Also known as the silver buffaloberry, this thorny shrub or 6- to io-foot-tall tree has an overall silvery or whitened appearance. The leaves are narrow and silvery white on both sides, and the flowers are very small and yellow and are borne on small branches. The scarlet to yellow fruits are borne in small clusters and vary in size from that of a currant to a small gooseberry. They ripen in July and may remain on the bushes until frost or later. Its silvery appearance and attractive fruit make this plant a pleasing ornamental.
Early settlers served the berries as a sauce with buffalo meat. They can be dried and stored or used in jellies, sauces, and conserves. Their agreeable flavor lends well to out-of-hand eating, but harvest is difficult due to the 1- to 2-inch thorns. Like legumes, these plants fix nitrogen from the atmosphere.
Plant buffaloberries in sites with full sun but cool northern exposures to delay flowering and avoid damage to flower buds by late spring frosts. Otherwise, the plant is very hardy, growing in Zones 3 to 7. While buffaloberries prefer moist, well-drained soil, they tolerate poor dry soils and a high pH quite well. Plants are slow growing.
To ensure successful pollination, plant both male and female plants. Male flowers are sessile (stalkless) and clustered at the nodes. Female flowers are smaller and more slender with stalked buds arranged in less compact clusters.
Birds enjoy buffaloberries. If any fruit remains after frost and bird feeding, they can be gathered anytime during the winter.
A related species, the russet buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis) is thorn-less but has bitter, sour berries.
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