Garryaceae (silktassel family) Garrya

Garrya elliptica coast silktassel

Coast Ranges
Garrya elliptica. From Forest Trees of the Pacific Slope, George B. Sudworth, USDA, 1907

Native in the immediate neighborhood, for example at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, silktassel is a desirable shrub or small tree that should be planted more freely. The tassels are clusters of catkins many inches long that festoon the plants in winter. Male and female kinds can be distinguished, on separate plants, the male strings being longer. Both kinds are constructed as strings of bells. White woolly berries with bitter purple juice ripen in summer. The oval leaves are about 2 inches long, have wavy edges, are green on top and woolly underneath. Silktassel was collected in Oregon and published in 1834 by David Douglas (of Douglas fir fame) and has been grown in England ever since.

See it on Lomita Drive at the edge of the New Guinea Garden across from Harmony House and in the stairwell to the lower level of Mitchell Earth Sciences, on the side facing Panama Mall. A shrubby bush is on the west side of Kingscote Garden, in the ivy above the lawn. Another specimen is at the berm on Santa Teresa Street near Governor’s Avenue, along with California natives Frangula californica, Carpenteria californica, and Fremontodendron californicum.

Silktassel is worthy of respect as an ancient member of one of only four plant families not found outside North America, a circumstance probably connected with the Chicxulub meteorite of 65 million years ago.

Illustrations: Jasper Ridge photo archive.

Name derivation: Garrya – named for Nicholas Garry of the Hudson’s Bay Company who was an assistant of David Douglas in his explorations of the Pacific Northwest; elliptica – elliptical, about twice as long as wide. From California Plant Names.

About this Entry: The main text of this entry is from the book Trees of Stanford and Environs, by Ronald Bracewell, published 2005. John Rawlings added the Kingscote location and the note on other California natives ca. 2005. Minor edits Jan 2018 (SP).