Wolf Willow, Silverberry
In late May and early June, the small yellow flowers of this grey-leaved, 1–4 m tall shrub, perfume the air with a fragrance reminiscent of jasmine. The wood, however, is not good for a campfire: when burned, it gives off an odour of human excrement.
The mature fruits are dry and mealy, and the Blackfoot used them as food only in times of famine. (Johnston 46) The fruit is very similar to the fruit of its relative, the Russian olive, a non-native invasive tree. The seed is a relatively large, elongated, ribbed pit. Kershaw explains how decorative beads were made by boiling the fruits to remove the pulp, and, “while the seeds were still soft, a hole was made through each. They were threaded, dried oiled and polished.” (86)
Hungry Wolf explains further that, to finish the beads, fat was put in a fire, and the strung beads were held in the greasy smoke until they turned black. Then they were polished to a dark, shiny finish with a piece of soft buckskin. (7)
Growth habit and range: This common shrub occurs on moist plains, ravines and coulees, especially in the southern part of the province. It shows an erect to spreading growth habit to a height of up to 4 meters, and often forms a spreading colony.
Description: The young bark shows rust-coloured to silvery scales, and the older bark is grey-brown in colour. The leaves are up to 10 cm in length, a simple oblong shape, occur alternately on the stem, and are silvery-green in colour. The margin is smooth, but the leaf contour is somewhat wavy. The leaf tip is blunt to pointed, and there is a short leaf stalk.
The strongly aromatic flowers occur in groups of 3 or 4 in the leaf axils or at the base of the current years’ twig growth in May and June. Each tubular flower measures up to 15 mm in length and has four lobes which are yellow inside and silver coloured on the outside. Four stamens are present, but there are no petals. The fruits are a grey-green, mealy, berry-like drupe measuring 10–12 mm in length. The fruit contains a single, stony seed.
Hungry Wolf, Adolf. 1989. Teachings of Nature. Good Medicine Books, BC.
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.