Plant identification

 

Note: This article is a sidebar to this issue's feature story.

Beargrass is sometimes called "Indian basket grass," but it isn't a grass at all. Buyers in the Northwest pay 45 cents for a half-pound bunch of the tough, grassy leaves of this lily, which are sometimes dyed bright colors and added to floral displays.

Salal is a leafy evergreen shrub that grows west of the Cascade Range. The waxy leaves might appear in floral shops or in a restaurant, as a garnish. Those who collect it are called brushpickers and they earn up to 95 cents for every three-quarters pound bunch they collect.

Some wildcrafters have quit collecting oshç because its survival is threatened, but the root of this tall, parsley-like plant with white flowerets from the southern Rocky Mountains is still sold commercially. An herb shop in New Mexico pays wildcrafters between $7 and $15 per pound for the root.

Pipsissewa grows in shaded coniferous forests of the West's mountain ranges, where its pink flowers bloom six inches above the forest floor. This medicinal plant is said to have been an essential flavor for rootbeer and other soft drinks - some say it's still collected for this purpose.

Oregon grape is found west of the coast mountain ranges and into the southern Rocky Mountains. The plant's root has a broad array of medicinal uses and is fetching $8 a pound on the wholesale market.

Lomatium root sells for as much as $15 per pound. This flowering mountain plant was used by the Blackfeet and other Native Americans for medicine and food.

Valerian is a flowering plant suffering from over-collection in parts of its Western range. Wildcrafters receive as much as $25 per pound for the dried plant.

In some places, the nonnative St. John's Wort is classified as a noxious weed. Its popularity boomed once it was tagged "Nature's Prozac."

Morels grow in the wet forests of the mountain West, where they are collected in the spring. Prices vary, but pickers can earn $4 per pound for fresh mushrooms. Sold fresh or dried, this mushroom has a devoted following.