Salmonberry - Rubus spectabilis

" title="YouTube video player" width="560">

Every April I eagerly await the unfurling of the magenta salmonberry blossoms that brighten the forest after the long grey winters of the Pacific Northwest. The scientific name Rubus spectabilis refers to the spectacular color of the blossoms and berries, which also have brilliant hues ranging from yellow to orange to a deep pink. The rufous hummingbirds also appreciate the bright flowers for the nectar they provide as the birds migrate north. This plant is also associated with the Swainson’s thrush, which is called the salmonberry bird in many native languages because it returns from its migration just as the berries are ripening. Salmonberry often forms dense thickets along streams with its zigzagging prickly twigs, and birds shelter amidst the golden brown, shedding bark.

salmonberry's zigzag twig pattern

This plant was one of the first fresh food sources for native Northwest peoples in early spring, and the young stem sprouts were gathered as a green vegetable. These sprouts were peeled and eaten raw - they have a sweet, fresh, juicy flavor. The berries are one of the earliest to ripen in our region and are ready for picking in May and June. Native peoples enjoyed the berries mixed with salmon roe, and generally ate the berries fresh because they are too watery to be good for drying.

    The leaves occur in sets of three leaflets and are sharply toothed - the Quileute chew the leaves to make a spit poultice for burns, and an astringent tea can also be made from the leaves. The bark has also been used medicinally by the Makkah for toothache relief, and the Quinault would boil the bark in seawater to be drunk to lessen labor pains or clean infected wounds.

 Traditionally salmonberry patches could be owned by families or individuals, and these plots would be cared for and tended, fertilized with kelp, wood ash, and crushed shells.