Silverberry (Commutata)

The Silverberry (Commutata) 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 greatest bloom is usually observed in the early summer, with fruit and seed production starting in the summer and continuing until fall. Leaves are not retained year to year. The Silverberry (Commutata) has a moderate life span relative to most other plant species and a rapid growth rate. At maturity, the typical Silverberry (Commutata) will reach up to 12 feet high, with a maximum height at 20 years of 12 feet.

The Silverberry (Commutata) generally appears in field collections and doesn't tend to be commercially available. It can be propagated by bare root, container, seed. It has a slow ability to spread through seed production and the seedlings have high vigor. Note that cold stratification is not required for seed germination and the plant cannot survive exposure to temperatures below -38°F. has high tolerance to drought and restricted water conditions.

Uses of : Landscaping, Medicinal, Culinary, etc.

Wildlife/Livestock: American silverberry is an important wildlife food for moose, elk, mule deer and white-tailed deer, pronghorn, upland game birds, small nongame birds, small mammals, and waterfowl. Its palatability is rated poor for cattle and horses and fair for sheep. American silverberry also provides protection and nesting cover for these same animals, particularly in grasslands and other mostly open habitats. In mature White Spruce forests of the Yukon Territory, it provides important habitat for snowshoe hares.

Ethnobotany: The fleshy fruit of American silverberry is cooked in moose fat and eaten by some Alaskan natives. The pits of the fruits are used as necklace beads in the Fort Yukon region of Alaska.

Conservation: The vigorous rhizomatous habit of American silverberry helps it spread quickly in disturbed sites, and it has been used for soil stabilization of mine spoils in British Columbia and Alberta. Pre-inoculation with mycorrhizal and nitrogen-fixing symbionts may result in more rapid revegetation.

General Characteristics

General: Oleaster family (Elaeagnaceae). Long-lived shrubs, growing 1-4 m tall, rarely small trees, strongly rhizomatous, and stoloniferous, sometimes forming thickets or loose colonies, the branches thornless, reddish brown, sparsely to densely covered with silvery scales. Leaves are deciduous, simple, alternate, 2-10 cm long, ovate to oblong or ovate-lanceolate, wedge-shaped at base, short petioled, both surfaces covered by minute, silver scales, sometimes with scattered brown scales beneath. Flowers are bisexual or unisexual, sweet-scented, short-stalked in lateral clusters of 1-3 on twigs of the current year; petals absent, the sepals forming a 4-lobed tube from the top of the developing fruit (the ovary inferior), yellowish inside, silvery outside, 12-15 mm long. Fruits are ovate to ellipsoid, 8-10 mm long, silvery-covered with a dry mealy flesh covering a single, ellipsoid stone. North American native with fruits covered by silver scales.

Required Growing Conditions

American silverberry is distributed across northern North America, from Alaska, Yukon Territory, and the Northwest Territories through Canada, except for the easternmost provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland), and in the United States from Washington to Minnesota and southward to northeastern Utah and Colorado. “Escapes” (presumably from cultivation) occur in Texas and Kentucky. Although the species is wide-ranging, the plants usually are uncommon to rare and local where they occur. For current distribution, please consult the Plant Profile page for this species on the PLANTS Web site.

Adaptation American silverberry commonly occurs in riparian communities along watercourses and is ranked as a facultative wetland species in Alaska. It also grows in open grasslands and a variety of open forests and thickets. Because of its relative shade intolerance, it usually is found in open vegetation, particularly where soil disturbance has occurred. It is a dominant species and indicator of relatively young (6-19 years old) quaking aspen parkland communities in the Canadian Prairie Provinces. The tough leaves, with their dense and close cover of scales, probably are at least partially responsible for the drought resistance of silverberry. Plants also are wind resistant and tolerate temperatures down to about -40°C.

Although it grows best in loamy soils, American silverberry is commonly found in dry, sandy or gravelly soils, including those highly susceptible to erosion. The species occurs over a wide range of elevation (300-8000 feet). Flowering in June-August; fruiting mostly August-October.

Cultivation and Care

Seeds are produced in good crops every 1-2 years. They remain viable 1-2 years or more and germination may require a natural stratification period of nearly two years. Birds are the primary seed dispersers. American silverberry also reproduces and spreads by rhizomes.

Plants cut back severely to old wood can still regenerate. Cuttings are slow and difficult to root, usually requiring at least 12 months for good establishment.

General Upkeep and Control

American silverberry fixes nitrogen some of which is available to plants of other species growing nearby. In rough fescue grasslands, silverberry at 1,000 stems per acre increases forage production. It can be grown in orchards to increase yields from fruit trees by up to 10%. American silverberry is an “increaser” species on overgrazed cattle rangelands, and where silverberry was a minor component 20 years ago in rough fescue grasslands of Alberta and Saskatchewan, it is now widely distributed. Frequent sheep browsing or mowing, however, reduce silverberry cover. Many passerine bird species are attracted to mixed-grass prairie with interspersed silverberry cover and reduction of silverberry results in reduced or altered composition of bird communities.

In native grasslands, American silverberry is often controlled with herbicides or fire. It is top-killed by most fires and is probably completely killed by severe fires. In the Canada Great Plains, American silverberry is described as a species seriously harmed by spring and fall burns. Plants sprout from rhizomes after fire, and although numbers of plants may increase after fire, cover usually decreases and recovers slowly. Presettlement fires probably occurred every 5-10 years in grasslands where American silverberry is a common shrub. More frequent burning reduces silverberry cover, but patches of shrubs can be maintained by employing partial burns.

Pests and Potential Problems American silverberry is heavily rusted in Canada and is also a host for pycnia and aecia of Puccinia coronata (crown rust) and Puccinia caricis-sherpherdiae. An unidentified species of Calamagrostis was found to be a uredinial and telial host for Puccinia coronata found on E. commutata.

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 Field Collections Only
Physical Characteristics
Bloom Period Early Summer
Displays Fall Colors Yes
Shape/Growth Form Multiple Stem
Drought Tolerance High
Shade Tolerance Intolerant
Height When Mature 12
Vegetative Spread None
Flower Color Yellow
Flower Conspicuousness No
Fruit/Seed Abundance High
Fruit/Seed Seasonality Summer Fall
Seed Spread Rate Slow
Gardening Characteristics
Propagations (Ways to Grow) Bare Root, Container, Seed
Moisture Requirements Low
Cold Stratification Required Yes
Minimum Temperature -38
Soil Depth for Roots 18
Toxic to Nearby Plants No
Toxic to Livestock No
After-Harvest Resprout Ability Yes
Responds to Coppicing No
Growth Requirements
pH Range 5–7.9 pH
Precipitation Range 16–16 inches/yr
Planting Density 1200–1700 indiv./acre
Soil Textures Coarse, Medium
Soil Depth for Roots 18
Minimum Frost-Free Days 100 day(s)
Salinity Tolerance Low
CaCO3 Tolerance High
Sustainability & Use
Leaf Retention No
Palatability Medium
Fire Resistant No
Causes Livestock Bloating None

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