One of the first plants to recolonize after a forest fire is pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea). This perennial is usually considered a mountain plant and can be found in open timber, open meadows and on rocky flats and slopes in North America, Europe and Asia. I photographed these specimens along a section of the North Umpqua Trail (Oregon) that was ravaged by a wildfire a few years ago. Once established, the creeping root stocks of pearly everlasting spread rapidly, creating dense clumps of plants in burned areas.
Lanceolate leaves with a conspicuous midvein alternate on wooly stems which usually grow one or two feet in height. The leaves are green on the upper surface and wooly white below. The whitish wooly leaves and stems often make pearly everlasting appear gray or silver. As the plant matures the leaves toward the bottom of the stem die back.
I love the flowers! The flower heads are arranged in tight, round-topped clusters. The individual “flowers” are actually composite with a yellow center composed of tightly packed tubular flowers surrounded by numerous rows of overlapping bracts. The pearly white bracts resemble petals and have a papery texture. In young “flowers” the central yellow portion is not obvious but as the flower matures the bracts spread and the center enlarges becoming more obvious. The plant retains its color and shape when dry so pearly everlasting is often used for dry bouquets and other floral decorations.
Pearly everlasting is not considered edible. Native Americans would rub the plant on their hands to soften them. An infusion of the entire pearly everlasting plant was used as a wash for external wounds while a tea made from the flowers was employed to treat asthma. Today herbalists recognize pearly everlasting for its antihistamine and mild sedative properties.
Pearly everlasting is related to and resembles the edelweiss of the European Alps. Its species name, margaritacea, means “pearly” and refers to the color of the flowers. The fact that its flowers retain their shape when dry gives rise to the common name.