Pacific Northwest Native Plant Profile: Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus)

Aruncus dioicus (goatsbeard)

I finally managed to take out a very large hosta plant in my front yard. I really hate removing healthy noninvasive plants, however nonnative they may be (especially when they’re pretty), but we all know that “pretty is as pretty does,” right? Originating in northeast Asia, it really had no function here other than looking nice with those ultra-inflated leaves. I don’t think I’d ever seen even a honeybee on it’s blossoms, let alone a native bee. Plus, it was overpowering a fern that belongs in this neck o’ the woods.

In its place now is a goat’s beard plant (Aruncus dioicus) that had volunteered in the back yard, courtesy its frisky goat’s beard parents. Also known as “bride’s feathers,” it is not only eye-catching, but has ecological function that hostas can only dream about. It also fits well into the shade-loving native spread near the north side of my house, sharing space with a surprisingly robust western maidenhair fern (Adiantum aleuticum), evergreen huckleberries (Vaccinium ovatum), another goat’s beard, sword ferns (Polystichum munitum), and native ground cover that includes wild ginger (Asarum caudatum) and inside-out flower (Vancouveria hexandra), all of which can be found growing with goat’s beard in nature.

Aruncus dioicus foliageWith compound, pointy, toothed leaves that have a texture all their own, the plant is particularly fetching in spring when leaves are new. In early to mid-summer, the main show begins when tall, feathery plumes composed of tiny, creamy-white flowers rise above the foliage. Male plants are more spectacular in flower than female, but regardless of gender, it offers a lovely presence in shaded to partly-shaded borders, under tall trees, or as a deciduous screen or short hedge.

Wildlife value
Goat’s beard attracts quite a few insect species, including native bees, syrphid flies, teeny tiny beetles that I don’t know the name of, and—if you’re lucky—mourning cloak butterflies (your odds will increase if you already grow their host plants, which include native willow, birch, hawthorn, wild rose). Small birds may eat the seeds, so leave the spent flowers to overwinter.

Try it at home
Found in most of western Washington, Oregon, and northern California, goat’s beard naturally occurs along streams and in moist meadows and forests, but also sometimes in disturbed areas such as roadsides. As such, it likes moist, rich soil (add compost and allow nature’s mulch—fallen leaves—to remain on soil). Although it does best with at least a half day of shade, it can be grown in nearly full sun in cool, northerly locations. Goat’s beard eventually will form a large clump, 3 to 6 feet tall and as wide, so space plants four to five feet apart. Grow it with associates (those that naturally grow together and depend on each other), including Douglas-fir, western hemlock, western red cedar, vine maple, deer fern, maidenhair fern, inside-out flower, and western trillium. Enjoy!

 

© 2016 Eileen M. Stark

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2 thoughts on Pacific Northwest Native Plant Profile: Goat’s beard (Aruncus dioicus)

  1. The leaves look delicate, but would deer be a problem? It would be so lovely in my wooded garden but yikes, the deer are pesky.

    Reply
    1. Betty, according to my resources the leaves may be browse for deer and elk. I ran your concern by a friend who is writing a book on humane gardening and has done some research on this, and she mentioned that “the more you plant, the less you even care about the nibbling, and the less you even notice at a certain point.” If you have some open space, you might consider growing plants strictly for wildlife like deer … they might stay away from the plants you don’t want nibbled on.

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