2013 Mount Hood National Park Calendar

Each year at about this time I assemble the Mount Hood National Park Scenic Calendar. The proceeds are modest, but do help support the Mount Hood National Park Campaign website, WyEast Blog and related project expenses. But the main purpose is to simply promote the national park concept, and make the case for the campaign with pictures.

What the calendar looks like – oversized 11×17” pages you can actually use!

I’ve published the calendars since 2004, so this year’s calendar marks the ninth edition. All of the photos in the calendar are from trips and trails I’ve explored over the past year. I get a surprising number of questions about the photos, so in addition to simply announcing the 2013 calendar, this article tells a bit of the story behind the new images — and some are surprising!

The 2013 Scenes

The cover image for the 2013 calendar is Upper McCord Creek Falls, located just west of Cascade Locks. This is a popular destination for Columbia Gorge lovers, though often overshadowed by its more famous downstream sibling, Elowah Falls.

Cover Scene: Upper McCord Creek Falls

Upper McCord Falls is unique in that it flows as a twin cascade. A little known fact is that a third segment used to flow during the rainy season as recently as the 1970s, just to the left of the two segments shown in the photo (above). The third segment has since been blocked by stream debris, however, so for now, Upper McCord is best known as a twin cascade.

The falls is popular with photographers, but in 2010 was briefly obstructed by a large treetop that had split from atop a nearby maple, landing perfectly on its head, directly in front of the falls. While the local photography community simply grumped and groaned about this unfortunate development, Gorge waterfall explorer and photographer Zach Forsyth did something about it: he scrambled down the slope, and neatly tipped the 40-foot up-ended tree on its side. Thus, Zach made this year’s calendar cover possible – thanks, Zach!

Upper McCord Creek Falls with “the stump” in 2010

Upper McCord Creek Falls is tucked away in the hidden upper canyon of McCord Creek, just a few hundred yards from the brink of Elowah Falls. The trail to the upper falls is especially spectacular, following a ledge chiseled into sheer cliffs in the early 1900s to pipe water to the former Warrendale Cannery, below (portions of the pipe system can be seen along the trail). The falls is hidden from view until you abruptly arrive at the dramatic overlook, directly in front of the falls – one of the finest and most unexpected scenes in the Gorge.

The January calendar scene is a wintery view of the rugged west face of Mount Hood, just emerging from the clouds after a fresh snowfall. This view was captured just a few weeks ago near Lolo Pass, as the evening light was briefly catching the summit.

January Scene: West face after an early winter storm

Like most “mountain in the mist” images, this one was a reward for patience: I waited for two chilly hours for the clouds to clear! It worth the wait, though I’ve also had my share of disappointments when that glorious glimpse of the mountain didn’t materialize.

For the month of February, I picked an image from a trip last winter along the Little Zigzag River. I had planned to snowshoe to Little Zigzag Falls from the Kiwanis Camp, but there were only about 18 inches of snow on the ground, much of it fluffy and new. So, I simply trudged through leaving some very deep boot prints in my wake — and happily, the only footprints on the trail that afternoon.

February Scene: Little Zigzag River in winter

The weather was extremely cold on this visit, revealing one of the surprising effects of running water in winter: it turns out the sheer volume of relatively “warm” water (that is, above freezing) flowing down the Little Zigzag river actually heats the narrow canyon, much like an old steam radiator heats a room.

Following this radiator analogy, the temperate gradient is most noticeable when air temperatures are really cold. It was about 12º F that day, yet the air right next to the stream, and especially in front of Little Zigzag Falls measured in at a “balmy” 30º F. I found myself peeling off layers while shooting the stream and falls, only to hurriedly put them back on as I ventured back down the trail and into the real cold!

For the month of March I chose another waterfall scene, this time the lush, verdant base of popular Latourell Falls in the Columbia Gorge.

March Scene: Latourell Falls in spring

On this visit to the falls, Oregon State Parks construction crews were starting work on several major upgrades to viewpoints along this busy trail. As a result, the most popular trailhead at the Latourell Wayside was closed. Instead, I took a back route to the falls and had the place to myself for the better part of an hour — nearly unheard of on what should have been a busy spring weekend at Latourell Falls.

