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  • Writer's pictureRose BDW

Berries and their blossoms

All flowers make a fruit, but not all fruit is edible.

Ah summer, the best time of the year. Warm weather, friends family, and of course all of the yummy foods making an appearance on the landscape. Many Salish people look forward to summertime as it is not only a time to come together and celebrate another year but also all the delicious berries and fruits that make summer so tasty.

When thinking about fruits we have to remember that all fruits are a product of a flower. Botanically, a flower is a gateway to pollination and the beginnings of plant reproduction and fruits are usually vessels for seeds for the final stage of plat propagation. Flowers are a beautiful and incredibly evolutionary tool that plants use to spread their seeds, they come in various shapes, colors, and sizes to attract different pollinators so that their ovules can be fertilized. Now, this fertilizations leads to an plant embryo which is the seeds. In most angiosperms these seeds are fruit-covered. For more information about plant reproduction check out this link (

There are many different fruit types and some are...tastier than others. For this segment I will go through our favorite summer fruits, their fruit types, how to identify their flowers as well as the berries themselves so that you can pick and feel confident what you're getting is mother nature's tasty gift.


Amelnachier alnifolia


Deciduous shrub or small tree with smooth branches that are dark grey when mature. Leaves are alternate oval but rounded at tip with small tooths. The flowers are white and star shaped with many clusters on racemes near branch tips. The fruits are pomes (think tiny apple) that are purple to black. These fruits are probably some of the most important berries historically to the Salish people as they could be harvested in high amounts and additionally dried for future use. They make up a popular snack called pemmican which is dried berries, meat and fat. Today they are delicious additions to pancakes, muffins, as well as pies, jams, and syrups as well as raw for a treat!

Found in open woods, banks and hillsides; plains to montane.


Vaccinium membranaceaum


Deciduous short shrub with many reddish branches. Leaves are alternate and oval, pointed and bright green in the summer, red in the fall. The flowers are small, pink, urceolate (urn-shaped) with single flowers on stalks. The fruits are black to dark purple berries. One of Montana's most coveted berry, however tribal people have been eating them for awhile. They can be collected in high quantities (although now I would caution against picking more than you need as commercialization has harmed huckleberry populations) and eaten fresh, dried, or now, preserved in jams and jellies. The roots and stems of the huckleberry were traditionally used as tea for medicine.

Found in moist, open and wooded sites; foothills to montane regions.


Rubus parviflorum

pólplqn (berry) pólplqnełp (bush)

Deciduous shrub without prickles (thorns) and form dense thickets. The leaves are alternate maple-leaf like palmately 3-7 lobed and wide usually fuzzy above and beneath. The flowers are white, saucer shaped and wide with "crinkly" petals. The fruits are raspberry liked but dome shaped, hence their name thimbleberries! They are shaped like little juicy thimbles. These berries are best fresh as they do not dry well but they are one of my favorite berries of the summer.

Found in open to wooded areas, moist and dry sites; foothills to montane regions.


Rubus idaeus


Prickly shrub similar to cultivated raspberries. Branches are slender and brown. Leaves are alternate, palmately divided in 3-5 leaflets. Flowers are white with 5 slender petals in small nodding clusters. The fruits are juicy and red, smaller than cultivated raspberries but nontheless tasty.

Found in moist to dry, open or wooded areas; foothills to montane regions.


Sheherdia canadensis*


Deciduous shrub with brown branches. Leaves are opposite and oval shaped with the distinctive feature of being dark green above, fuzzy and silver beneath. Flowers are yellow, small and found in small clusters below the new leaves. The fruits are bright red with yellow spots, oval in shape and almost translucent.

Uses: these berries make up a popular dish called "Indian Ice Cream" which is a common recipe for soapberries in many tribes. The berries contain saponin, a bitter substance that makes the juice of the berry foamy. Whip fresh berries, water, and sugar to taste to make this treat. These berries are rich in vitamin C and iron.

*this shrub is related to the Silverleaf Buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea) however Buffaloberry bushes have thorns while Soapberries do not.

Found in open woods and streambanks; foothills to subalpine regions.


Prunus virginiana


Deciduous shrub or small tree, branches are smooth reddish-brown. Leaves are alternate, oval and pointed at tip while rounded at base with fin teeth on edges. The flowers are creamy white, saucer-shaped in bottle-brush like clusters (racemes) at branch tips.

Chokecherries were another critically important staple fruit of the Salish and many other tribes. It could be harvested in large quantities as well as processed and stored for future use. They make great jams, syrups, wines, and also are just great for eating.

Note: all parts of the chokecherry except for the flesh of the fruit contain hydrocyanic acid (which makes up what we know as cyanide). However, tribal groups have been eating chokecherries for thousands of years. Fresh they discard of the pit however for future storage chokecherries (pit and all!) were pounded out into cakes and laid in the sun to dry, a process that eliminates the toxins from the pits.

Found in dry to moist, open sites; plains to montane regions.

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