Plant of the day: coast silktassle

A strand of fuzzy beads dangles from what looks like a little live-oak tree. These are seeds that grew from the long flowers that bloomed last winter–the male and female flowers cascade in long decorative cascades when in bloom. This is a coast silktassle, or Garrya elliptica. The leaves are leathery and green, with rippled edges. It’s found growing near the coast in California and Oregon. Even though it superficially looks like an oak, the two groups aren’t at all closely related. The silktassle species are in the Garryaceae family, while oaks are in the Fabaceae.

Silktassle is also known as quinine bush, as early settlers used the bitter bark and leaves as a substitute for quinine. The berries were also used to make a grey or black dye. But besides these few tidbits, there is very little information about the medicinal uses of this interesting tree.

Look for wavy, inrolled leaf margins with a dense white fuzz on the underside of the leaf to tell this plant from other species of silktassle. It’s also the one most likely to be seen near the coast.

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