oemleria-cerasiformisCommon name: osoberry

Scientific name: Oemleria cerasiformis

Plant family: Rosaceae

Description: Osoberry is a deciduous shrub reaching up to 15 feet in height.  Leaves are oblong-elliptical, 1-1.5” long, light green, alternate, simple, and have smooth margins.  In the spring, fresh leaves have the taste of cucumber.  Flowers are white with 5 petals, 15 stamens, and are about 1 cm in length.  These appear very early in the year and have a smell compared to cat-urine.  Fruit starts off peach-colored, then ripens to a bluish-black.  The berries can be up to ½” long, drooping, and have a large pit.

Habitat and Range: Osoberry prefers moist conditions, in either sun or shade.  It ranges from British Columbia to California, on the west side of the Cascade Mountains.

Historical and Contemporary Uses: Oemleria cerasiformis is seen as an indicator of spring, because it is the first deciduous native shrub to flower.  For this reason, hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies rely on its nectar in late winter.  First Nation communities used and continue to use the Osoberry shrub for numerous medicinal reasons.  The bark of the Osoberry were used to treat tuberculosis and as a mild laxative.  It was chewed and mixed with oil and applied to sores.  It is said that the consumption of the Osoberry was surrounded by a First Nations custom in which water was not allowed while eating them, and they dedicated a winter feast to it.

Oemleria cerasiformis can be cooked or dried.  Strips of bark were also used to bind harpoon tips.  Tea can be made from the bark, and was believed to cleanse the body.[1] It is fast growing and easily propagated nature paired with fibrous roots makes it ideal for resisting erosion and bring back native plants to a restored area.  Some projects decide to make clones that may root more readily.[2]  Nectar in the flowers is also very attractive to native bee species such as the Orchard Mason Bees.[3]

[1] Pojar, Jim, A. MacKinnon, and Paul B. Alaback. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast: Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Redmond, WA: Lone Pine Pub., 1994. Print.

[2] Gonzalves, Pete. “Indian Plum.” USDA NRCS, May 2009. Web. <http://www.plant-materials.nrcs.usda.gov/pubs/orpmcfs9127.pdf>.

[3] “Oemleria: Indian Plum.” Portland Nursery. Web. http://www.portlandnursery.com/plants/natives/oemleria.shtml