The April calendar scene is from Rowena Plateau at the McCall Preserve, in the dry, eastern Columbia Gorge. The iconic yellow balsamroot and blue lupine were in peak bloom on this sunny afternoon in mid-spring, and the glassy surface of the Columbia River in the background reveals a rare day of calm in the normally windy Gorge. The very tip of Mount Adams peeks over the hills on the horizon, on the Washington side of the river:

April Scene: Balsamroom and lupine on Rowena Plateau

The trip to Rowena was especially memorable for me, as I was hiking with an old college friend who was visiting Oregon for a few days. Rowena was a great place to catch up on news and old memories.

My friend also happens to be an eminent geologist working for the federal government, so we had a great conversation about the mystery of “desert mounds” (also known as “biscuit scablands”), which found on Rowena Plateau and in other areas in the Columbia Basin (watch for a future WyEast Blog article on this subject…).

Hikers passing one of the mysterious desert mounds on Rowena Plateau

Continuing the balsamroot-and-lupine theme, the May scene in the new calendar comes from Hood River Mountain, a tract of private land that is (for now) open to the public, but at risk of closure, due to heavy use by hikers.

This is one piece of land that will hopefully come into public ownership someday, before a less responsible private owner places trophy homes on these beautiful slopes. I wrote about this unfortunate oversight in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Act in this article from a few years ago.

May Scene: Hood River Mountain in May

On Memorial Day last spring, I made a trip to Dry Creek Falls, a beautiful waterfall saddled with one of the most unfortunate and uninspiring place names in the Gorge! The June calendar image is from that trip, and captures Dry Creek rambling through the forest a few hundred yards below the falls.

June Scene: (not so) Dry Creek in spring

This area has a unique history: an old, derelict diversion dam and waterworks survives at the base of the falls, where the City of Cascade Locks once tapped the stream for municipal water in decades past. Perhaps this is the origin of “Dry Creek” name — did the stream below the diversion actually go dry when the dam was installed? Perhaps, but today it flows year-round, and makes for a beautiful streamside hike in spring.

Dry Creek Falls and the remains of the old diversion dam and waterworks

The July scene in the 2013 calendar is from a trip to Elk Cove last August. This is one of my annual pilgrimages, and I have photographed this particular spot just east of Cove Creek too many times to count — yet I’m always excited to get there, and recapture the stunning scene.

July Scene: Summer wildflowers at Elk Cove

The wildflower bloom on Mount Hood was delayed by several weeks this year, so even though I was a bit late in visiting Elk Cove, there was still a bumper-crop of purple aster mixing with the blue lupine and mop-heads of western anemone, or Old Man of the Mountain.

Not visible in the calendar view of Elk Cove are the blackened forests directly behind me: the Dollar Fire of 2011 swept across a 5-mile swath along the northern foot of Mount Hood, charring the northern fringes of Elk Cove, including several large stands of mountain hemlock that frame the view from 99 Ridge.

The Dollar Fire burned a 5-mile swath across the north slope Mount Hood

Though it’s initially shocking to see healthy forests killed by fire, it is also part of the natural cycle of forest renewal. Thus, we’ll now have a front-row seat to the fire recovery process that will unfold over the coming years along the popular north side trails. I wrote this blog article on the Dollar Fire earlier this year.

For the August calendar image, I picked a less familiar scene from an otherwise popular hike: the soaring trail to the 8,514’ summit of Cooper Spur. To beat the crowds, I set my alarm for 3 AM and raced to the trailhead at Cloud Cap. I was the first to arrive at the string of dramatic viewpoints along the trail, and caught the first rays of sun lighting up the northeast face of the mountain.

August Scene: Eliot Glacier from Cooper Spur

This view is from the north shoulder of Cooper Spur, just below the summit, and looking into the impressive jumble of crevasses and icefalls along the Eliot Glacier. Though the sky was crystal clear (you can see the moon setting to the left of the mountain), the winds from the south were strong and blustery. So, getting this shot from the lee side of the spur also meant enjoying some respite from the intense wind and blowing volcanic grit.

