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The Holy Grail of plants: A guide to identifying shrubs

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Posted: Monday, November 25, 2013 10:18 pm

OSU forestry professor publishes new ‘bible’ on Pacific Northwest shrubs

If shrubs didn’t exist in the Pacific Northwest, there wouldn’t be any forests. Shrubs supply plant life with cover from the sun and can limit erosion along streams and steep slopes.

Most importantly, shrubs provide nitrogen, which is an essential nutrient for trees and other plant life.

“Shrubs are essential to understanding our relationship to the environment surrounding us and fundamentally learning how forests work,” said Ed Jensen, a professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. “Shrubs offer many values and perform lots of services throughout the ecosystem.”

Jensen has just published a 145-page guide, “Shrubs to Know in the Pacific Northwest Forests.”

Jensen also wrote the book, “Trees to Know in Oregon.” Both books were published in collaboration with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

“Shrubs to Know,” contains a carefully crafted step-by-step identification chart.

Jensen, a skilled nature photographer, trekked through vast terrains of the Pacific Northwest in order to capture every shrub within all of its stages of growth.

Even with help from OSU Extension Service staff, the guidebook took nearly five years to complete.

Jensen introduced his new identification key within the book to his tree and shrub class.

Carrie Black, post-baccalaureate student in forestry and a teaching assistant for Jensen’s class, was recruited to go into the field to “key-out” the different shrubs to make sure the key worked for someone who was not an expert in shrub identification.

“When you know a lot of a subject, it’s really hard to take an objective view on it,” Black said. “This is where I was able to contribute the most. I knew some terminology, but not everything.”

Student input proved to be helpful for the key’s success.

The result was a successful field tool that allows a person to identity many species of shrubs, despite his or her shrub-identification level.

“I’ll definitely take it along with me whenever I go out on my hikes,” Black said.

Black said most people she interacts with on campus are not aware of the plants around them.

By pointing out a couple of common shrubs, Black said people find it easier to identify more with their surroundings.

“Pointing out a couple of shrubs really goes a long way,” Black said.

Black is particularly taken with shrubs because there are so many and they vary drastically depending on where they are located. Particular species of shrubs can be indicative of exact locations in the state.

Plus, shrubs always have all the fun fruits, according to Black.

“Huckleberries are one of my favorites, along with the blackberries and salmon berries — they’re delicious,” Black said. “It’s good to know which ones are edible and which ones are going to kill you.”

Dacotah-Victoria Splichalova

Science reporter

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