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The Joys of the Salmonberry - A Pacific Northwest Native Shrub

salmonberries

Through the Seasons in the Salmonberry Thicket

Rubus Spectabilis, commonly called the salmonberry is a delightful addition to a natural or native plant garden in the Pacific Northwest. Salmonberries are closely related to blackberries and raspberries. They have the shiny skin of a blackberry, but leave a core when picked like a raspberry. Although admittedly the fruit is not as tasty as blackberries or raspberries, but they are very nutritious and abundant and the plant has many other qualities that make it one of my favorite native shrubs.

Salmonberries have a showy bright magenta flowers that have a long blooming season. The blossoms appear early in the spring and provide a nectar source for hummingbirds when little else is available. Salmonberries often form large thickets on the forest edge or as understory in light shade under an open canopy of trees which create great nesting habitat for many species of forest birds. When the berries begin ripening in June they are eagerly eaten by robins and other fruit-eating birds. The combination of beneficial flowers, cover and fruit provided by salmonberry shrubs makes them a great choice for anyone in the Pacific Northwest who wants to plant shrubs that are beneficial to wildlife.

The berries and other parts of the plant are edible and nutritious and salmonberries were used extensively by native americans.

I frequently walk through a salmonberry thicket near my home. On thise page you can share my journey in each season of the year through the salmonberry thicket and learn how to identify and eat salmonberries.

All photos by the author, Vicki Green, unless otherwise credited

A Salmonberry Thicket in Winter

Salmonberry Thicket

Salmonberry Thicket

Identifying a Salmonberry Thicket in Winter

The photo above shows a typical salmonberry thicket in the Pacific Northwest. It is in an area near a wetland growing underneath a stand of some older red alder trees. When viewed from further away, the contrast of the golden colored salmonberry branches with grey trunks of the alder and the dark green of the evergreen trees. With their bare, leafless stems and branches, a single salmonberry shrub looks rather desolate, like in the photo below.

A Salmonberry Shrub in Winter

Rubus spectabilis in Winter

Rubus spectabilis in Winter

Old and Young Salmonberry Branches

Salmonberry Branches

Salmonberry Branches

Comparing the Young and the Old Salmonberry Branches

In the above photo it can be clearly seen that young salmonberry branches on the right have more thorns compared to the older branch on the left. Older branches also have interesting darker bark that peels.

Sibley Guide to Birds

Salmonberries Attract Many Species of Birds

For anyone in the Pacific Northwest who enjoys birdwatching and wants to attract more birds to their garden, the salmonberry is a great plant to grow. It provides, food, cover and nesting sites. I was amazed at how many different species utilize the salmonberry shrub and managed to take some photos of just a few. For anyone who is new to birdwatching, I would recommend getting a good field guide to help identify the species.

Bird Nest in a Salmonberry Shrub

 An Old Bird Nest Covered in Moss

An Old Bird Nest Covered in Moss

Salmonberry Shrubs Provide Birds with Nesting Sites

In winter it is usually easy to see bird nests that have been built in salmonberry bushes. This is one of many old ones that I saw. Birds obviously find the salmonberry thicket to be a good place to build a nest.

Oregon or Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis)

A Junco (Junco hyemalis) Hiding in a Salmonberry Thicket

A Junco (Junco hyemalis) Hiding in a Salmonberry Thicket

Salmonberry Thickets Provide Cover

Dark-eyed Junco's are frequently seen in salmonberry thickets. The thicket provides good cover and makes them difficult to see even in winter.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet (Regulus Satrapa) - A Buffet in a Salmonberry Thicket

salmonberries

Salmonberries Provide Food for Birds

I often see kinglets in the salmonberry thickets in winter. They appear to be finding insects to eat and are more often heard than seen. They are difficult to photograph, but I managed to get a quick shot of this one, identified by a red circle.

Spring Arrives Early in the Salmonberry Thicket

Salmonberry Flower

Salmonberry Flower

Salmonberry Flowers - A Harbinger of Spring in the Pacific Northwest

After a long dreary winter in the Pacific Northwest, there is nothing I enjoy more than seeing these beautiful bright pink blooms appear on the salmonberry shrubs. They are bright pink, about an inch and a half across and are a welcome sign of spring.

Hummingbirds and Salmonberry Flowers - Early blooms provide nectar

Hummingbird

Hummingbird

Salmonberry Flowers Provide Nectar for Hummingbirds

The hummingbird in the photo above was visiting the salmonberry flowers near this retaining wall. Unfortunately I wasn't able to get a picture of it by the flowers. I was lucky to get this photo as it flew by me - you can see it circled in red. It appeared to be a female - perhaps a Calliope Hummingbird - I really didn't get a very good look to make a positive species identification. The salmonberry flowers are also enjoyed by bumblebees and other pollinators foraging for nectar in early spring.

Spotted Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus)

Spotted Towhee in a Salmonberry Thicket

Spotted Towhee in a Salmonberry Thicket

Other Species Attracted to Salmonberries

The Spotted Towhee is another species I frequently see and hear in the salmonberry thicket. Some other wiildlife species known to find food or cover in salmonberry shrubs are finches, wrens, chickadees, bushtits, thrushes, robins, grouse, pheasants, quail, coyotes, bears, raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, deer and rabbit.

A Map of Where Salmonberry (Rubus Spectabilis) Grows

Where Do Salmonberries Grow Naturally?

Salmonberries are native to the northwestern US and Canada. As the map shows their range extends from Alaska south to Northwest California. They are found mostly in coastal areas and at lower elevations in nearby mountains, but they also extend east to northern Idaho and western Montana. With proper growing conditions they will grow in USDA Climate Zones 5 to 9. They have also been grown as a cultivated garden plant in Europe.

