This 30–75 cm tall shrub spreads by suckers to form a low thicket in moist areas. Two or three pale pink, bell-shaped flowers occur in small clusters at the end of stems and in the axils of the greyish green leaves. The waxy, white 6–10 mm berry-like fruit give this plant its common name.
This plant contains an alkaloid, and the fruit is considered inedible. Some First Nations people said the fruits “were the ghosts of saskatoons, part of the spirit world and not to be eaten by the living.” (Kershaw 239)
Johnston reports that the twigs made arrow shafts, and the shrubs were used as brooms. (55)
Growth habit and range: This is a common, erect, heavily branched shrub growing to a height of 50–150 cm, and spreading to form a dense thicket. It is found in dry open woodlands, on hillsides and in coulees, ravines and river valleys of the aspen parkland and prairies.
Description: The young bark is green to light reddish in colour, and this matures to a grey-brown colour. Older bark has a shredding texture. The 3–6 cm long leaves are simple and opposite each other on the stems. The uppermost surface of the leaf is a deep grey-green colour, occasionally with a purplish tinge, while the under surface is paler green, with hairy veins. The leaf shape is a broad oblong and the margin varies from smooth to wavy to lobed.
The flowers appear in June and July and occur in small clusters at the tips of the branches and in the leaf axils. Each flower is an urn-shaped, light pink structure measuring 4–10 mm in length. The flower shows 4–5 lobes at the tip and five united sepals. Four or 5 stamens and a single hairy style protrude from the flower. The fruit is a white berry-like drupe with a greenish tinge, measuring 6–10 mm in length. The fruits are densely clustered, turn a purple colour in the autumn, and often persist on the shrub over winter. The fruits are believed to be poisonous.
Johnston, Alex. 1987. Plants and the Blackfoot. Occasional Paper No. 15., Lethbridge Historical Society, AB.
Kershaw, Linda. 2000. Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Rockies. Lone Pine Publishing, AB.