The saskatoon berry is also known as the Pacific serviceberry, western serviceberry, alder-leaf shadbush, dwarf shadbush, chuckley pear, or western juneberry. The saskatoon berry plant varies in size from being a shrub of one metre tall to a small tree of five metres tall. It has dark grey to reddish bark. It has thin, oval leaves. The berries, not to be confused with blackberries, are purple to nearly black in colour. They are edible, with a sweet taste a bit like the taste of cherries, almonds and grapes combined.
RANGE & HABITAT
The saskatoon berry can be found on dry, open, warm slopes at low to middle elevations. It does not like the shade and is only found in open forests such as the ponderosa pine forest. In B.C., this plant grows in the Southern Interior and the Southern Interior Mountains ecoprovinces.
Saskatoon reproduces with an incredible underground root system as well as seeds that are spread by the birds and mammals that eat them. Thanks to its underground root propagation, the plant is able to withstand fires as the new plants shoots will grow up from the root system even if the entire above ground plant has been burned.
Many hoofed animals feed on the saskatoon berry in the winter and the berries are also a good source of nutrients for birds late in the summer.
TRADITIONAL USES BY INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
The fruit is used in soups, stews, meat dishes, pemmican and dried cakes. Saskatoon berry juice is used to cure stomach ailments, and is a mild laxative. The juice is also used to make eye drops and eardrops. Arrows and pipes can be made from the stems of the saskatoon berry.
It is used to help re-grow disturbed sites and is still an important food for many people.
COSEWIC: Not at Risk
Photo: Nancy Turner