Every month, Native Plant Nursery Manager Bridget McNassar shares information about one of the plants she and her team propagate in the nursery. This month’s species: Serviceberry.
My FAVORITE native berry, thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) seems to be having a bumper berry production year this year, YUM! We have actually been able to munch some of these berries when we are out collecting, whereas in most years I am usually saving every last collected berry for seed.
In the Snoqualmie Valley, you’ll notice lots of thimbleberry, especially on roadsides, along trails and forest edges. It has distinct, maple-like leaves that are large, soft, and fuzzy (often referred to as nature’s toilet paper!). Developing from woody rhizomes, the deciduous foliage will sprout anew each spring, forming thickets about 4-6 feet in height. Birds love thimbleberry for cover and often use the large leaves as protection for nesting sites. In fact, we had a junco family living in one of our large pots of thimbleberry this spring!
Lovely white rose-like flowers appear in late spring in clusters at the tips of branches, and are an attractive nectar source for bees and butterflies. And then in June and July, the small, shallow, raspberry-like fruits appear. They are super delicate, which I take to mean that they must be eaten immediately! Many birds relish the berries and they are typically quickly devoured by whomever finds them first. Once the leaves fall in autumn, the zig-zag shape of their woody stems adds winter interest to the garden, and also may provide nesting sites for native bees, so don’t cut them back until the spring.
Thimbleberry is actually quite versatile, it can be found in dry, open areas in both western and eastern Washington, but also in the moist forest understory. It spreads easily via its rhizomes, and works well in the garden as a yummy hedge or backdrop of a perennial border. If you feel your thimbleberry is spreading too vigorously, harvest the young shoots, which can be peeled, steamed and enjoyed as a green vegetable. Our thimbleberry is growing rapidly in this warm weather, and we’ll have a great crop of Snoqualmie Valley local plants available this fall!