Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database

Rubus spectabilis (Salmonberry)


 Plantae – Plants


 Tracheobionta – Vascular plants


 Spermatophyta – Seed plants


 Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants


 Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons






 Rosaceae – Rose family


 Rubus L. – blackberry


 Rubus spectabilis Pursh – salmonberry

This attractive native bramble shrub is the favourite of hummingbirds and was highly esteemed by Coastal Natives. Growing fast and erect, bushes reach 6' with a 6' spread.

The large, reddish-purple flowers give way to yellow-rose tinted, edible berries. Their taste varies radically from bush to bush.

Salmonberry is found in open forest areas, in sun or part shade, usually following a disturbance.

Hardy from USDA zone 5-9, Salmonberry grows along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California.

The following article was written by Colleen Stuckey, who lives on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada.

Description: The first sight of the nodding, cupped flowers on the Salmonberry bushes signals the return of the Rufous hummingbird.

The males arrive first and spend many weeks defending their territory, even viciously, against other males (and humans!). Then the females join them, flying as much as 5,000 miles from their wintering grounds.

They will stay in your yard and return year after year if you offer a feeder, some Red Columbine (Aquilegia formosa), a few Red-Flowering Currants (Ribes sanguineum) and their favorites:  the Salmonberry.

Habitat and Range: Salmonberry can be found in USDA zones 5 – 9, from southern Alaska to California and scattered throughout the areas west of the Coast and Cascade Mountains. Salmonberry occurs in moist forest openings and disturbed sites at elevations below 3000’. It can tolerate light shade, however, its prevalence decreases as the forest canopy closes and deep shade develops.

Ornamental Value: This tall and erect shrub looks beautiful at the edges of a garden where its dark pink blooms are visible throughout their long blooming cycle. Underplanted with Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum), the Salmonberry is striking indeed.

Native Plant Gardening / Wildlife Habitat:  If you are attempting to attract wildlife, especially hummingbirds, consider planting Salmonberry. In time Salmonberry will form a dense thicket – an ideal spot for nesting birds and for small mammals alike. Furthermore, many species of mammal including rabbits, beavers, porcupines, deer and elk browse the leaves, twigs and buds.

Restoration and Mitigation Value: An important riparian species, the Salmonberry is helpful in preventing erosion. With its deep roots and suckering habits, these shrubs can hold soil intact at the edge of a stream, river, pond, ditch or on a steep slope. Like Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus), stands of Salmonberry flourish after soils have been disturbed by construction, logging or fire.

Historical / Cultural uses: Salmonberries were a popular plant among First Nations people. An infusion of the roots was used to stimulate the appetite and promote weight gain. Using the leaves, an infusion was administered to treat anemia, to shorten an overly long menstrual period and to ease labor pains. Dried leaves were chewed to cure diarrhea and stomach upset.

As a food source, Salmonberry was equally important. In spring, the sprouts were peeled and eaten raw with salmon meat or dried salmon spawn – hence the name. The berries were eaten fresh, as they are too juicy to dry into cakes for winter use. Families in some tribes “owned” stands of Salmonberry. They reserved the right to the first and second rounds of picking. This initial, and generally bountiful, harvest was used for a feast, after which the patch was open to all people.

Edible and Medicinal Uses: Before consuming any wild plant be absolutely certain that you have properly identified the plant. It is best to observe a plant through several seasons and stages of growth to be certain you have the correct plant.

Use extreme caution in preparation as many wild plants have toxic parts (for example, the roots may be poisonous but not the leaves of some species) and check with a health care professional before using any wild plant medicinally.

Lastly, do not over-harvest: leave ample fruit for reseeding and wildlife food.

Respect that native plants are already in extreme competition with both human development and such troublesome invasive species as Scotch Broom (Cystisus scoparius), Gorse (Ulex europaeus) and Purple Loosestrife (Lysimachia salicaria). By depleting an area of a native species, you are essentially inviting an invasive species to establish itself. Pick fruit or leaves in areas where there are large enough numbers of the plant to support harvesting.

Salmonberries are edible and vary in flavor from bush to bush and year to year. They are always juicy but the flavor is sometimes bland. Some people use the leaves in the same way that they use red raspberry leaves therapeutically. However, more research is needed to determine whether the active chemical components are the same between rubus species.

NOTE: Please use caution when preparing or eating any parts of a plant. Identification of the species and knowledge of a plant’s toxicity are both essential before using any plant species medicinally or otherwise. Please consult with a health professional before attempting to treat any ailment.

Propagation Techniques:  Propagation by seeds is difficult. First, fully ripe berries must be collected and mixed immediately with at least five times their volume of water. This combination is poured into an electric blender or food processor and blended at the lowest setting for only a couple of seconds or in short bursts until the berries have come apart.

The mature seed will sink to the bottom and those that are not fully developed as well as the fruit pulp will float to the top. The liquid is poured off and the seed dried on a cloth.

Some sources say that germination of these seeds is most successful when they have been warm stratified for three months and then cold stratified for an additional three months. This, of course, mimics the natural cycle of summer and then fall/winter.

Seeds distributed in the droppings of birds or mammals are far more likely to succeed than those planted by humans, no matter what the stratification procedure. The gizzards in birds and the digestive enzymes in mammals break down the tough seed coat and speed germination.

Other means of propagating this plant include tip-layering, hardwood cuttings and division of offsets in autumn or early spring. Tip-layering involves bending the cane to ground level and securing it there so the tip can root. Incidentally, this is the way that blackberries naturally spread and it highly successful – just witness the proliferation of invasive blackberries in the Pacific northwest.

Hardwood cuttings are taken in the fall, as the plant goes dormant. A selection of a fully mature, straight stem is cut into pieces about 4 – 8” long with about four buds per piece. These cuttings are buried in a coarse cutting soil with two buds above the soil line and two buds below. The following spring, root growth may have begun but they should not be disturbed until autumn.

Plant Associations: Salmonberry is found growing with Elderberry (Sambucus spp.), Sword Ferns (Polystichum munitum), Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum) and Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium var. canescens). Consider planting a selection of these plants together in your native garden. The Fireweed and ferns are particularly attractive at the base of the Salmonberry as they fill in the ground level. The Fireweed provides a display of color and beauty after the Salmonberry has finished flowering and fruiting and the Sword Fern remains green year-round. Nature’s combinations are simply perfect and we can only aspire to such masterful design in our own gardens.

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Lyons, C. P. and Bill Merilees. Trees, Shrubs and Flowers to Know in British Columbia and Washington. Vancouver, British Columbia: Lone Pine Publishing, 1995

Thompson, Peter. Creative Propagation: A Grower’s Guide. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press, 1989

Turner, Nancy J. Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples. Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press in conjunction with the Royal British Columbia Museum, 1995

Fire Effects Information, USDA, Forest Services, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, Montana. http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis

Plants for a Future (September, 2001) http://www.comp.leeds.ac.uk/pfaf

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