For the September image, I selected a lesser-known view of the mountain: the remote and rugged Newton Canyon, on the southeast side, where Mount Hood has a broad, massive profile.

September Scene: Rugged Newton Creek Canyon on the east side of Mount Hood

Glacial Newton Creek is best known for the havoc it brings far below, where the stream has repeatedly washed out Highway 35 with violent debris flows that toss Toyota-size boulders and whole trees across the road in their wake. Construction crews were busy this summer completing yet another repair, this time for damage that occurred in the 2006 floods. As always, the new road is bigger and higher than the old. We’ll see if Newton Creek is persuaded to flow through the new series of larger flood culverts this time…

The October scene is from Wahclella Falls on Tanner Creek, a popular family hike that also provides terrific viewing of spawning salmon and steelhead in early autumn.

October Scene: Wahclella Falls in autumn

Fall colors were somewhat muted in 2012, thanks to an unusually long, dry summer that extended well into October. As a result, the broadleaf trees in many areas had already dropped a lot of leaves due to the stress of the drought, before they would even have a change to change with the seasons.

While fall colors at Tanner Creek were less affected by the summer drought, the autumn scene in this year’s calendar has to make due without without the help of the particular tree, the Wahclella Maple I wrote about earlier this year. You can see the hole it left by comparing this year’s image (above) and a 2010 image (below).

Wahclella Falls in 2010 with the Wahclella Maple still standing above the footbridge

Since 2007, I’ve made annual trips with friends and volunteers to tend to the Old Vista Ridge Trail on the north side of Mount Hood. This historic gem from the early 1900s was an overgrown, forgotten victim of the Forest Service clear-cutting juggernaut for some 40 years, but somehow managed to escape their chainsaws.

Volunteers re-opened the Old Vista Ridge Trail in 2007, spurred in part by a Forest Service scheme to turn the area into a playground for dirt bikes and ATVs — an appalling plan that was eventually abandoned, in part because the rediscovered trail had revealed the beauty of the area to so many.

In 2010, the trail became the official northern boundary of the expanded Mount Hood Wilderness, when President Obama signed a new wilderness bill into law. This change should close the door on future Forest Service threats to the area, and today the hike into one of the best on the mountain.

November Scene: Mount Hood from Owl Point

The November calendar scene is from a viewpoint along the Old Vista Ridge Trail known as Owl Point, the rocky outcrop with stunning views of the mountain. Bright red huckleberries light up the foreground in this scene, and the first dusting of snow highlights the mountain. In the distance, you can also pick out the browned forests on the slopes of Mount Hood, where the Dollar Fire swept across the base of the mountain in 2011.

The final image in the new calendar is another taken from Lolo Pass, perhaps one of the most spectacular views of Mount Hood. This image was taken just before sundown after a fresh snowfall had blanketed the mountain.

December Scene: Winter arrives at Lolo Pass

I paid the price for taking in the sunset that night at Lolo Pass, as my car was broken into at the trailhead – something I’d somehow managed to avoid in all my years of hiking! As frustrating as it was to deal with the repairs and lost belongings… I’d do it all over again just to spend those magical hours watching the mountain that night — it was truly breathtaking! Here, take a closer look, and see for yourself:

Mount Hood from Lolo Pass | 2012

The thirteen images I chose for the 2013 calendar are from a few thousand images I’ve taken this year on something just shy of 40 outings to Mount Hood and the Gorge — a bit less time on the trail than a typical year would allow, but no complaints! As always, these adventures took me to new places and discoveries, as well as fond visits to my favorite old haunts.

And as always, the magnificent scenery further confirmed my conviction that Mount Hood should (and will!) be set aside as our next National Park! Hopefully, the calendar makes the case, as well.

How can you get one, you ask?

The new calendars are available online:

2013 Mount Hood National Park Calendar at CafePress

They are large and functional, measuring 17” across by 22” tall when hung, with plenty of room for writing notes and scheduling activities. CafePress packages them carefully, with each calendar sealed against a corrugated cardboard backing for support.

