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Berry Watch 2013 // Part 2: Salal Berries and Red Huckleberries

Hello, everyone – I’m back from Salt Spring Island! I had a wonderful, renewing trip, and I’m excited to get back to the Stanley Park Project.

More and more of the berries in the forest are starting to ripen – it’s so exciting! I’ve been anticipating the arrival of the berries for months. I began reading about coastal berry shrubs in the late winter, spent months identifying their leaf and flower patterns, and photographed their progress throughout the late spring. Now that the sun is working its transformative magic, I can exchange cool observation of the ripening berries for the intimacy of touch and taste.

Salal was one of the first berry shrubs that called out to me at Stanley Park in mid-to-late spring. I immediately noticed its bold, playful personality, its leathery leaves buoyed by the energy of new spring growth. What really caught my eye were the whitish-pink flowers dangling from little stems, as though the salal shrubs were decorating itself with paper lanterns for a party. Even the name of the plant itself - salal - has a lilting, festive ring to it.

 A springtime salal shrub with bells on! This photo was taken in late May.

A springtime salal shrub with bells on! This photo was taken in late May.

Throughout the last few months, I’ve been taking snapshots of the changing salal flower stems. Each flower eventually morphs into a green “berry” (Plants of Coastal British Columbia tells me that this “berry” is actually a “fleshy sepal” – a “sepal” normally being that green part that covers the petals of the flower before they open up). As I was walking through the forest last weekend, I noticed that some of the salal “berries” are starting to ripen into a bluish-purple colour, so I munched on a few. They have a deep, musky, tangy flavour that resembles a concord grape – I quite liked them. They are also a little hairy, but don’t let that deter you!

Here is a salal flower stem in late May:

 

salal_may.jpg

...in mid-June: 

salal_june.jpg

...in late June:

salal_late_june.jpg

...and in mid-July: 

salal_july.jpg

I’ve also been noticing red huckleberries speckling the forest since early June, and there’s certainly still some around to enjoy. These berries really snuck up on me – I was walking past a red huckleberry shrub one day, wondering when it would flower, and was surprised to see tiny ripe red berries already adorning the underside of its foliage! The little oval leaves were shielding these berries as best they could, as though the plant was bashful about its sudden maturity.

 Can you see the little red berries hiding under the leaves of this huckleberry shrub?

Can you see the little red berries hiding under the leaves of this huckleberry shrub?

A bit of careful observation throughout June shed more light on the development of these red fruits: they start very subtly from tiny, whitish-green flowers that hide beneath the undersides of the leaves:

 Can you see the little green "flower" on the right side of the plant. So incognito!

Can you see the little green "flower" on the right side of the plant. So incognito!

Red huckleberries are very small (1 cm or less in diameter), but pack a delicious, tangy punch. Though this shrub is more delicate and effacing than the outgoing, festive salal, it is worth getting to know – in my opinion, the berries that it quietly creates are of equal intensity to those of showy salal. You’ll find a lot of red huckleberry shrubs rooted in crumbling, rotted stumps throughout the forest.