Update, August 2013: The "Berry Watch 2013" saga continues! If you're interested in the ripening fruits at Stanley Park and in and around Vancouver, have a look at the other fine "Berry Watch" blog posts! Or continue reading about salmonberries below - they are finished for the season, but it's always good to know about them.
I’ve been slowly and steadily increasing my knowledge of the native berry shrubs that grow in coastal BC. Berries were one of the first things on my radar during the early inklings of this learning project; I felt it would be empowering (and impressive to friends!) to know which fruits I could safely pop off the bush and into my mouth during a summer hike. In April, I signed out a book from the library called Wild Berries of British Columbia by Fiona Hamersley Chambers (one of the wonderful guides from Lone Pine publishers) and was surprised to learn about the vast amount of edible berries that grow in the region. As I was getting more absorbed in this book, the salmonberry shoots in Stanley Park were concurrently beginning to grow taller and come alive with pink flowers, a bright anticipation of the berries that would soon replace them.
It seems crazy to me now, but I hadn’t heard of – or noticed – salmonberries until this year. They are very common in Stanley Park, but certainly not as prolific to Vancouver as the Himalayan blackberry, which I’ve spotted in parks and green spaces, as well as in vacant and industrial lots. More on blackberries later, I promise!
Salmonberry shrubs begin early in the spring as skinny canes, and sprout clumps of refreshingly green, corrugated leaves in groups of 3 pointy leaflets. Their papery pink flowers begin to bloom in March, and are one of the first bursts of bright colour to speckle the brown and green springtime forest. Those of you that live on the BC coast will know that the grey, wet spring season can last forever – so as I gazed at the salmonberries this past spring, I appreciated the sense of optimism that these pinks provided, a promise that there would be more vivid colours to come as the weather grew warmer.
I watched with anticipation through March, April, and May as the flowers became small green fruits and ripened into brilliant red and orange berries. Salmonberries look very much like raspberries, and belong to the same Rubus genus of berry as raspberries, blackberries, and thimbleberries. However, salmonberries are unique from their Rubus peers in that they grow in two colours (red and orange, the result of a one-gene allele difference). In addition, they are the earliest berries to ripen on the coast. It is only early June, and for the last couple of weeks I’ve certainly been popping a few ripe ones in my mouth as I stroll the trails.
Are salmonberries the most delicious berries in the world? Probably not, but it depends on your taste buds. The ones I’ve had seem to range from mildly tart to mildly sweet and a little bland, but those berries may have benefitted from a little more ripening on the branch prior to plucking. What I’ve really enjoyed about salmonberries is their precociousness – they provide a bit of colour, flavor, and relief during the long wait for the emergence of other summer wildfruits. And, like a good precocious pupil of the forest who has finished her work early, the salmonberry helps to teach beginners like me about the rhythms of flowering and fruiting, and to guide my eye to the development patterns of the berry shrubs that will bear fruit later in the summer.