Prairie plants for home gardens on the Quimper Peninsula

By Kathy Darrow
Posted 4/10/24


April 2024 marks the 20th year that Washington State has continued a resolution recognizing the many values and benefits of native plants. What started as a week in 2004 has expanded to a …

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Prairie plants for home gardens on the Quimper Peninsula



April 2024 marks the 20th year that Washington State has continued a resolution recognizing the many values and benefits of native plants. What started as a week in 2004 has expanded to a month since 2021, when the governor first signed a resolution declaring April as Native Plant Appreciation Month (NPAM). 

This year’s NPAM theme is Prairie Preservation, promoting conservation and education about the remaining fragments of wild prairie. Across North America, prairies are some of the most endangered ecosystems. In Washington, less than 10% of prairie lands that existed prior to European colonization remain.

There are two broad categories of prairie in Washington: the Palouse prairie and Westside prairies. The Palouse are those found on the east side of the Cascade Mountains in the Columbia Basin. These prairies have largely been replaced by wheat fields and other commercial crops. Westside prairies are found south and west of the Cascade Mountains, mostly in South Puget Sound. All of these areas are classified as “critically imperiled” due to continuing encroachment of urban and agricultural development. Conserving our prairie lands requires that we limit human activities within and around them to prevent continued fragmentation and loss of these environmentally-sensitive ecosystems.

In east Jefferson County, we are extremely fortunate to have two remaining prairie fragments on public lands. One is located at Marrowstone Point in Fort Flagler State Park. This is a coastal wetland prairie, and is frequently flooded by high tides and winter storms. In early spring, showy patches of bright pink sea blush are the first to bloom, followed by fritillaries, purple larkspur, and two kinds of biscuitroot, all in a matrix of grasses and sedges. 

The other is the Kah Tai Prairie Preserve, a less than two-acre patch of upland prairie located within the Port Townsend Golf Park that is managed jointly by the City Parks & Recreation Department and Washington Native Plant Society (WNPS). The Preserve features blue camas, which is closely related to asparagus. The bulbs of camas are highly valued by indigenous people of the area, who have tended native prairies for thousands of years for this important food source.

Because of the importance of camas and other native plants growing at Kah Tai Prairie, this grassland is recognized as an area of cultural significance. An interpretive sign explaining the cultural history of Kah Tai Prairie, as well as another at the nearby statue of čičməhán (pronounced cheech-ma-han), aka Chief Chetzemoka, are testimony to the importance of the golf park landscape, which was part of an extensive camas prairie that stretched across the Quimper Peninsula prior to the 1850s.

Today, introduced plant species and development pressures continue to threaten this ecosystem. Fortunately, new management plans by Friends of the Port Townsend Golf Park aim to restore native plant communities along the course, using sustainable maintenance practices that reduce the need for water, herbicides, and mowing.

With regard to gardening, the Garden Club of America (GCA) encourages “private and public landowners to increase the size of existing native habitats and replace lawn areas with native plant ecosystems.” While it might be difficult for home gardeners to re-create a fully functioning prairie in their yard, there are many prairie species that could be included in an ornamental or food garden.

Whatever your gardening ambitions, WNPS and GCA discourage collecting from the wild, where roots and seeds of native plants are necessary to continue their role in a healthy undeveloped ecosystem. However, if there is permission to salvage native plants due to impending development, this is ethically congruent with a conservation mission to preserve and protect the remaining wild places and their flora. Otherwise, it is best to purchase from garden clubs and nurseries that propagate natives professionally, or trade seeds and cuttings with other native plant gardeners.

Join Jefferson County Master Gardener Foundation on Thursday, April 11 at 3 p.m. for “The Natural History of Olympic Prairies” at WSU Extension classroom, Kively Center, 97 Oak Bay Rd, Port Hadlock. This presentation is free and open to the public.

WNPS Olympic Chapter is offering a guided tour of Kah Tai Prairie Preserve on Friday, April 12 from 10 to noon with botanists Dixie Llewellin and Fayla Schwartz. Meet at the Preserve sign in Port Townsend Golf Course parking lot. Space is limited. Register at least a day ahead at