Practical ecological knowledge for the temperate reader.

Soapberry - Shepherdia canadensis

"Shepherdia canadensis is a deciduous Shrub growing to 2.5 m (8ft 2in) at a medium rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 2 and is not frost tender. It is in flower in April, and the seeds ripen from Jul to September. The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required)The plant is not self-fertile.
It can fix Nitrogen." [PFAF]
"Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils, prefers well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers dry or moist soil and can tolerate drought. The plant can tolerate maritime exposure."[PFAF]

Status: native.[E-flora]
General: "Deciduous shrub; stems erect to spreading, young stems brownish-scaled, older branches brownish and scaly, 1-2 m tall." [IFBC-E-flora]
Leaves: "Opposite, entire, elliptic to narrowly egg-shaped, 1.5-6 cm long, 1-3 cm wide, greenish on the upper surface, white-scaly and brownish-scaly beneath." [IFBC-E-flora] "The leaves are opposite, and the lower surfaces of the blades not only have brownish scales but also some whitish scurfiness." [Kozloff PWO]
Flowers: "Inflorescence of 1 to several inconspicuous axillary flowers clustered on short branches; male and female flowers on separate plants, the male flowers brownish; petals lacking; sepals spreading to reflexed, 4-lobed, the lobes 1-2 mm long; stamens 8." [IFBC-E-flora]
Fruits: "Berries, bright red, oval, 6-8 mm long, fleshy, bitter, soapy to touch when crushed." [IFBC-E-flora]
USDA Flower Colour: Yellow
USDA Blooming Period: Late Spring
USDA Fruit/Seed characteristics:

Colour: Yellow
Present from Summer to Fall [USDA-E-flora]

Habitat / Range "Mesic to dry sites in the lowland and steppe to subalpine zones; common throughout BC except absent on the Queen Charlotte Islands, N Vancouver Island and adjacent N coast; N to AK, YT and NT, E to NF and S to OH, MN, SD, NM and OR." [IFBC-E-flora]
"Soapberries are sporadic in their distribution. They are more common and productive in the Interior than on the Coast, and they do not grow at all in some places, such as the Queen Charlotte Islands. Crops vary from year to year and place to place, and different populations of the fruit are better flavored than others." [Turner, Kuhnlein] "This shrub has a wide distribution east of the Cascades, but it is also found in the southern portion of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands of British Columbia and on the San Juan Islands of Washington." [Kozloff PWO]

"In western North America, soapberry is widespread throughout much of the Interior, but it grows only sporadically and in restricted populations along the coast. It apparently does not occur on Haida Gwaii or in other wetter regions such as the Olympic Peninsula or the west coast of Vancouver Island (Walkup 1991; Klinkenberg 2006)." [Turner&Burton]

Ecological Indicator Information
"A shade-tolerant/intolerant, sub montane to subalpine, transcontinental North American deciduous shrub (sporadic in the Pacific region). Occurs predominantly in continental boreal and cool temperate climates on very dry to moderately dry, nitrogen-medium soils; its occurrence increases with increasing continentality. Common in semi-open forests on water-shedding sites; scattered on the leeward side of Vancouver Island; plentiful in the coast-interior ecotone. Often associated with Calamagrostis rubescens, Linnaea borealis, and Paxistima myrslnites. Symbiotic with nitrogen-fixing organisms. Characteristic of continental forests." (IPBC)[E-flora]


Edible Uses

Other Uses

Medicinal Uses

"Buffalo berry was commonly employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes, who used it in the treatment of a range of complaints[257]. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism." [PFAF]

Further Ethnobotanical Info

Nlaka’pmx and Okanagan hunters have used the branches to make a cathartic drink to prepare themselves for hunting and to bring good luck by internal cleansing; sometimes this purification was done in the sweat-lodge. They also used this solution to wash their hunting gear for luck and to ensure that the game will not be repelled by its scent (Teit 1909; Turner et al. 1980, 1990). [Turner&Burton]

"...tend to be more common and productive in the Interior than on the Coast in northwestern North America". [Turner&Burton]

"Even when soapberries are available locally, they might vary in abundance from year to year, and people often had to travel to specific sites to harvest them." [Turner&Burton]




"Succeeds in an ordinary well-drained moisture retentive soil[1, 3, 11]. Tolerates poor dry soils[200] and maritime exposure[182]. Established plants are drought resistant[182]. Plants can accumulate mercury when they are grown in polluted soils[172]. Rarely produces fruits in Britain[182]. Some named varieties have been developed for their ornamental value[200]. 'Xanthocarpa' has yellow fruits, 'Rubra' has red fruits[200]. Plants in this genus are notably resistant to honey fungus[200]. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[200]. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if fruit and seed is required." [PFAF]

"People in some areas learned how to enhance soapberry growth and productivity, as they did for other types of berries and various root vegetables (Peacock and Turner 2000; Turner and Peacock 2005). Sometimes soapberries and other berries were harvested by breaking off branches from the bushes and shaking or picking off the berries (Compton 1993; Elsie Claxton NT 1997; Nellie Taylor and Ron Ignace, p.c.1993). This was a form of pruning, which people maintained made the bushes more productive in the following years, and allowed elders and others unable to walk in rough terrain to participate in the harvest. Burning over berry patches, including soapberry patches, was also practiced periodically in many areas and was said to promote growth and productivity and reduce insect and other pests (Turner 1999). Soapberries sprout up readily after a burn (Robert Gray, NT 2006)." [Turner&Burton]

"Soapberry roots associate with nitrogen-fixing actinomycetes, and hence soapberry has the capacity to help fertilize and renew soils. It is drought tolerant and is a common understory species of dry open pine, spruce, fir and aspen woods, also growing on rocky ground and sandy and gravelly shorelines. It grows well in serpentine and limestone soils, but not in waterlogged or saline soils. It is dominant, along with willow (Salix spp.), in the second stage of succession on glacial moraines. It sprouts readily after a fire, and spreads well vegetatively from roots and layered branches (Pojar and MacKinnon 1994)." [Turner&Burton] "A typical example, Shepherdia [genera], is documented.... In this case nodulation increased the dry weight almost four fold and the N content more than seven fold. In a variety of nodulating plants the N content of nodulated plants is invariably much greater than that of uninoculated controls." [Postgate CBNF]


"Seed - it must not be allowed to dry out[113]. It is best harvested in the autumn and sown immediately in a cold frame. Stored seed requires 2 - 3 months cold stratification[113]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots once they are large enough to handle. If sufficient growth is made it will be possible to plant them out in the summer, otherwise grow them on in a cold frame for their first winter and plant them out in the following spring or early summer. Cuttings of half-ripe wood, July/August in a frame sometimes work[113]." [PFAF]

"Keep the cleaned seed dry. Germination of russet buffaloberry seed is increased by scarification with sulfuric acid, cold stratification for 60 days and diurnally alternating temperatures of 20oC and 30oC. Cover the seed with 0.6 cm of soil and 1.3-2.5 cm of straw mulch. Outplanting can be done with two-year-old stock (Thilenius et al. 1974)." [PPNWNP]

"Vegetative: Propagation of russet buffaloberry is best from cuttings. Stick root cuttings in February or March in ordinary soil outdoors (Kruckeberg 1982). Layering of shoots can be done in autumn (Hellyer 1972)." [PPNWNP]

Shepherdia Sp.


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