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ECU Native Plants Guide

This LibGuide is intended to accompany the ECU Library + Archives project to identify the plants in the garden in front of the Library. This guide includes, as available, the native and non-native plants' names in the languages spoken by the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh nations, on whose unceded territories ECU is situated, English, and Latin. In addition, the project seeks to provide information the plants' ecology and uses based on Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge. This page reproduces the information found on the signs in the Library and the project's bibliography. The gallery includes photographs of both native and non-native plants in various stages of life. 

Native Plants

Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Name: Séliy̓ay̓ (bush) or sələy, sənəy (‘lowbush Oregon Grape’) 

hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm̓ Name: səniʔ (fruit), səniʔəɬp (bush) 

English Name: Dull Oregon grape 

Latin Name: Mahonia nervosa 


Description & Ecology

A low shrub with leathery, holly-like leaves, dull Oregon grape has yellowish bark and flowers and small dusty blue berries. Oregon grape is found in low to mid elevations, under open and closed forests, from southern B.C. west of the Cascade mountains down to Oregon. The shrubs’ berries are enjoyed by mammals and birds such as robins and waxwings, while flowers provide for pollinators like bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. 


Plant Technology & Uses: 

Although sour, coastal First Nations would sometimes eat the berries raw, or mix them with sweeter berries and leave them to dry. Today they are more often used for jellies and jams. The bark and berries of Oregon grapes have been used medicinally to treat liver, gallbladder and eye issues. Meanwhile, roots can be made into a bitter tea to help with digestive issues. Shredded Oregon grape bark can also be used to make a bright yellow dye used in basketry.   

Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Name: Tsx̱álem or Pálapála 

hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm̓ Name: sθχeləm 

English Name:  Sword fern 

Latin Name: Polystichum munitum 


Description & Ecology

Sword fern is a perennial evergreen with fronds that arch up from a large woody rhizome. Each frond features a series of dry, scaly, lance-shaped leaves. Sword ferns are common in the moist, rich, lowland coastal forests west of the Cascade Mountains. Butterflies and other smaller wildlife find shelter amongst sword fern fronds, while larger animals such as elk, deer, bears, and beaver forage on them for sustenance. Sword ferns also have beneficial relationships with other flora such as Oregon grape, salal, and vine maple. 


Plant Technology & Uses

Fern fronds were traditionally used as a protective layer in pit ovens, in food storage boxes, and for drying berries. They were also used as flooring and bedding and were sometimes woven into mats. The children of various coastal nations, including the Squamish, played a game with sword ferns called Pálapála. Children would see how many leaflets (or ‘pinnae’) they could pull off, calling ‘pála’ for each leaf, while holding their breath.   

During times of famine, some nations, including the Squamish, dug up sword fern rhizomes, roasted them, steamed them, and peeled them before eating. Although sword ferns have tightly coiled crosiers, they are not the fiddleheads typically found in spring markets. Those fiddleheads come from ostrich ferns which are found near the banks of major B.C. rivers. 

Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Name: t'áḵa7 (fruit), t'áḵa7áy̓ (bush) 

hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm̓ Name: t̕eqeʔ (fruit), t̕eqeʔəɬp (bush) 

English Name: Salal 

Latin Name: Gaultheria shallon 


Description & Ecology: 

Salal is an evergreen shrub with thick, leathery egg-shaped leaves, small pinkish white flowers, and dark purple-blue berries. Salal is abundant in coniferous forests, rocky bluffs, seashores, and bogs west of the Cascades; they grow at low to medium elevations and sometimes form large thickets. Birds and other animals, including bears, eat salal berries, while deer and elk eat the bush’s twigs. Salal also provides protection for smaller animals and bedding for elk and deer. 


Plant Technology & Uses: 

A staple amongst coastal First Nations, salal berries are picked in late summer and can be eaten fresh or dried and made into cakes. Traditionally, salal berries were mixed with other berries such as elderberries and currants, then traded or sold. The Haida thickened salmon eggs with salal berries, while they were also used for sweetening other foods. Today, they are often used in jams and preserves.  

The leafy branches of salal were used in pit cooks to protect food from direct heat and soil while adding flavour to the dish. Fresh salal leaves are high in vitamin C and can be chewed to suppress hunger. And if you are looking for a natural moisturizer, rub fresh salal flower buds together and apply them to your skin! 

Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Name: T’eḵt’ḵáy̓ 

hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm̓ Name: Sic̓əɬp 

English Name: Vine maple 

Latin Name: Acer circinatum 


Description & Ecology

Vine maple is a small deciduous shrub or tree featuring leaves with 7-9 lobes which turn from green to scarlet red in autumn. They produce a winged seed and small white clusters of flowers.  Vine maple can be found in moist to wet regions, often in partial sun near the edges of forests and streams, and generally grows at subalpine elevations on the southern coast west of the mountains. 


