Holodiscus discolor

Holodiscus discolor, commonly called Ocean Spray, arrow-wood, or iron-wood, is one of the more abundant flowering shrubs in the Pacific Northwest. Known for its hardness it was used for tools by native people throughout the region. Ironwood was fashioned into fishhooks, harpoon and arrow shafts, scrapers, digging sticks, needles and many other tools. It can be tempered with heat and polished with horsetail stems to form a hard, smooth working surface. One of the notable uses was for skewers used when roasting salmon over open flames.

It seems to favor open and disturbed areas and is prolific along road cuts through the forest. It forms a shrub up to ten or fifteen feet tall with many straight stems fanning up from the base. In the spring and early summer sprays of white flower clusters hanging down from the tips of the branches make this a very distinctive and showy plant. By the end of July in the Columbia Gorge, these flowers have dried and faded brown, but the flowers remain fresh and bright later at higher elevations.

Holodiscus discolor flowerThe flowers are reminiscent of lilacs in habit. They form tiny, dense, cream colored, pyramidal clusters at branch tips, turning brown and remaining on plants over winter as clusters of seeds

The leaves are alternate, dull green, broadly triangular, 1 1/2 -3″ long, with coarsely toothed margins, minutely wooly surface, and a distinctly wedged shaped base.

Holodiscus discolor leaf detail

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