Native species of wild edible berries

Asked July 28, 2019, 11:10 AM EDT

I live in western Oregon. The following pertains to Coos, Northern Doulas, Lane, Linn and Benton Counties: Are both red and black currants native, or only red currants? I thought black currants were introduced? Why can't I find a listing for the rare variety of salmon berry that blackish red? It clearly has a distinct and preferably superior flavor profile different from the light orange variety, and the individual plants will only produce one of the two types. I encounter both red and blue varieties of elderberries, yet only the blue variety are listed as being present, whereas the red variety are said not to exist here (I'm referring to the color of the fruits when ripe). Are bearberries related to huckleberries?

Lane County Oregon

1 Response


That’s a lot of questions.

We have numerous native shrubs in the genus Ribes that we would commonly call currants and gooseberries. Fruits range from black, to blueish grey to red. These include the red flowering currant (w a grey berry) and stink currant with a black berry. These are quite different than the domesticated red and black currents seen in people’s gardens.

We have one species of salmon berry (a member of another large genus, Rubus). Like many wild plants, each individual is different and there will be a lot of variation in characteristics among individuals. The differences you describe in fruit color fall into that. Think of all the variation in apples. Most varieties we know are just chance individual seedlings that someone liked, named and propagated clonally. Some clonal varieties are centuries old (like Gravenstiein).

I find three species that sometimes go by the common name bearberry. One is distantly related to huckleberries, the other two are not.

Red and blue elderberries are very common in western Oregon, although they favor somewhat different environments. If you are not finding them both as listed, you should probably change your source of reference.

The internet can be helpful, but often is not due to the confusion of common names, and that fact that you will often see mislabeled images.

I would direct you to an extension publication, Shrubs to know in Pacific Northwest Forests EC 1640. Available in most Extension offices. It is very easy to use and costs only $12. There is also a book on Trees to Know in Oregon, EC 1450. A more comprehensive plant guide is Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast (OR to Alaska). Authors are Pojar and Mackinnon. Probably around $25 in bookstores.

Enjoy the summer berry seasnon.