNW, appropriate care and conditions can help it thrive in the region. By learning the characteristics and needs of different lavender varieties, we can successfully incorporate this visually striking and aromatic herb into our gardens and lives.

Origins and Habitats

Lavender and The Mediterranean

Lavender is a fragrant and beautiful herb that originates from the Mediterranean region. This area spans Southern Europe, Northern Africa, and Western Asia, where the climate is characterized by warm to hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Lavender thrives in this type of climate, growing best in well-drained, sandy soil with ample sunlight.

Native Plants of The Pacific Northwest

The Pacific Northwest (PNW) is a diverse region stretching from Oregon to British Columbia, encompassing a variety of climates and habitats. Some of the native plants you may find in the PNW include hawthorn, red-twig dogwood, and vine maple. Although these plants thrive in the region, they have different habitat requirements than lavender.

Comparative Habitats

The Mediterranean climate suits lavender, but the Pacific Northwest has a more temperate climate, with cooler summers and milder winters. Despite this, lavender has found its niche in the PNW, particularly in areas like Sequim, Washington. Sequim is situated at the tip of the Olympic Peninsula and experiences a unique microclimate, marked by mild temperatures, low rainfall, and sunny days. This makes it an ideal location for lavender cultivation.

In contrast, native plants of the PNW have had to adapt to a wide range of climatic and environmental conditions, including heavy rainfall, cooler temperatures, and diverse soil types.

HabitatClimateExample Plants
MediterraneanWarm, DryLavender
Pacific NorthwestCooler, WetHawthorn, Vine Maple

Understanding the PNW Climate

It’s important to recognize the variations in climate within the Pacific Northwest. While some areas, like Sequim, can support lavender, others may have conditions that are less suitable for this Mediterranean herb. Factors such as rainfall, temperature, and soil composition play crucial roles in determining whether a plant species can thrive in a given habitat. To grow lavender successfully in the PNW, ensure that it is planted in areas with good drainage and that it receives ample sunlight.

Overall, understanding the differences between the Mediterranean and Pacific Northwest climates and habitats is crucial for successful lavender cultivation in this region.

Growing Lavender In The Pacific Northwest

Planting and Soil Requirements

Lavender can thrive in the Pacific Northwest if given the right care. When planting, choose a location with good drainage and full sun, as lavender prefers at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight a day. We recommend sandy, well-drained soil where lavender’s roots won’t sit in wet conditions. To improve drainage in less ideal soil, consider adding grit or sand to the planting area.

Watering and Weather Conditions

The Pacific Northwest climate is known for its cooler and wetter conditions, which can be challenging for lavender. Despite this, lavender is drought-tolerant and can adapt to the region’s weather. However, it’s important to monitor rainfall and adjust watering accordingly. Mostly, lavender requires less frequent watering, with a focus on keeping the roots from becoming overly saturated. During periods of extended rain, it’s crucial to ensure proper drainage to avoid root rot.

As for temperature, lavender is relatively hardy and can tolerate both heat and frost. Some varieties, like Lavandin, are almost as hardy as English lavender and more tolerant of summer heat while still providing notes of camphor.

Caring for Your Lavender

To maintain healthy lavender plants in the Pacific Northwest, regular maintenance and proper care are essential. Trimming the plants once a year, ideally after the flowering season ends, helps promote bushy growth and prevents the plants from becoming woody. When winter approaches, avoid heavy pruning, as this may expose the plant to potential frost damage.

Lastly, mulching is beneficial for maintaining the plant’s overall health, but keep in mind that lavender doesn’t prefer overly moist conditions. Instead of using traditional leaves or bark mulch, opt for a gravel or stone mulch to mitigate moisture retention while still providing weed control and temperature insulation.

Additional Pacific Northwest Plants

Companion Plants

In addition to lavender, there are many other native plants in the Pacific Northwest that make excellent companion plants in the garden. Some of these include rosemary, which boasts beautiful blue flowers and flavorful leaves, and camas, a stunning plant with tall spikes of blue flowers. Vine maple, thimbleberry, and salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) also make excellent shrub companions, providing contrast in color and texture.

Edible Plants

Many native plants in the Pacific Northwest offer delicious and nutritious edible fruits or vegetables. Camas produces an edible bulb, while serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) yields tasty berries. Rosemary can be used as a flavorful herb in cooking, and the thimbleberry and salmonberry provide delicious fruit as well.

Wildlife Attractants

Native plants provide valuable habitat and food for local wildlife. The nectar-rich flowers of many Pacific Northwest plants such as trillium ovatum, western bleeding heart, and aruncus dioicus attract butterflies and other pollinators. Other plants, like stream violet (Viola glabella), attract hummingbirds with their bright red and yellow flowers.

Shade-Tolerant Plants

Some Pacific Northwest plants are adapted to grow well in shady conditions, making them ideal for gardens with less sun exposure. Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and Douglas fir are two native evergreen trees that can tolerate shade. For flowering plants that thrive in part-shade, consider incorporating western bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa) or western columbine (Aquilegia formosa).

Drought-Tolerant Plants

Though the Pacific Northwest is known for its rainfall, some native plants have developed drought tolerance. Broadleaf lupine (Lupinus latifolius) and astilbe are two examples of drought-tolerant perennials that still produce vibrant blooms. Ribes sanguineum and Physocarpus capitatus are two drought-tolerant shrubs with attractive foliage and flowers.

Evergreen Plants

Evergreen plants provide year-round interest and beauty in the garden. In the Pacific Northwest, native evergreens such as the western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and Douglas fir offer an impressive, tall backdrop to your garden. For an evergreen perennial with bright white blooms, consider the stream violet (Viola glabella).