When most people think about the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, they think about mountains, rivers, and forests. However, they often overlook the wide variety of wildflowers that grow here.
A wildflower is simply any flower that grows in the wild without human intervention. They are generally spread through bee pollination or spores that travel in the wind.
The exact number of wildflower species (and subspecies!) in the region is unknown but is estimated to be well over 1,000!
Due to the diverse nature of climates and habitats found here, not all species will be found in every state. A flower that needs a lot of sun and dry conditions wouldn’t do well in the wilds of Southeast Alaska, for example.
Here is a list of the most common types of wildflowers that can be found in various parts of the Pacific Northwest.
Pacific Northwest Wildflowers – Picture Guide
Also known as Willow Herb, the Fireweed is extremely common in Southeast Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington. Plants grow about three to five feet tall and are known for their rosy-purple coloration.
As sun-loving plants, they generally bloom from June to September and can be found in meadows, on hills, and in burnt-out forests.
It’s worth noting that, while beautiful, Fireweed is native to Europe, Africa, and Asia, not the PNW. This means that it’s on the quarantine list for states such as Washington which makes it illegal to transport it, buy it, distribute it (or its seeds), etc.
2. Mountain Lady’s Slipper
The Mountain Lady’s Slipper, also known by its scientific name Cypripedium montanum, is an orchid that is found in every state of the Pacific Northwest and in British Columbia. Its name comes from the distinctive white flowers that look like Cinderella’s slippers.
They tend to bloom from May to July and can be found in many different locations, although the most common seems to be on the slopes of mountains or hills.
3. Red Columbine
The Red Columbine, also known as the Western or Scarlet Columbine, is found all over the region. They can grow up to three feet tall and produce yellow and red flowers. It is said to resemble an eagle’s talon, which is the basis of its Latin name, Aquilegia formosa (beautiful eagle).
A May to August flower, they are often found in open wooded areas from about 4000 to 9000 feet high.
4. Common Camas
The Common Camas, also known as the Swamp Sego or the Small Camas, is found in every part of the PNW except Alaska. Generally reaching heights of one to three feet, their flowers span the range of light to dark bluish-violet.
Its usual bloom is between April and June and they prefer a slightly wet location, which is why they are so commonly associated with the flowing meadows where they are often found.
5. Avalanche Lily
The Avalanche Lily, or white avalanche lily, is commonly found in Washington and Oregon. Its flowers are white and the center bulb is yellow. They are normally about a foot or two high.
It is often found tucked into the crevices of mossy rocks or among smaller shrubs near glacial streams.
With white petals that are reminiscent of snowflakes, it has become a symbol of perseverance in the rugged landscape of these Western states.
It is primarily found in the summer months of June, July, and August, on mountain slopes after the snow has melted.
6. Oregon Sunshine
Despite the name, Oregon Sunshine (also known as the common wooly sunflower) is not just in Oregon but can be found in every part of the Pacific Northwest with the exception of Alaska. It is a green plant with golden-yellowish petals that can reach over three feet.
An April to September plant, it can commonly be found in open, dry areas, as well as in the shade on hill banks.
7. Checker Lily
The Checker Lily, or the chocolate lily, is found in Oregon, Idaho, and Washington and is noted for its unique reddish brown and green coloration. Even those new to the PNW find that this flower is easily distinguishable by its dainty yellow petals and dark red stripes.
They generally grow to be about three feet high before blooming from February to June, although in the Portland area, they usually don’t start until late March. Checker lilies can typically be found in grassy flats and open woods.
8. Miniature Lupine
The one to three-foot Miniature Lupine, also known as the Pygmy-leaved Lupine, is found in British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon. Its flowers look like purple peas, which is appropriate as it is a member of the pea family.
Blooming between March and June, these beautiful flowers can be found near sandy locations under 3,000 feet in elevation.
9. Mat Phlox
Mat Phlox or Spreading Phlox is a short plant, usually less than a foot high, with sprawling leaves that can be pink, white, or purple. Like many of the others, it can be found in every part of the Pacific Northwest excluding Alaska.
Generally in bloom between May and August, it is most commonly found in rocky, mountainous areas.
10. Skunk Cabbage
Found everywhere in the Pacific Northwest, Skunk Cabbage (or swamp lantern) gets its name from the fact that it smells awful (and tastes worse as it’s poisonous). Seriously, it’s really bad. It has a long, green stalk about three feet high and a trademark yellow bulb that eventually turns red.
Their blooming season begins in March and runs through May when it can easily be found stinking up bogs or swampland.
Just be sure to view them from a distance so you don’t disturb them.
11. Pacific Rhododendron
The Pacific Rhododendron, also known as the California Rhododendron, is actually found more commonly in Oregon than in its neighbor to the south. It can also be found in Washington and parts of British Columbia. It can grow up to 15 feet tall and has pink or purple bell-shaped flowers.
They typically bloom between April and July, usually in heavily wooded areas along the Pacific Coast.
Also found everywhere except Alaska, Beargrass (also known by a variety of other names, including Bear Lily, Turkeybeard, and Elk Grass) is about three feet tall and has creamy-white flowers. They were traditionally used to make garments by Native Americans.
May through August is the typical blooming season for these flowers. They can be found on slopes, ridges, and open wooded areas from sea level to about 6,000 feet.
13. Bigleaf Lupine
Bigleaf, Meadow, or Bog Lupine grows in every subregion of the Pacific Northwest except Idaho.
It boasts delicate purple and blue petals that seem to shimmer in the sunlight which has made it popular for arrangments and landscaping.
Growing mainly on mountainside meadows and grassy areas near the coast, it is best viewable during their blooming season from April to June. They are also known for providing much-needed food for pollinators such as butterflies and hummingbirds throughout the summer months.
14. Oregon Lily
Found everywhere except Alaska, the Oregon, Wild Tiger, or Columbia Lily is a beautiful, bright orange flower whose plants can reach from six inches to six feet!
It blooms from June to September and is found primarily in thickets, prairies, and the slopes of Redwood forests.
Is it Legal to Pick Wildflowers?
Now that we’ve talked about the various flowers you’re likely to encounter here, you may be wondering, “is it legal for me or my children to pick these flowers? They’d look great pressed in a scrapbook!”
The answer depends on where you happen to see the flower. In Oregon, for example, it’s illegal to “willfully or negligently cut, dig up, trim, pick, remove, […] any flower, shrub, bush, fruit, or other vegetation” on public lands.
It is also illegal in National Parks, Monuments, and Forests to collect any plant or flower without a permit. There are also other state or local laws that could apply, depending on where you are.
I would exercise caution and err on the side of letting nature grow. Nearly all of these flowers are available to buy at a store or have seed packages available so you can grow them in your own home or garden.
While they probably won’t arrest your five-year-old for picking a flower, I imagine it could end with a long talk from an annoyed park ranger.
That said, if the flowers are on privately-owned land and you have the permission of the owner or their agent, go ahead and get them for your scrapbook! Just make sure you do have permission first as trespassing is a much more serious violation than flower picking.
Summary and Final Thoughts
These are just a few of the most common species of wildflowers that can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest.
While you’re out admiring these beautiful flowers, you’ll want to do your best to avoid the skunk cabbage. I know it sounds like I’m joking but seriously, you can smell them from several yards away and you don’t want to take that stench home with you.
No matter where you go outside of any city, the odds are pretty good that you’ll find at least one of these growing by the wayside. We can’t wait to see you here soon!