Plant Technology & Uses: 

Because of its strength and flexibility, vine maple has many uses. Traditionally, it was used by various coastal nations for snowshoes, drum hoops, spoons, dishes, fish tongs, implement handles, fish traps, large carrying baskets, knitting needles, bows, arrows, slat-armour vests, and baby basket frames.In Luschiim’s Plants, Nancy Turner quotes Cowichan Tribe elder and botanical expert Dr. Luschiim Arvid Charlie as saying of the vine maple:  

“[it] likes its toes pretty damp …it is springy, so it’s used for items you want [to be] springy … There’s several things that require something springy …and one of them is … a hanging baby cradle … you have a cord attached to it …[to] your foot …and mothers moving it …Hanging, eh? …When you’re working, every once in a while you move it, if you need to…yeah…” (p. 86)


Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Name:  p’ep’elq’máchxw or p’ep’elq’em (‘shimmering leaves’) 

Halkomelem (Upriver Dialect):  t’thəxtíyəłp (‘rattlesnake plant’)

Hul’q’umi’num (Island Dialect): Qw’iiqw’i’yul’ushulhp (‘little dancing tree’) 

English Name: Trembling aspen 

Latin Name: Populus tremuloides 


Description & Ecology: 

Trembling or quaking aspen is a slender deciduous tree with whitish bark and pointed, egg-shaped leaves which turn golden yellow in autumn. The tree’s flat, vertical leaf stocks make it shake in even very mild breezes. Male and female varieties both produce flowers which grow in catkins while seeds are dispersed in the wind. Aspens also reproduce vegetatively through their root systems and form contiguous forest stands. 

Trembling aspens grow in meadows, mixed coniferous forests, ravines, and ridges throughout B.C., but only grow sporadically on the southwest coast and Vancouver Island, and do not grow on Haida Gwaii. They grow from near sea level to montane zones in clay-rich soil and improve humus with their litterfall. Moose, deer, and elk find shade in aspen groves and consume the bark of the tree, while ruffed grouse also rely on the tree for food and nesting. 


Plant Technology & Uses: 

The whitish wood of trembling aspen is soft, brittle, and not durable. Traditionally, coastal First Nations used aspen for a variety of purposes including canoes, scraping implements, whistles, tent poles, drying racks, saddles and as fuel for fires. The Carrier Sekani First Nations used rotted aspen to line baby cradles and diapers while the Nlaka’pamux cleaned guns, traps, buckskins and their bodies in a solution made from boiled aspen, which is said to remove odours.  

Quaking aspen and cottonwood were used as weather indicators by First Nations such as the Okanagan. If the leaves were shaking when there was no perceptible wind, it indicated that a storm was coming. According to Cowichan Tribe elder and botanical expert Dr. Luschiim Arvid Charlie in Luschiim's Plants, this type of observation was traditionally important for survival: 

"One of the things that’s kind of missing, we’ve lost in this fast world, is we’ve lost the ability to be observant, [see] everything that’s going on. In the past it was, part of it, was a matter of survival. So you watched the weather, the clouds, the wind, the way the birds behaved, how they sound, what kind of talk they were doing. The way the grass is standing or not standing. You put all of these together, you had to be observant, so you know what the weather’s going to be like a few days from now. So you know if it’s safe to go across the water, four days from now. You plan accordingly, you hunt accordingly, you harvest accordingly. (January 23, 2011)" (p. 107-108)


A Note on Coastal First Nations Languages:  

hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm̓ language resources are scarce, as are speakers of the language, and we were unable to find a hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm translation of trembling aspen. So, if you, or someone you know, happens to know the hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm name for trembling aspen, please let us know! 

hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm̓ is the downriver dialect of Halkomelem¹, spoken by the Musqueam, Tsawwassen, Tsleil-Waututh, and other coastal First Nations. The other two languages in the Halkomelem family are Halq’eméylem, or upriver dialect, spoken by the Stó:lō Nation, and the island dialect, Hul'qumi'num, or ‘Cowichan’ spoken by several separate but related Nations on the east coast of Vancouver Island.² The other language spoken by our host nations is Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, spoken by the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh, or Squamish peoples. 

Language is a vital part of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit cultures, and, indeed, all Indigenous cultures. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) recognizes the importance for Indigenous peoples to provide education in their own languages, and for revitalizing their languages and “designat[ing] and retain[ing] their own names for communities, places and persons” (United Nations, Articles 13 and 14). Languages preserve cultural ways of knowing, including ecological knowledge, knowledge of place and worldview, as well as cultural traditions such as oral storytelling.  

Turtle Island, and particularly so-called British Columbia, hosts a rich variety of Indigenous languages. However, these languages are only spoken by a small percentage of the population. Every year we lose more of this vital cultural knowledge, largely due to colonial state policies.³

In recent years, important efforts have been made to revitalize Indigenous languages. This includes work done by Indigenous nations, including the Stó:lō and Cowichan nations; organizations such as First Voice and the First People’s Cultural Council; and universities such as the University of Victoria and the University of British Columbia.4



  1. The word Halkomelem is an anglicization of Hul'qumi'num


Dull Oregon grape

Dull Oregon grape leaves and berries

Image courtesy of brewbooks from near Seattle, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Oregon grape

Oregon grape in the autumn at Emily Carr University 

Image courtesy of Julie Andreyev

Sword ferns on Mt. Rainier

Chris Light, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Sword fern in the autumn at Emily Carr University 

