Russet Buffaloberry (Canadensis)

The Russet Buffaloberry (Canadensis) is generally described as a perennial shrub. This is native to the U.S. (United States) has its most active growth period in the spring and summer . The Russet Buffaloberry (Canadensis) has white-gray foliage and inconspicuous yellow flowers, with a moderate amount of conspicuous yellow fruits or seeds. The greatest bloom is usually observed in the late spring, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Russet Buffaloberry (Canadensis) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Russet Buffaloberry (Canadensis) will reach up to 6 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 6 feet.

The Russet Buffaloberry (Canadensis) is easily found in nurseries, garden stores and other plant dealers and distributors. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have medium vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -63°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Ethnobotanic: Buffaloberry berries were used to make “Indian ice cream” which has a bitter taste but was often sweetened with salal berries, camas bulbs, or hemlock cambium (Pojar & MacKinnon 1994). The berries were also eaten fresh or dried.

The Wet’suwet’en used the twigs, leaves, berries, and juice medicinally for everything from heart attacks to indigestion. The berries were also chewed by Wet’suwet’en women to induce childbirth. The Salish and Kootenai tribes boiled debarked branches and used the solution as eyewash. A poultice of the inner bark, softened by hot water and mixed with pin cherry bark (Prunus pensylvanica) has been used to make a plaster or bandage for wrapping broken limbs (Moerman 1998).

Landscaping & Wildlife: Shepherdia canadensis plants are grown occasionally for ornamental use. The berries are browsed by grouse, black bears, grizzly bears, and snowshoe hares.

General Characteristics

General: Oleaster Family (Elaeagnaceae). Buffaloberry is a native, deciduous, nitrogen-fixing shrub that ranges in height from three to thirteen feet. The leaves are opposite, oval, two to six centimeters long, dark greenish on upper surface with whitish silvery hairs and rusty brown spots on the undersurface (Pojar & MacKinnon 1994). The flowers are small, yellowish or brownish, male and female flowers on separate shrubs. The fruits are drupelike, red or yellowish, ovoid achenes, that are fleshy and edible but almost tasteless or bitter (Viereck & Little 1972).

Required Growing Conditions

Buffaloberry is found from Newfoundland to Alaska, south to Maine, to western New York, Ohio, and northern Mexico. For current distribution, please consult the PLANTS profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation Shepherdia canadensis occurs in dry to moist open woods and thickets, from lowlands to middle elevation forests (Pojar & MacKinnon 1994). It prefers moist to wet soil and is generally found on rocky, sandy, or gravelly soils and is able to survive on nutrient poor soils because of its nitrogen fixing ability. This species prefers partial shade or partial sun to full sun.

Cultivation and Care

Propagation by Seed: Buffaloberry seeds should be harvested in the autumn and sown immediately in a cold frame. The seeds must not be allowed to dry out. Seeds have a hard seed coat and scarification with sulfuric acid for twenty to thirty minutes followed by two to three months of cold stratification will help the embryo to develop (Dirr & Heuser 1987). Place the seedlings into individual pots when they are large enough to handle. If sufficient growth is made by the summer, it is possible to plant them out, otherwise grow them in a cold frame for the first winter and out plant the following spring or early summer.

General Upkeep and Control

Shepherdia canadensis fruit contain low concentrations of a bitter principle saponin, which foams in water. It is very poorly absorbed by the body and can be broken down by thoroughly cooking the fruit. Saponin is much more toxic to some creatures, such as fish, if eaten in large quantities.

Plant Basics
Growth Rate Rapid
General Type Shrub
Growth Period Spring, Summer
Growth Duration Perennial
Lifespan Moderate
Plant Nativity Native to U.S.
Commercial Availability Routinely Available
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Late Spring
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Multiple Stem
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intermediate
Height When Mature 6
Vegetative Spread Rapid
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness Yes
Fruit/Seed Abundance Medium
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Medium
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -63
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing Yes
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5.3–8 pH
Precipitation Range 15–15 inches/yr
Planting Density 300–1800 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 24
Minimum Frost-Free Days 95 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance None
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No

Source: USDA, NRCS, PLANTS Database,
National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA