Plant Description

Shepherdia canadensis
Russet Buffaloberry, Stinkwood, Hooshum Berry, Soopalallie, Soapberry, Buffaloberry

Family: Russian Olive (Elaeagnaceae)

General Description:

Deciduous unarmed shrub, spreading, 1-2 m tall, branches opposite, brownish with small bran-like scabs when young. Inconspicuous flowers and bright red to yellow berries.

Abundance:
  • common
Habit:
  • climbing
  • creeping

Life Cycle:
  • deciduous

Lifeform:
  • shrub

Origin:
  • Native

Phenology: Flowers: April to June
Distribution:

Alaska to New Mexico, also across northern portion of US and southern Canada

Similar:

The rusty scales and star-like clusters of scales make this a very distinctive shrub. All the members of the Oleaster family have these unique scale-like coverings on leaves and twigs. In riparian areas there are several other species with which you could confuse buffaloberry. Shepherdia species have opposite leaves, Elaeagnus have alternate leaves. Silver buffaloberry(Shepherdia argentea)- is armed with thorns; Silverberry or Wolf Willow(Elaeagnus commutata)- has strong sweet scented flowers, alternate leaves, brownish twigs, and silvery, dry, mealy berries; Russian Olive(Elaeagnus angustifolia) is taller and can be a tree. It has long narrow leaves and silvery surfaces of the twigs Most members of this family have these unique scales and hairs.

Did You Know?:

Buffaloberry is listed as endangered in Pennsylvania, Maine and Illinois. It was also found in Indiana but has been extirpated. This shrub quickly re-establishes after fire. It fixes nitrogen using symbiotic root bacteria, which helps explain its ability to grow in tough nutrient-poor sites, such as immediately following deglaciation or in active river channels. Buffaloberry is a plant that is recognized as being useful for a variety of purposes, as well as having the distinction of being valued as a form of commerce, which truly elevates this species as being one of profound importance to primitive human societies and sojourning frontier-people alike. Its cross-continental abundance also helped to shoehorn the plant into the cultural and societal history of a country bound to its natural resources- this fact alone may have saved many a life when times got thin. name "buffaloberry" has origins either in the Great Plains bison who grazed plant heavily or because it was eaten commonly as garnish for buffalo steaks and tongues in the early days; name "soopalallie" is Chinook indian language meaning soap (soop) and berry (olallie) because berry pulp is soapy to the touch, ; name "hooshum berry" comes from the Athapascan word for this plant; some tribes called it "stinkwood" for the horrible odor that was released when burned; Shepherdia is named for English botanist John Shepherd (1764-1836)

Uses:

Food: berries eaten fresh, or boiled, caked and dried for future use, now preserved by canning or freezing; berries become foamy when beaten because juice is rich in a bitter substance called saponin; berries were mixed with water and whipped to make a white-to-salmon colored foamy dessert called "Indian ice cream", usually sweetened with other berries or sugar because it was so bitter; also added to stews or cooked to make syrup, jelly or sauce for buffalo steaks; soapberry juice mixed with water and sugar makes a refreshing "lemonade"; used as emergency food because the berries were so abundant. Berries were collected by beating branches over canvas or hide with a stick; Medicine: rich in vitamin C and iron; taken to treat flu and indigestion; made into tea for relieving constipation; soapberry "lemonade" was said to cure acne, boils, digestive problems and gallstones; bark was made into tea as a solution for eye ailments; twigs boiled as a laxative tea; soapy berries were crushed and boiled and used as soap; whole plant used traditionally as medicine, treated everything from heart attacks to indigestion; berries also chewed by women to induce birth. Other: berries were an important trade item throughout their range and today are still valued as gifts.

Bark:

Gray to brownish, young twigs have silvery hairs and rusty brown spots.

Flowers:

Yellowish to greenish, inconspicuous, approx. 4mm wide, male or female with sexes on separate plants, in small clusters below new leaves; April to June, appearing before leaves

Flower Arrangement:
  • axil
Flower Color:
  • green
  • yellow-orange
Flowering Months:
  • late spring
  • early spring
Flower Shape:
  • flat
  • reflexed
Fruit:

Bright red to yellowish, 4-6mm long, juicy and translucent, soapy to touch, oval-shaped, drupe-like, bitter berries

Fruit Type:
  • berry
Leaves:

Opposite, oval, 1.5-6 cm long, 1-3 cm broad, dark green above, silvery fuzz beneath with star-shaped hairs and rusty-brown scales

Leaf Arrangement:
  • opposite
Basal Leaves:
  • smooth
Leaf Division:
  • simple
Leaf Margin:
  • smooth
Leaf Shape:
  • widest at base
  • widest at middle
Leaf Stem:
  • without stem
Habitat:

Well-drained dry to moist open woods and streambanks; lowlands, foothills, montane and subalpine; also shady, rocky hillsides, mid-elevation forests and rocky summits. Common in subalpine lodgepole pine forests, recently deglaciated areas. Common in moist sites on east slope of Rockies.

Non-Forest Habitats:
  • cliffs/rocks
  • riparian
  • shrubland
Forest Habitats:
  • alder-birch
  • cottonwood
  • douglas fir-larch-ponderosa pine
  • limber pine-douglas fir
  • lodgepole pine
  • ponderosa pine
  • subalpine fir-spruce
Disturbed Habitats:
  • burn
  • clearcut
  • thinning
  • roadside
Contributors:
  • Sarah Keller
  • Nathan Taylor
Keywords:
  • medicinal
  • edible
  • nitrogen fixer
  • deer forage
  • elk forage