The calendars sell for $29.99 + shipping, with about 25% of the proceeds going to support the Mount Hood National Park Campaign. They make terrific stocking stuffers (…although you’ll need an 11×17” stocking…), and CafePress now makes it even easier by offering PayPal as an option.

And as always, thanks for your support!

Addendum: Gorge uber-Guru Scott Cook set me straight on a couple of comments in the above article:

Hey Tom, so of course I read your blog like a good Gorge denizen. A couple of points…I’m not trying to sound like a know-it-all…but I know that you do like to get at the bottom of things and eschew conjecture:

The pipes visible on the Upper McCord trail are from Myron Kelly’s pulp mill, not Warren’s cannery. There are some pix on my blog of Kelly’s mill and iterations of his pipes. I have another old pic too showing the pipe running along the cliff cleft, illustrating to me that the cleft was a pipeway instead of a WPA/CCC construction.

(author’s note: here’s a photo I shared with Scott that shows CCC crews clearing out the old waterline shelf to make way for the trail to Upper McCord Falls — note the Historic Columbia River Highway, far below, and the CCC crew bosses in full uniform)

…and, about Dry Creek falls, the Creek was called Dry Creek before the water works were installed. The reason is that just downstream of the PCT trail bridge, just down the access road 200yards, the creek dries up in the summer to nothing, just a dry creek bed as the creek goes subterranean until re-emerging downstream of the powerline corridor.

If you walk down the access road in the summer, the stream is of course flowing under the bridge, but when you walk downstream the sound goes away and you just figure the stream curved away from the road, but nope, if you bushwhack over just 100 feet you’ll see the dry stream…as you will if you continue down the access road also.

Down the (Dry Creek) access road is a bunker-looking building that was built in the 30’s to store the water from the stream’s waterworks for the city’s first municipal supply. The water shed is still in use today, but the water is pumped upwards into it from wells in the town below.

Next edition of Curious I’ll have Dry Creek Falls as a loop using the powerline access road…so people can learn the history and see the Dried-up Creek as well (cuz everyone loves a loop). Look for my pix on Google Earth of all this stuff and the dried-up creek. -Scott

Thanks, Scott!

Warren “Barney” Cooper

Early 1900s map with Warren Creek identified

While tracking down the human history behind the mysterious (and temporarily defunct) falls on Warren Creek in the Columbia River Gorge over the past year, I was surprised to learn that “Warren” is not the surname of a local homesteader or early explorer.

Instead, it is the first name of an early Forest Service ranger, Warren “Barney” Cooper, whose own surname puts him among Mount Hood’s pioneering royalty: the remarkable Coopers of the Hood River Valley.

The David Rose Cooper Family

David Rose and Marion Cooper with their family in 1884. Barney Cooper is on the right (photo: A Complete History of Mount Hood)

Barney Cooper was part of a pioneer family that figures prominently in the history of the Hood River Valley. His father, David Rose Cooper, uprooted from Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1872 (where the Cooper family had lived for more than 300 years), and moved his wife Marian and their children to settle in America. After a trek across the country, David and Marion Cooper originally settled near Roseburg, in Southern Oregon. Here, they gave birth to several children, including Warren.

In 1882, the Coopers moved again to become some of the first white settlers in the upper Hood River Valley. David Rose Cooper was captivated by Mount Hood, and the idea of building a road to the foot of its enormous north side glaciers. In 1884, he teamed up with two local settlers, Henry Coe and Oscar Stranahan, to form the Mount Hood Trail and Wagon Company.

Under this venture, they built a trail to the mountain, completing work in 1886. The trail was quickly expanded to become a rough wagon road, and in 1888 opened as a 12-mile toll route. The new road led adventurers to the rocky crest on the shoulder of the mountain where the historic Cloud Cap Inn still stands today.

