General Species Description
- This deciduous shrub is erect and somewhat spreading, growing to 4 meters tall. The large branches (5 mm in
diameter) are heavily ridged on both sides and when mature have light brownish-red shredding bark. The common name
is derived from the belief that there are nine layers of shredding bark on the stems.
- The deciduous leaves are simple, alternate, toothed, broadly rounded at the base, palmately 3-5 lobed (usually 3),
deeply veined, and 3-8 cm long. They are dark green and shiny above and lighter underneath with many star-shaped hairs.
The reddish-orange petioles have stipules. The leaves turn bright yellow with reddish-orange margins in the fall.
- Many dense, terminal, rounded inflorescences are very distinctive from a distance. The perfect flowers are small,
creamy-white, 5-lobed, with 20-40 pink stamens and 3-5 pistils.
- The fruits are arranged in dense, reddish-brown bunches of 3-4 woody follicles which are 0.6-1 cm long. Each
follicle has two to many yellowish, shiny seeds. The scientific name comes from the Greek physa, meaning
'bellows or bladder', and carpos, meaning 'fruit', referring to the inflated appearance of the fruits.
- Pacific ninebark prefers moist to wet places such as stream banks, swamps, lake margins, coastal marshes and
moist woods. It is also found at the edges of woods and meadows in nitrogen-rich soils or in mineral, alluvial soils.
It can be found in drier, semi-open or open habitats, as it is tolerant of water table fluctuations. This species is
often found in association with redstem dogwood (Cornus sericea) and salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis).
- This shrub is found in the western Cascades, from Alaska to California, and also in northern Idaho. It's range is
limited on the north Pacific Coast.
- The lobed leaves of pacific ninebark can often be confused with those of other species. The key when identifying
this species is to look at more features than the leaves alone, if possible. Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) has much larger
5-lobed leaves and raspberry-like fruits. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), found in similar habitats, has similar
shredding bark, but has pinnately compound leaves and single magenta flowers and orange berries. Oceanspray (holodiscus
discolor) has similar alternate, pubescent leaves, which are more often coarsely toothed than lobed; dense, terminal
pyramidal inflorescences; and hairy achenes. The foliage of Ribes species, especially R. viscosissimum
(sticky currant) and R. sanguineum (red currant) may also be confused with that of pacific ninebark, but all
Ribes species have berries for fruit, thorns or spikes, and often have smaller, smooth-surfaced leaves.
Highbush cranberry (Viburnum edule) also has 3-lobed leaves, but they are much larger, and have opposite a
rrangement. Mallow bark (Physocarpus malvaceus) is common in the drier habitats of our region. This shrub is
smaller than Pacific ninebark and has hairy fruit capsules.
- The twigs, bugs and foliage of pacific ninebark are browsed by herbivores.
- Native northwest peoples used the wood for making toys and knitting needles. The Coast Salish, Nuxalk and Kawkwaka'wakw peoples
also used a tea made from peeled
pacific ninebark branches to treat constipation, upset stomach, gonorrhea and sores on the neck. The bark is believed
to be toxic and should not be eaten. Pacific ninebark is sometimes used as an ornamental shrub.
- Cooke, S. S., ed. 1997. A Field Guide to the Common Wetland Plants of Western Washington & Northwest Oregon. Seattle Audubon Society and Washington Native Plant Society. Seattle Audubon Society, Seattle WA, 417pp.
Hitchcock, C. L. and A. Cronquist. 1973. Flora of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA, 730pp.
Parish, R., R. Coupe and D. Lloyd. 1996. Plants of Southern Interior British Columbia. Lone Star Publishing, Vancouver, BC, 463pp.
Pojar, J. and A. MacKinnon. 1994. Plants of Coastal British Columbia. Lone Star Publishing, Vancouver, BC, 527pp.
Turner, N. J., L. C. Thompson, M. T. Thompson and A. Z. York. 1990. Thompson Ethnobotany: Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC, 335pp.
Walters, D. R. and D. J. Keil. 1996. Vascular Plant Taxonomy, Fourth Edition. Kendall/Hunt Publishing, Dubuque, IO, 621pp.
This page was created by: Tasha Murray, August 2000
Return to Northwest Oregon Wetland Plants Project