Image courtesy of Julie Andreyev

Salal with flowers

Salal with flowers

Image courtesy of Walter Siegmund, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Vine maple with flowers

Vine maple with flowers

Image courtesy of waferboard, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons 

Vine maple

Vine maple in the autumn at Emily Carr University 

Image courtesy of Julie Andreyev

Trembling aspen leaves

Image courtesy of Jason Hollinger, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Trembling aspen

Trembling aspen in the autumn at Emily Carr University

Image courtesy of Julie Andreyev

Serbian spruce

Image courtesy of Adamantios, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons  

Non-Native Plants

Serbian name: Панчићева оморика (Pančićeva omorika)

English Name: Serbian spruce or Pančić spruce

Latin Name: Picea omorika 


Description & Ecology: 

Serbian spruce is a non-native coniferous tree originating in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in Eastern Europe. Serbian spruce grow to about 50 m tall and 1 m in diameter, are usually conical in shape, and have a shallow, branched root system. Their cones are typically around 3 cm long but can be as long as 6.5 cm. Each cone contains up to 90 spherical seed scales which themselves contain two seeds. These seeds are dispersed by the wind. 

The natural habitat of Serbian spruce is limited to isolated pockets of mountainous, sloped terrain in Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they thrive at altitudes of between 800 and 1,500 m. Because of their shallow root systems, Serbian spruce can also grow in poorly aerated soil, like that found in peat bogs and some urban landscapes. Serbian spruce is also a favourite of city landscapers because of its tolerance of pollution and pests. 


Plant Technology & Uses: 

In Eastern Europe, Serbian spruce was traditionally known as a quality material for technical woodworking and was used for items like specialized cheese pots. It was also used for roof construction in buildings. Today, Serbian spruce is mostly valued for aesthetic reasons in urban landscaping, and unfortunately, its numbers are declining due to fires over the last century as well as poor natural regeneration. 


Non-Native and Invasive Species:

Serbian spruce is an example of a non-native species. Non-native species are flora and fauna that are introduced from other areas of the world, but do not pose a threat to native species. In fact, some introduced species, such as honey bees, benefit native species.  

However, other non-native species are considered invasive, meaning they negatively impact the environment, people, and/or the economy. Examples of invasive species include: Scotch broom; foxglove; ox-eye daisy; holly; and English ivy, which spreads in forest undergrowth and chokes out native biodiversity.  

Invasive species should be treated seriously and new invasive species, such as the Japanese beetle and the northern giant hornet, should be reported. For more information, please visit the Invasive Species Council of BC website


Charlie, Luschiim Arvid, and Nancy J. Turner. Luschiim’s Plants: Traditional Indigenous Foods, Materials and Medicines. Harbour Publishing, 2021. 

Duncan, Rebecca (translator). “Indigenous Plant Guide: sḵwx̱wú7mesh sníchim.” Museum of Vancouver. Accessed May-July 2023. 

George-Wilson, Kalila. “Indigenous Plant Guide: hǝn̓q̓ǝmin̓ǝm.” Museum of Vancouver. Accessed May-July 2023. 

First Peoples’ Cultural Council. Report on the Status of B.C. First Nations Languages. Fourth edition. First Peoples’ Cultural Council, 2022. Accessed August 2023. 

Klinkenberg, Brian “E-Flora BC: Electronic Atlas of the Flora of British Columbia.” E-Flora BC. Accessed May-July 2023. 

Kwantlen Polytechnic University “KPU School of Horticulture Plant Database.” Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Accessed May-July 2023. 

McMullen, Jen, John Bradley Williams, and Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities Indigenous Food Network. Pacific Northwest Plant Knowledge Cards. Strong Nations Publishing Inc., 2018.  

National Wildlife Federation. “Quaking Aspen”. The National Wildlife Federation Accessed May-July 2023 

Pojar, Jim and A. Mackinnon. Plants of Coastal British Columbia: Including Washington, Oregon & Alaska. Lone Pine Publishing, 2016. 

Sierra Club of BC. “Salal: Gaultheria shallon.” Sierra Club of BC. Accessed May-July 2023 

Stark, Eileen. “Pacific Northwest Native Plant Profile: Oregon Grape (Mahonia species).” Real Gardens Grow Natives: Design, Plant & Enjoy a Healthy Northwest Garden. Accessed May 2023. 

Turner, Nancy J. Food Plants of Coast First Peoples. Royal BC Museum, 2006. 

Turner, Nancy J. Plant Technology of the First Peoples in British Columbia. Royal BC Museum, 2007. 

Turner, Nancy J. “Appendix 2B. Names of Native Plant Species in Indigenous Languages of Northwestern North America.” Ancient Pathways: Ethnobotany and Ecological Wisdom of Indigenous Peoples of Northwestern North America.  Accessed July 2023 

United Nations. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. United Nations, 2007. Accessed August 2023.

University of Victoria. “Plant Profiles: Ethnobotany.” UVic Map Shop: A Community-University Mapping Initiative. Accessed May-July 2023.       604-844-3840        520 East 1st Avenue, Vancouver, BC