Shepherdia canadensis (Canada Buffaloberry)
|Also known as:||Russet Buffaloberry, Soapberry|
|Life cycle:||perennial woody|
|Habitat:||part shade, sun; dry, rocky soil; open woods, forest edges, riverbanks, rocky shores, rock outcrops|
|Bloom season:||April - May|
|Plant height:||1 to 10 feet|
|Wetland Indicator Status:||GP: FACU MW: UPL NCNE: UPL|
|MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):|
|National distribution (click map to enlarge):|
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Flowers are in leaf axils of short, one-year-old branches, emerging before the leaves. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants (dioecious), both are green to yellowish, about 1/8 inch across, stalkless, lack petals but have a bowl to urn-shaped calyx with 4 triangular, petal-like lobes. At the base of each lobe is a pair of greenish-yellow nectary glands. Male flowers are clustered 1 to a few in the axils, have 8 well extended stamens, alternating with the nectaries, and the calyx lobes are strongly bent back (reflexed).
Female flowers are single in the axils, somewhat smaller and stiffer than the males, the calyx lobes spreading to reflexed, with a slender, capped style extending from the center. The upper/inner surfaces of the calyx are smooth while outer surfaces are densely covered in rusty colored scales.
Leaves and stems:
Leaves are simple and opposite, egg-shaped to lance-elliptic, widest below the middle, 1½ to 2¾ inches long, ¾ to 1¼ inch wide, tip and base rounded, on a short stalk. Edges are toothless, the upper surface dark green and smooth or with scattered star-shaped (stellate) hairs, the lower surface grayish green with dense stellate hairs and scattered rusty scales.
Canada Buffaloberry is common in northern boreal forests and higher elevations in the west, but uncommon in northern Minnesota along its border with Canada, and occasional around the Great Lakes. According to the DNR, extensive searches have been conducted in what should be suitable habitat but far fewer occurrences than expected have been found, possibly due to environmental conditions that are not currently well understood. It was listed as a Special Concern species in 2013. While the fruit might be appealing, it is extremely bitter and "soapy" when crushed, giving it another common name: Soapberry. The only other species with which it might be confused is Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), which also has silvery leaves with stellate hairs, scattered brown scales on the underside and similar red fruit. It, however, is a newly appearing invasive species in southern Minnesota and has fragrant, white, trumpet-shaped flowers and alternate leaves, not opposite.
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Where to buy native seed and plants ↓
- Canada Buffaloberry plant
- Canada Buffaloberry plant
- leaf scales and stellate hairs
- flowering branch
- fruiting branch
- developing fruit
Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in St. Louis County.
Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?