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U.S. Forest Service

Plant of the Week

Map of the United States showing states. States are colored green where the species may be found. Range map of salmonberry. Map from USDA PLANTS Database.

Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis). Sitka, Tongass National Forest. Photo by Mary Stensvold.

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) fruit. Rubus spectabilis fruit. Photo by Charmaine Delmatier.

Salmonberry habitat. Rubus spectabilis habitat. Photo by Charmaine Delmatier.

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)

By Charmaine Delmatier (2018)

Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis) is a member of the rose family (Rosaceae) and is quite similar to a raspberry in size and shape; except in contrast, its fruit color is yellow, orange, or red. Widespread throughout the world, the rose family consists of approximately 88 genera and 3,000 species. Salmonberry, more specifically, belongs to the genus Rubus,and in North America, Rubus is simplified to only 37 species.

Salmonberry is endemic to the Pacific Northwest extending north into Alaska and Canada, and southward to Washington, Idaho, Oregon and parts of California, and interestingly is found in east Asia (Japan). It is found in moist coastal forests, stream sides, bogs, and shorelines, but can also be found in disturbed areas such as roadsides and woodland edges. They form large thickets in open areas and thrive in open spaces under stands of red alder (Alnus rubra).

Salmonberry is a stout shrub ranging in height between 3 to 12 feet, with perennial, not biennial, woody stems that are covered with fine prickles. The stems are not as densely armed with thorns as other well-sought-after endemic berries, so it makes for a more enjoyable harvest. The bark becomes papery with age. The flowering heads are representative of the rose family with many (20 to 100) stamens centered in a circle of five pink to magenta delicate petals. The leaves are trifoliate and have serrated margins, and can range in length between 7 to 22 centimeters. The berries ripen from early May to late July in most of the Pacific Northwest (later in cooler climates), and resembles a large, shiny yellow to orange-red blackberry. Although the fruit is often referred to as a berry, it is technically a fleshy aggregated drupelet.

It is not cultivated, so it must be locally gathered, usually between mid-June and late July. Mature fruits are tender and sweet, and often used in jams, jellies, and several baked goods. It is often served with smoked salmon. Salmonberry has been a part of the Alaskan indigenous peoples’ diet for thousands of years. A traditional dish called akutaq is served on special occasions, a tasty mixture of animal oils, salmonberry (and other berries), with fish. Young shoots can be eaten both raw or cooked like asparagus. Salmonberry has also been used to flavor beer and wine.

As many other endemic plants, salmonberry has several special medicinal properties. It can be consumed as a tea to treat diarrhea or dysentery. As an astringent, a poultice of leaves and bark can be used for dressing burns and open sores. Because of salmonberry's popularity as a food source, medicinal properties, and aesthetic beauty, it makes one want to live in the northwest, or at least visit regularly!

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