Shrubs with Simple, Opposite Leaves )
Oleaster Family (Elaeagnaceae)
Season: Berries ripen late-July to mid-August
Habitat: Open woods, especially lodgepole pine forests
Height: Up to 1.5 m
Description: Canadian Buffaloberry, also known as Soopalallie (with many variations on this spelling), is one of the most critical Rocky Mountain plants to learn. Look for a woody shrub, up to 1.5 m (5 ft) in height with dark green, oval leaves. The leaves are approximately 2-6 cm (.75-3.5 in) long, and are dark green above an fuzzy below. They are arranged in an opposite manner.
Buffaloberry are somewhat unusual in that there are both male and female plants. The flowers are inconspicuous, looking like small yellow growths that emerge below the new leaves.
In late-July or early-August, the berries begin to ripen. Only the female plants will bear fruit. They are round, approximately 4-6 mm (.25 in) in diametre, and vary from bright red to orange (occasionally yellow) They are also somewhat translucent.
Similar Species:Labrador Tea may be mistaken for buffaloberry in spring, but its lack of berries makes it easy to distinguish later in the season. The leaves of Labrador tea are slightly more pointed, and brownish beneath. They also join the branch in an alternate fashion. The flowers of Labrador tea are also quite showy as opposed to the inconspicuous flowers of the buffaloberry.
Range: Buffaloberry can be found throughout the Rockies, but tend to be more common along the eastern slopes. They grow well in lodgepole pine forests where a sparse canopy and well-drained soil creates ideal growing conditions.
Notes: If you learn to identify only one plant in the Canadian Rockies, make it this one. The new millennium brought with it a high incidence of bear encounters throughout the eastern slopes, all because of a bumper crop of buffaloberry. Once the berries ripen, this becomes the most important plant for bears within the northern Rockies. Any trail with an abundance of buffaloberries will also have bears. Try to avoid heavily berried trails in August and September, or at the very least make a lot of noise while hiking in such locales. Remember, an adult grizzly may eat upwards of 200,000 buffaloberries every day during this period. They may also get so engrossed in feeding that they do not hear you approach. Make sure you make lots of noise.
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