A Field Guide to Pistils Nursery in Portland

Pistil's Nursery on N. Mississippi takes greenery and makes art out of it.

Pistil’s Nursery on N. Mississippi takes greenery and makes it art.

airstreamI’m not a plant person, but I’m definitely married to one. We have over 100 bonsai in our backyard and a growing collection of wee trees, as well as the most insane slow-growing rainbow of a succulent collection.

So while on assignment this week in Portland for AAA Via, and with my anniversary looming (in a good way), I thought I’d explore an uncommon garden store:  Pistils Nursery on N. Mississippi.

If you adore plants, you’ll find a welcome home here, but even if you’re not that into greenery you might discover that Pistils is really about living art — finding the inventive ways to incorporate plants into your lifestyle whether you’re a great friend of fronds or really have some black thumbs.

The store definitely has that curated curiosity vibe that makes shopping in Portland so fun in general, but I think it does especially well at finding creative solutions for people who live in cold, gloomy places (ahem, Oregon) or in apartments that don’t get that much dependable sunlight. Succulent displays, vertical solutions for small spaces and leafy green tropical foliage if you’re wild at heart — the options are many.

Tiny Cacti

Take for example these tiny cacti. Adorable. Left alone to grow and watered but barely, they might be the funniest houseplant gift I’ve seen. I could see this being a really sweet gift for someone who has migrated from the southwest and is homesick or just can’t care for anything that needs high maintenance. It might also be a good breakup gift.

Tiny cacti might be the perfect gift for black-thumbed friends with a sense of humor.

Tiny cacti might be the perfect gift for black-thumbed friends with a sense of humor.

Build-your-own Terrarium Bar

In the middle of the store you’ll find an old Chinese medicine chest filled with various types of pebbles, sand, larger rocks and other materials for setting the stage of a terrarium. You pay by the scoopful and can choose a vessel (I’m a fan of the hexagons) from a wall, everything from slim glass containers to fishbowls to apothecary jars. You also have your choice of perfect terrarium plants, all of them priced individually. The Pistil’s staff can help you pick the right plants for your tiny world.

At the terrarium bar, the world is your, um, tiny enclosed dome you control mwah ha ha.

At the terrarium bar, the world is your, um, tiny enclosed dome you control mwah ha ha.

The wall of vessels 

The wall of vessels, which I’ve only partially captured here, shows you a range of options for your container. Below a row of air plants add to options for low-maintainance terrariums.

Terrarium choices abound.

Just a small selection of the terrarium choices.

Self-care wall

Pistil’s also carries a fine wall of self-care items — salves, lip balms, lotions, washes, soaps and the like. Most of them are by local or regional makers, though there are a few from farther afield like San Diego and one from South Africa.

Tropical plants for indoor living.

The self care stock includes some of the city’s best small makers.

Portland Apothecary

There’s a special focus in the self-care sectionon Portland Apothecary, whose founder is a former employee of the store. Portland Apothecary is interesting because it combines traditional herbal medicine with self care (think soaps, lotions, face oils, misters). They make a fun Summer Solstice Mister, herbal teas and limited edition herbal extracts.


Marimo Moss Balls

Finally, I give you what might be, for me, the most exciting thing to find at Pistils. These are Marimo moss balls, a traditional Japanese decorative home item often passed between generations. Legend holds that two star-crossed lovers were so distraught at being kept apart they decided to throw themselves into a river and became these moss balls, which float around in perpetuity, becoming larger slowly over time.

Marimo moss balls for your underwater garden.

Marimo moss balls for your underwater garden.

The moss consists of a rare form of sea algae that only grows in certain places of the globe (Japan, Australia, Iceland for example). They need very little care, but you do have to change their water every two weeks and shake them up a bit so every side of them sees some indirect sunlight.

If you live elsewhere and are interested in getting a set you can order them directly from Pistils.

I’m going to do a longer post on these soon, but in the meantime, I’ll leave you to behold these tiny fuzzy, Fraggle-like globes. I’d say their about five steps up from the pet rock, don’t you think? What’s the traditional anniversary gift for nine years? Please tell me it’s moss ball.

2 thoughts on “A Field Guide to Pistils Nursery in Portland

  1. Lauren bailey says:

    I’m definitely going to get my son one of these moss balls for his birthday! He’s a rock, plant, science-y person and would appreciate it’s uniqueness.


    • Emily Grosvenor says:

      I adore our moss balls! Maybe there needs to be a campaign: Moss balls not moth balls! Apparently they are endangered, so be sure to use a reputable source. I think you can get them directly from Pistils.


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