Cooper Spur was named for Warren’s father, David Rose Cooper

The legacy of these early pioneers lives on in our place names. A well-known Mount Hood adventurer from Portland, Dr. Thomas Lamb Eliot, spent time exploring the mountain with the men who built the first road, and named several prominent landmarks on the mountain in their honor: Cooper Spur for David Rose Cooper, Coe Glacier for Henry Coe and Stranahan Ridge and Falls for Oscar Stranahan.

With the new road in place, David Rose Cooper opened a “tent hotel” near today’s Tilly Jane camp in 1888, offering guide services where he led guests across the high country on Mount Hood’s northeast slopes. Marian Cooper and the couple’s younger children all helped in the tent hotel operation, including Warren Cooper, who was just 12 years old at the time. The oldest Cooper children stayed behind, tending the family farm in the valley below.

The Cooper tent hotel near Tilly Jane in 1888 – a young Warren Cooper is atop the horse in the center (photo: A Complete History of Mount Hood)

The modest tent hotel was short-lived. In 1889, a group of Portland investors had begun work on the Cloud Cap Inn, and purchased the Cooper toll road as part of forming a new Mount Hood Stage Company. The new lodge opened in August 1889, ushering in a new era of tourism on the mountain that continues to this day. The seed that started it all was the Cooper family’s tent hotel.

Barney Cooper and the Forest Service

Warren McCalley “Barney” Cooper was born in 1876 in the town of Wilbur, where the Cooper family first settled in Southern Oregon. Time spent on the slopes of Mount Hood after the family moved to the Hood River Valley had a lasting impression on Barney. During the 1890s, he became a forest ranger for the Cascade Forest Preserve, the huge federal holding that preceded formation of the U.S. Forest Service.

Warren M. “Barney” Cooper at Elk Meadows around 1915

Barney Cooper eventually served as the first district ranger for the Hood River Ranger District with the creation of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905. He served in this capacity for 15 years. During his tenure, the Mount Hood portion of the Cascade Forest Reserve was be set apart in 1908 to become the Oregon National Forest (and was later renamed the Mount Hood National Forest, in 1924).

There was no ranger station at the time, so Barney conducted Hood River Ranger District operations from his home near Parkdale. Duties were initially focused on protecting the forest from timber thieves and squatters, but soon shifted toward fire prevention. During this formative era, many of the familiar names we know in the Mount Hood area were placed on early maps by the first forest rangers, and many of the trails and roads we still use were planned and built.

A scene from the original route to Cloud Cap that David Rose Cooper conceived and built

In 1915, Barney led an expedition of state officials on a preliminary survey of the Mount Hood Loop Highway. Sam Lancaster’s Columbia River Highway was nearing completion in the Gorge, and there was great interest in completing a loop around the mountain. Barney led the group up Cold Spring Creek to Elk Meadows, then down to Hood River Meadows, bypassing the steep East Fork canyon — though the highway would eventually follow the more rugged canyon route.

Barney and Kate Cooper

When Barney Cooper was 28 years old, he married Catherine Elizabeth “Kate” Gribble, who had just turned 25 years old. They were wed on December 28, 1904 in Wasco County, east of Hood River.

In 1907, Barney and Kate lost their first child at birth, a daughter. In 1913, they gave birth to a second child, Wilbur David Cooper, who would live to be 97 years old. He died only recently, on October 28, 2010 in El Cerrito, California. Sadly, both Barney and Kate died in 1920, leaving young Wilbur Cooper an orphan at the age of seven. He was raised by the extended Cooper family living in the Hood River Valley.

Warren McCalley “Barney” Cooper

Barney Cooper’s cause of death is listed as “sleeping sickness”, which might seem odd today, given our familiarity with the tropical version of “sleeping sickness”. But from 1916 to 1926, another form of sleeping sickness — encephalitis lethargica — swept the globe in a widespread epidemic. Barney Cooper died in Portland on February 18, 1920.

Kate Cooper died just a week before Barney, on February 11, 1920. Kate died of “consumption”, or what we know today to be tuberculosis. Kate also died in Portland.

There’s no known history on the sequence of events that sent both Kate and Barney into a Portland hospital at the same time, but it must have been devastating for the extended Cooper family. They were in the prime of their lives, as Kate was just 41, and Barney 44 years old.

