Oceanspray, creambush – Holodiscus discolor var. discolor

Subtaxa: Our variety is discolor in Washington State.

white flowers close up of oceanspreay

  • Family: Rosaceae
  • Plant Type: deciduous shrub
  • Distribution:  Occurs on both sides of Washington state. It is native to western North America from British Columbia to California, east to western Montana.
  • Habitat:  Open woods in low to moderate elevations. It also does well along roadsides and disturbed areas, and in dry areas.
  • Height: up to 10 feet tall
  • Flower/Fruits: white to cream colored flowers, with 5 petals, in clusters that droop or cascade down (giving the name oceanspray, like crashing waves). Fruits are dry and hard, and can remain on the plant into the fall.
  • Flowering Season: June – August
  • Leaves:  oval in shape and lobed, the underside is lighter green and wooly/hairy. In the late summer to early fall, the leaves are a beautiful yellow to red color.
  • Generation: Perennial

Conservation/Restoration

Oceanspray does well in dry forests and is quite drought tolerant. It is well adapted to fire-prone areas, and if burned down (or pruned down), it can regenerate easily from the root crown. Because of this trait, it is one of the first shrubs to appear after logging, in second-growth forests, or along roadbanks. Some animals, like deer and elk, may eat the leaves for food, although it is not usually the first choice. Even so, it’s been suggested it is a food source for native PNW slugs! The tall, fully leafed shrub, is used as coverage and nesting by deer, small mammals, and birds. The flowers are pollinated by insects, and the seeds are disseminated by wind or animals.

Ethnobotany

The long, thin, and nimble branches have made this shrub useful for making tools and simple housewares. The Salish (and many other local tribes) used to make arrows, camas digging sticks, halibut hooks, and barbecue skewars with the wood. According to the Nitinaht tribes, they claimed that the wood doesn’t burn easily, making it a great option for roasting meat and barbecuing. Both tribes used the wood to make knitting needles and practice bows and arrows for kids. The Okanagan-Colville tribe used the wood to make drum hoops, and also used the dried bark with an emolient to use on burns.

References and Resources

This article was written by Sarah Verlinde-Azofeifa, email at severlin@uw.edu. For questions regarding the EERC Native Plant Guided Tour, contact Sarah at severlin@uw.edu.