Shepherdia canadensis

Common Name: Buffaloberry; Soapberry; Rabbit-berry

  • Low shrubs with opposite leaves.
  • Bright red fruits.
  • Flowers in late April and May

Native or Invasive: Native shrub

Characteristics: The buffaloberry is a low shrub that grows from 3 feet to 10 feet tall. It does not have prickles or thorns. It has tiny, conspicuous flowers that open before the leaves are out. The fruit is speckled, reddish-orange and berrylike, and is ripe by early summer.

It is quite abundant in sandy areas along the coasts. It is also a common shrub in upland woods adjacent to coastal areas. Although the flowers are tiny, they are noticeable in the early spring when few other flowers are in bloom. The plants are dioecious (male and female flowers found on separate plants), therefore the fruits are only found on female plants. Dogwoods look similar, as they are small shrubs with opposite leaves.

Habitat: Shores, dunes and limestone rock outcrops.

Fun Fact: The berries can be heated and made into ice cream or a frothy drink, as it froths when stirred.

Ethnobotanical Uses: Buffaloberries were a major medicinal and edible food used extensively by Native American and First Nation tribes. Medicinal treatments range from a poultice for broken bones, an antidote and preventative for mosquito bites and a cure for sore eyes and venereal diseases. The fruits are also eaten by birds, black bears, chipmunks and squirrels.

Adapted from Guide to Great Lakes Coastal Plants, by Ellen Elliott Weatherbee, University of Michigan Press.