David Rose Cooper died shortly thereafter, in 1922, at the age of 77. Marion Cooper lived on for several years in the family homestead near Parkdale. She died at age of 89 in 1939, having experienced an amazing span of history during the course of her long life.

A visit to Upper Valley Cemetery

After researching the remarkable Cooper family history, I made a trip to the Upper Valley Cemetery near Parkdale a few weeks ago to visit the family’s gravesites. This quiet little cemetery is modest and unassuming, appropriately nestled between working apple orchards on all sides.

David Rose Cooper’s gravesite is located in the open center of the cemetery, and Marion Cooper’s grave is just a few feet away. Standing by their grave markers, Mount Hood rises to the south, and Bald Butte fills the skyline to the east.

Barney and Kate Cooper were laid to rest along the west edge of the cemetery, beneath the canopy of a huge Douglas fir and Port Orford cedar. A wood bench is located nearby, between the trees, facing the main part of the cemetery.

Gravesites of Barney, Kate and Baby Cooper

Barney’s grave marker is engraved with the U.S. Forest Service emblem – a forest ranger forever! Kate’s marker is a few feet away, and adorned with what seems to be a morning glory vine — her favorite flower, perhaps?

Between Barney and Kate lies their infant daughter, the first to be buried here in their shady family plot.


A Lasting Tribute?

Before he died at the age of 97 in 2010, Wilbur Cooper had survived his wife of 73 years, Juanita, and one of their twin daughters, Leslie. According to published accounts, he is survived by his daughters Rosemarie and Carrolyn, son-in-law Jon, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

My hope is to somehow contact his surviving family so that they might learn about my efforts to restore Warren Falls on Warren Creek — places named for a grandfather they never met. This effort is complicated by the fact that Wilbur Cooper had no sons, and thus the Cooper surname may not have carried forward in his branch of the family.

A fitting tribute to Barney Cooper?

Learning a bit more about Warren “Barney” Cooper in researching this article further inspires me in restoring Warren Falls. It would be a fitting tribute to his contributions as one of Mount Hood’s first rangers.

I’m also hopeful his surviving descendents might be able to shed more light on Warren Falls and Warren Creek — and on Barney Coopers life in the woods. If you know someone in the Cooper family who might be able to help me in that effort, please forward this article to them.

For more family history on Barney and Wilbur Cooper:

L.J. Cooper’s Recollections of Barney Cooper (PDF)

Wilbur Cooper’s 2010 obituary (PDF)

As always, Jack Grauer’s “Complete History of Mount Hood” (first edition) was invaluable in putting this article together.

The author on Cooper Spur in September 2012

Money Plant

Spring brings a stunning array of wildflowers to the Columbia River Gorge, and one of the most striking is the Money Plant (Lunaria annua), also known commonly as Silver Dollar Plant and Honesty. Its botanical name “lunaria” refers to its moon-shaped seed pods. But it turns out that Money Plant isn’t really a native — more about that in a moment.

This beautiful species produces lush purple, lilac and white blossoms on tall stalks in spring. But it is the namesake “silver dollar” seed pods — known as a “silique” — in fall and winter that are most familiar to us.

Money Plant typically grows in scattered roadside drifts, and can be found along the western sections of the Historic Columbia River Highway where it favors sites with rich soils and filtered sunlight.

Typical Money Plant coming into bloom in its second year

Money Plant is a biennial, which means it takes two years to complete its lifecycle from germination to flowering and seed production.

In its first year the Money Plant sprouts from seeds in early spring, and over the course of summer develops leaves, stems, and roots substantial enough to survive the subsequent winter, when the plant becomes dormant.

In its second year, the Money Plant emerges from dormancy and “bolts” to produce tall flowering stems by late spring. The blossoms open from the bottom of the emerging stalk, and proceed to bloom at the growing tip of the flower stem, even as the earliest flowers have transformed into green, developing seed pods.

Money Plants blooms come in purple, lilac …and white

By early summer, most of the blooms have dropped, and the flower stalks have transformed into a bouquet of flat, green discs. These are the pods, or “siliques”, that hold developing seeds, and will soon mature to become the more familiar “silver dollars”.

