Shepherdia argentea (Silver Buffaloberry)

Plant Info
Also known as:
Family:Elaeagnaceae (Oleaster)
Life cycle:perennial woody
Habitat:sun; open prairie, plains, river bottoms, along streams
Bloom season:April - May
Plant height:6 to 16 feet
Wetland Indicator Status:GP: UPL MW: FACU NCNE: FACU
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 Flower shape: tubular

[photo of male flowers] 1 to a few flowers crowded in bud axils of short, one-year-old branches, emerging before the leaves. Male and female flowers are borne on separate plants (dioecious), both are dull yellowish, 1/8 to ¼ inch across, very short-stalked, lack petals but have a short-tubular calyx with 4 triangular petal-like lobes. In the center is a ring of 8 yellow nectary glands. Male calyx lobes are longer than the tube and strongly bent back (reflexed), with 8 well extended stamens.

[photo of female flowers] Female calyx lobes are thicker and stiffer than the males, as long as or shorter than the tube, ascending to spreading with a thick, club-like style extending from the center. Upper/inner surfaces are smooth while outer surfaces have a crusty, scale-like covering.

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

[photo of leaves] Leaves are simple and opposite, oblong to narrowly lance-elliptic, 1¼ to 2 inches long, 1/3 to 2/3 inch wide with a blunt tip and tapered at the base to a short stalk. Edges are toothless, surfaces silvery, the upper with short, silvery scales, lower surface paler, more densely scaly with some of the scales brownish.

[photo of twigs] New twigs are covered with silvery scales that shed the second season. A single thorn is often present at the tips of short branches.

[photo of mature trunk] Bark becomes grayish brown, rough and peeling on the lower trunk. The base of the trunk can reach up to 4 inches in diameter. Colonies may form from spreading rhizomes.

Fruit: Fruit type: berry/drupe

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


Silver Buffaloberry is a shrub of the arid western plains, only extending into western Minnesota. Its rhizomatous roots can form dense, thorny thickets providing cover for wildlife and browse for deer. The fruits are eaten by many bird species and even bears have been found to graze on them. The fruit is edible for humans, though notably tart it is rich in lycopene and anti-oxidants. It is occasionally found in the nursery trade and while it's tolerant of poor soils, its brushy habit limits it use in a lot of landscapes. Sharing its native range is the invasive Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) that is also a small tree or large shrub with silvery foliage. However, its flowers are much larger, brighter yellow and more strongly tubular bell-shaped, its fruit is silvery green and its leaves are alternate rather than opposite.

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More photos

Photos courtesy Peter M. Dziuk taken in Clay County and in North Dakota. Photos courtesy John Thayer taken in North Dakota.


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

Posted by: Walt Gessler - Swift County, Lac qui Parle WMA
on: 2019-08-28 16:18:06

On the Szabo Tract of the WMA

Posted by: HvHughes - NW Polk Co SE of Warren
on: 2020-08-03 21:25:43

fruiting this week.

Posted by: Karin Fillhart
on: 2021-05-07 15:35:59

I want to know how to tell male from female shepherdia Argentia. I just bought one and need to get another, after finding out which sex I did purchase, so that it can produce fruit. thanks, Karin

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-05-07 16:09:50

Karin, read the descriptions of male and female flowers. You can't tell the difference when not flowering.

Posted by: Bill zales - Westfield iowa
on: 2021-10-07 12:17:10

How to tell the difference between Shepherdia canadensis and S. argentea?

Posted by: K. Chayka
on: 2021-10-07 13:03:17

Bill, in the wild habitat will be a big difference between S. canadensis and S. argentea, but the leaves are also pretty different, somewhat different in shape, S. canadensis green on the upper surface and S. argentea silvery. Also note that according to the national distribution map, outside of the Great Lakes the Midwest range of S. canadensis doesn't extend as far south as Iowa so it is highly unlikely you'd see it there.

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