(Map courtesy of the US Department of Agriculture)

Green Salmonberries - Salmonberries Ripen Early

Developing Green Salmonberry

Developing Green Salmonberry

Salmonberry Fruiting Season

Since the salmonberry has such a long blooming season, you will often see berries and blooms at the same time on the same plant. The first berries normally start to ripen in by mid June in the lowlands of Western Washington and more berries continue to ripen for a month or more longer.

Salmonberry Ripening

A Yellow Salmonberry

A Yellow Salmonberry

Traditional Native American Uses of Salmonberry Plants

In addition to the berries, Pacific Northwest Native Americans enjoyed eating the young shoots of the salmonberry plant in the spring. The shoots were peeled and eaten raw with salmon meat or dried salmon eggs. Some say that this is where the name "salmonberry" originated, while others claim the name came from the ripe berries resemblance to salmon eggs.

The salmonberry plant was also used to treat illnesses. A drink made from the roots was used to stimulate appetite. The leaves were used to make tea to treat anemia and the leaves were dried and chewed to cure digestive problems.

Always check with a health care professional before using any wild plant for medicinal purposes.

Leaves that Look Like a Butterfly

Salmonberry Leaf

Salmonberry Leaf

Identifying Salmonberries

One of the ways to identify a salmonberry, is by looking at the leaves. The leaves are in threes with one at the end of the branch and the other two parallel to each other. When the end leaf is turned under, the other two look like butterfly wings.

Ripe salmonberries can be yellow, orange or red. When they are ripe they can easily be pulled from the core like a raspberry. They make a very colorful bowl of berries. Because of the high Vitamin C content, he berries are not very sweet. The general consensus of opinion seems to be that the yellow salmonberries are sweeter than the orange or red ones.

Before consuming any wild plant be absolutely certain that you have properly identified the plant. Some suggestions for ways to learn to identify native plants correctly with certainty is to take a class, refer to a field guide and observe a plant through several seasons and stages of growth.

Tips in Identifying a Salmonberry Bush - A video that shows how to identify salmonberries

This short video shows a couple of simple tips to help identify salmonberries.

Tips for Identifying a Salmonberry Bush

Add Salmonberries to a Salad

Spring Greens and Salmonberry Salad

Spring Greens and Salmonberry Salad

I enjoy this healthy, nutritious salad recipe that combines spring greens with salmonberries and some nuts thrown in for some added protein.

Prep timeReady inYields

15 min

15 min

6

Salmonberry Salad Ingredients

  • 1/4 Cup olive oil
  • 2 Tablespoons Vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
  • 1/4 Cup Sugar (or sugar substitute)
  • 1 Tablespoon Sesame Seeds
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Poppy Seeds
  • 1/8 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon Paprika
  • 1 teaspoon grated onion
  • 3 cups baby spinach or mxed spring greens - washed and drained
  • 1 cup salmonberries
  • 1/2 cup of nut pieces (walnuts. pecans
  • almonds or hazelnuts)

Spring Greens and Salmonberry Salad Instructions

  1. Mix the first 9 ingredients in a small bowl to make the dressing. Pour over the greens, berries and nuts just before serving and lightly toss.

More Salmonberry Recipes - Links to salmonberry recipes

Wild Berry Cookbook - More Recipes Featuring Native Berries

Wild berries are nutritious, non-GMO, natural foods that were used by North American Indians. Jane Hibler's cookbook has many delicious recipes that utilize native berries found in the Pacific Northwest.

Salmonberries are Plentiful and Easy to Pick

Salmonberry Shrubs grow 5 to 10 feet tall and tend to produce fruit near the top, so they are usually at a great height for picking - no back-breaking stooping and bending. The branches have a few thorns, but they are sparse and mild compared to blackberry vines.

Be sure to only pick what you will eat and do not over-harvest. Leave plenty of fruit for the wildlife that depend upon it for their survival and enjoy watching how many species use the salmonberry thicket.

© 2011 Vicki Green

Have you tried a Salmonberry? - Your comments are appreciated!

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on July 04, 2018:

I enjoyed your guided tour through the salmonberry thicket, pointing out the different birds and the advantages of growing salmonberry. I am assuming that it is necessary to get the plant from a nursery vs. just taking one from the wild? Thank you for this interesting article!

norma-holt on May 24, 2014:

What an interesting plant. They certainly look good enough to eat. I picked some raspberries yesterday, its late autumn here, and quickly spat them out as they were so sour. Usually they are sweet. Nice lens, well done.

Susan R. Davis from Vancouver on December 11, 2012:

We had a salmonberry thicket not far from our summer cabin in Western Washington. I used to love picking those wild orange berries in the summer. Thanks for bringing back memories.

Michey LM on August 06, 2012:

Thanks for recipes, never heard of salmonberries, great info and pictures.

chia42642 on June 10, 2012:

looks like a plant that is growing next to our driveway here in South Central Ky

Vicki Green (author) from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA on January 29, 2012:

@jimmyworldstar: They are tart with a fairly bland flavor, but they are juicy and hit the spot when grazing on a hike. They are also good as a colorful salad garnish and some people make jam from them.

jimmyworldstar on January 25, 2012:

I've never heard of this type of berry, what's it taste like?

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on August 01, 2011:

You make such lovely regional lenses. I've not been to the Pacific Northwest, but I'm sure I would love it. Well done.

anonymous on June 14, 2011:

Thank you for the beautiful lens. An absolute eye candy. :)

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