Middle stage: green “dollars” forming along the flower stalk

“Dollars” are already forming on this plant, even as the tip of each flower stalk continues to bloom

Close-up view of the young seed pods shows the tiny dots that will mature into pea-sized seeds

By late summer of their second year, Money Plants have put all of their energy into producing viable seeds, whereupon the plant dies and turns a tawny brown as it dries.

Finally, the outer skin of each seed pod shrinks enough to become brittle, eventually popping off to release the seeds. Two to four flat, kidney-shaped seeds adhere to the pair of outer skins, allowing them to carried a short distance from the mother plant in the first fall storms, with the skin serving as a mini-sail.

Mature seeds still attached to the mother plant

Some of the seeds have fallen from these pods, revealing the first few “silver dollars”

Close view of the two outer skins of a silique and the shiny inner membrane “dollar”

Once the outer skins are shed from the seed pods, the Money Plant takes on its most familiar form. Each pod has an iridescent central membrane that dries to form the “silver dollar” that is reveled when the outer skins and seeds have been shed. These “dollars” remain on the plant through the winter and beyond, and even have commercial value as floral material.

Money Plant at the end of its lifecycle, with all of its seeds shed, leaving only a skeleton of the plant (source: Wikimedia)

Surprisingly… not native!

As non-natives go, Money Plant looks right at home among the native wildflowers of the Columbia Gorge. The plants are attractive, aren’t particularly aggressive and tend form only scattered small drifts among our native species.

It’s no secret how Money Plant naturalized: you can find Money Plant sold as a garden ornamental around the world, as the appeal of the plant is universal: showy flowers, attracts butterflies, valued for its dried form and easily grown from seed.

In a garden center near you?

Thus, this native to the Balkans of Southeastern Europe has since naturalized throughout the world – including our own Columbia River Gorge.

The following map shows Money Plant naturalizing in pretty much every temperate state, but notably where winters are cool enough to trigger its biennial growth stages:

Source: USDA

In Oregon, the plant is listed as “moderately invasive” by numerous public land agencies and native plant organizations, though not on the “100 Worst List” of noxious species targeted by the State of Oregon for eradication.

Meanwhile, Money Plant seeds have found a new niche as a promotional gimmick, with marketers selling customized seed packets — most often for financial institutions, but also for other organizations.

It is therefore unlikely that Money Plant will ever be eradicated from Oregon — but also doesn’t seem to be a destructive invader. It thrives among native plants, but doesn’t seem to smother them. Compared to other, more aggressive invaders, Money Plant seems more “naturalized” than “invasive”.

Should you grow Money Plant?

So, now you’re feeling guilty about those Money Plant seeds you collected to plant in your garden, right? Clearly, millions of Americans have done the same — or simply purchased a pack of seeds at their local garden center (or received a pack from their bank – as I recently did).

Once planted, Money Plant is also very good at propagating itself in your garden – just as it does on roadsides. So, for most gardeners, that’s a benefit since the plant is a biennial and must be replanted annually, though that is also what makes the plant invasive.

Who wouldn’t want this flower in their garden..?

So, is it okay to grow an “invasive” species..? Generally, the answer is “no”. But here’s a responsible way to grow Money Plant in your garden: simply cut the drying seed stalks (whether from your own garden, or collected in the wild) as they’re beginning to turn yellow, but before they’ve become brittle enough to release seeds. This prevents the seeds from scattering on their own, potentially beyond your garden.

Next, hang the cut plants in a garage or basement to completely dry. Once dried, you can shake the outer silique skins (and seeds) from the plants into a paper bag, and use the shiny inner “silver dollars” that remain on the stems for decoration. This allows you to collect and sow the seeds you harvest where you can keep an eye on the plants, and carefully control where the seeds go.

If you’ve collected your seeds in the wild, then you get bonus points: in addition to having some beautiful flowers in your garden, you’ve also done your part to keep the naturalized population in check, as well. That should go a long way in easing your guilt..!