Plant of the day: coffeeberry

Frangula californica

Reddish berries are nestled among the dusky green leaves of coffeeberry (Frangula californica), a tremendously attractive shrub of dry hillsides, canyons and chaparral. Its stems are often reddish also, and the slightly shiny leaves dance up the twigs on alternating sides. In places it can look like a small tree, but more often I have seen it as a medium-sized shrub.

Coffeeberry is an important food for wildlife–mainly birds, but deer will eat it when tastier stuff isn’t around. Critters from pigeons to black bears (and deer too) enjoy the berries, and woodrats will eat limited amounts of the coffee-bean-like seeds inside. I’ve never tried the fruits, but apparently they are sweet and tasty, and were eaten by Native Americans. The bark has a laxative effect, and once was exported for medicinal use.

Unfortunately this pretty little native is vulnerable to Sudden Oak Death…

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Filed under Edible, Native, Plant of the day

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