The Salmonberry Bush grows in dense, thick, raspberry-like thickets. The canes arise from a woody crown, often buried in a moss-covered mat. On dry sites, the bushes reach 1.5 meters tall, but sometimes, in the rain forests on the coasts of Vancouver Island, monster salmonberries can reach more than 4 meters high.
Each compound leaf consists of three soft, saw-edged leaflets, from 3 to 15 cm long. They appear as early as February, their fresh green color is quite pleasing in the strengthening light of early spring.
Flowers appear with the leaves, hanging towards the ends of the branches. Five pale to intense pink petals form a half round-shaped bloom 3 to 5 cm across. After fertilization, these develop into yellow to dark red fruit loosely attached to form the raspberry-like fruit. These berries can be quite large, up to 2.5 cm long.
Salmonberry inhabits the entire coast of British Columbia and scattered localities in the interior mountains nearly to the Peace River. The full range extends from Alaska to California. Its favorite haunts are moist sites from lowlands to mountain slopes.
Hummingbirds love the early spring blooms and later on the fruits attract other birds. Berry flavor varies from insipid to deliciously sweet according to the area, berry color seems to have little to do with flavor. Robins will fill their beaks with berries to take home to their babies.
This versatile shrub was well utilized by coastal First Nations, who ate great quantities of young sprouts in spring. Picked when soft and tender, they were peeled and eaten raw or sometimes steamed. North Coast first peoples dipped the shoots in eulachon grease. The berries were widely eaten fresh as they ripened in late spring and early summer; great boxes of berries were collected and consumed during feasts. Even the canes were used – as shafts in harpoons, as practice spears or for holding cedar bark roofing in place.
My wife and I love riding our bikes in the spring ( although we ride year-round) and stopping to eat these sweet, delicious berries until we can eat no more. They are absolutely delicious.
I love making pies with them, salmonberry pies are just awesome.