Shepherdia canadensis (Canada Buffaloberry)

Plant Info
Also known as: Russet Buffaloberry, Soapberry
Family:Elaeagnaceae (Oleaster)
Life cycle:perennial woody
  • State Special Concern
Habitat:part shade, sun; dry, rocky soil; open woods, forest edges, riverbanks, rocky shores, rock outcrops
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:1 to 10 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: FACU MW: UPL NCNE: UPL
MN county distribution (click map to enlarge):Minnesota county distribution map
National distribution (click map to enlarge):National distribution map

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Detailed Information

Flower: Flower shape: 4-petals

[photo of male flowers] Flowers are in leaf axils of short, one-year-old branches, emerging before the leaves. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants (dioecious), both are green to yellowish, about 1/8 inch across, stalkless, lack petals but have a bowl to urn-shaped calyx with 4 triangular, petal-like lobes. At the base of each lobe is a pair of greenish-yellow nectary glands. Male flowers are clustered 1 to a few in the axils, have 8 well extended stamens, alternating with the nectaries, and the calyx lobes are strongly bent back (reflexed).

[photo of female flowers] Female flowers are single in the axils, somewhat smaller and stiffer than the males, the calyx lobes spreading to reflexed, with a slender, capped style extending from the center. The upper/inner surfaces of the calyx are smooth while outer surfaces are densely covered in rusty colored scales.

Leaves and stems: Leaf attachment: opposite Leaf type: simple

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple and opposite, egg-shaped to lance-elliptic, widest below the middle, 1½ to 2¾ inches long, ¾ to 1¼ inch wide, tip and base rounded, on a short stalk. Edges are toothless, the upper surface dark green and smooth or with scattered star-shaped (stellate) hairs, the lower surface grayish green with dense stellate hairs and scattered rusty scales.

[photo of twig] New twigs are shiny, covered with rusty brown scales, turning brownish gray and eventually shedding the scales. Leaf buds are stalked. Branches are limber and often arching.

[photo of older bark] Older bark is dark gray and rough, the basal stems up to 1¾ inches in diameter.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

[photo of fruit] Fruit is a fleshy, berry-like drupe, bright red with scattered brownish scales, ¼ to 1/3 inch diameter, with a single hard seed inside.


Canada Buffaloberry is common in northern boreal forests and higher elevations in the west, but uncommon in northern Minnesota along its border with Canada, and occasional around the Great Lakes. According to the DNR, extensive searches have been conducted in what should be suitable habitat but far fewer occurrences than expected have been found, possibly due to environmental conditions that are not currently well understood. It was listed as a Special Concern species in 2013. While the fruit might be appealing, it is extremely bitter and "soapy" when crushed, giving it another common name: Soapberry. The only other species with which it might be confused is Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), which also has silvery leaves with stellate hairs, scattered brown scales on the underside and similar red fruit. It, however, is a newly appearing invasive species in southern Minnesota and has fragrant, white, trumpet-shaped flowers and alternate leaves, not opposite.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in St. Louis County.


Have you seen this plant in Minnesota, or have any other comments about it?

Posted by: Aleks Kinclara - Thompson Park, West St. Paul, Dakota County
on: 2022-07-24 00:29:29

Found along trail alongside some black raspberries. Many red berries now in late July. I came here to see if they might be edible. Guess not.

Posted by: K Chayka
on: 2022-07-24 10:30:58

Aleks, per the distribution maps, it is unlikely you saw this in a Dakota County park, since it is a rare species of our northern boreal forests. Red berries are also found in invasive honeysuckles, which is far more likely what you encountered.

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