The silver buffaloberry (Shepherdia argentea) is a rugged shrub that can handle a wide variety of growing conditions. The fruits are edible and studies suggest that they may deserve the label of "superfruit".
This plant is classified as Shepherdia argentea and it is in the Elaeagnaceae (oleaster) family. The species name of argentea means "silvery" and is in reference to the foliage.
The other species in this genus are the Canada buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis) and the round-leaf buffaloberry (Shepherdia rotundifolia.)
You may see this listed as silver buffaloberry, thorny buffaloberry, bull berry or just buffaloberry.
Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones
The best zones for this species are Zones 3 to 9. If you can offer it some protection, it may be able to grow in Zone 2 also. It comes from North America.
Size & Shape
The size will depend on the conditions present in the growing location. It will be 2 feet to 18 feet tall and wide at maturity, creating a rounded shape.
Each leaf is covered with an abundance of tiny silvery hairs, giving it a silvery-green appearance overall. They are 1 inch to 2 inches long with an elliptical shape.
Each plant produces either male or female flowers (dioecious), with the male flowers being larger than the females. They are yellow and have sepals but no petals. Thousands of these are produced each year.
Though this plant has the word berry in its name, it is not actually that type of fruit. Buffaloberries are stone fruit or drupes that are usually red but can be yellow. They are edible and can be eaten fresh or dried. They are quite tart, though they will sweeten up a bit if they are hit with frost. These fruits can be used in a variety of recipes like jams, jellies, and sauces. They were cooked in many ways by the Native Americans.
Be careful to not eat too many at once, though, as the American Indian Health and Diet Project warns that they can cause bouts of diarrhea or in extreme cases, death. The fruit contains a substance called saponin which creates foam when placed in water.
This plant is covered with sharp thorns that can make it difficult to harvest the fruit. This trait does make it a good choice for a barrier or fence. This is a drought tolerant shrub once the roots have had a chance to grow and anchor themselves. It can also handle salty and windy conditions well.
It is dioecious so you will need to plant at least one male and female shrub so that the female will produce fruit. The silver buffaloberry can be part of a wildlife garden since birds love to come visit so they can eat the fruit. If you want a plant that produces yellow fruit instead of red, look for the 'Goldeneye' and 'Xanthocarpa' cultivars.
This shrub can handle many different soil types and pH levels as long as the planting site offers good drainage. Slightly acidic to alkaline is best.
Propagation is by germinating the seeds after a period of stratification (cold storage) or by rooting cuttings. Scarifying the seeds can also aid in improving germination rates. The shrub will also naturally clone itself.
This plant has the ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere. This allows it to survive in spots that other plants would struggle in due to insufficient nitrogen levels. Find a location in your garden that offers full sun.
Maintenance and Pruning
The silver buffaloberry does like to send out suckers and try to spread itself. You can use this to your advantage in populating a native or wildlife garden inexpensively. Otherwise, plan on pruning away the suckers when they first appear.
There are not usually too many problems with pests. Deer may eat the leaves and twigs. Birds may be considered a bit of a nuisance if you are planning on eating the fruit yourself.
You may see branch cankers, stem decay, and white heart rot disease.
One study related in the Journal of Food Science found that the silver buffaloberries were high in lycopene. Lycopene may help in reducing the chances of ailments like cancers, heart disease, and exercise-induced asthma.