Shepherdia argentea

Common Name: silver buffaloberry 
Type: Deciduous shrub
Family: Elaeagnaceae
Native Range: Western United States and western Canada
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 8.00 to 12.00 feet
Spread: 8.00 to 12.00 feet
Bloom Time: March
Bloom Description: Yellow
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Low
Suggested Use: Hedge
Flower: Showy
Tolerate: Drought, Erosion

Culture

Easily grown in average, moderately fertile, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun. Tolerates light shade. Plants are dioecious (male and female flowers are on separate plants). Female plants will not produce fruit/seed unless pollinated by a male plant. Perhaps best grown on moist soils with good drainage, but plants are well-adapted to dry, moderately alkaline soils with good drainage. Tolerates poor dry soils. Tolerates drought. Thrives in moist areas near rivers where it often forms massive thickets. Tolerant of some flooding, but is intolerant of prolonged flooding and areas with a high water table. Must grow both male and female shrubs if fruit and seed are desired.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Shepherdia argentea, commonly known as silver buffaloberry, is an upright, bushy, thorny-branched, thicket-forming, deciduous shrub of the Oleaster family. It is noted for its attractive silver-scaled leaves and branches plus its bright red (female plants only) fruit which matures in fall. It typically grows to 12’ tall and as wide, but will occasionally soar to an almost tree-like 18’ tall. Native range extends from central and Western Canada south to California, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan and New York. Main concentrations of this plant are in northern areas of the Great Plains from the Prairie Provinces of Canada (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) south to Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota where it grows in a variety of habitats including both riparian areas (along edges of wet meadows, floodplains, streams, rivers, lakes and springs) and drier sites (woodlands, foothills, exposed slopes and prairies). In the far West, it is often found on dry, sandy, rocky or gravelly (often limestone) soils of plains and canyons.

This plant was first collected for scientific examination by Meriwether Lewis in 1804 in the area where the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers meet in northeastern Nebraska.

Silver-scaled stems are clad with opposite, elliptic, densely-pubescent, silvery-scaled leaves (to 2” long and 5/8” wide). Very tiny, tubular, apetalous, yellowish flowers, each with a 4-lobed calyx, bloom in spring (March) before the leaves emerge. Flowers on female plants, if pollinated, are followed by spherical, pea-sized, one-seeded, ovate, bright red fruits (each to 1/4” long) which appear singly or in clusters. Ripe fruits are edible but sour tasting. Fruits ripen in fall, but birds begin eating them off the shrub in late July-August. For humans, ripe fruit may be eaten fresh off the shrub or used to make pies, jams or jellies. Some experts recommend this fruit be eaten in moderation because of its saponin content. Thin exfoliating (shedding into long strips) bark appears on mature branches which are often spine-tipped (each spine to 2” long). Although commonly called buffaloberry, the fruit is not a berry but is a stone fruit.

Genus name honors John Shepherd (1764-1836), British botanist and first curator of the Liverpool Botanic Garden.

Specific epithet comes from the Latin word argenteus meaning silvery in reference to the color of the leaves and stems.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Powdery mildew, rust, whiteheart rot and leafspot may occur. Deer browse the leaves and young branchlets.

Garden Uses

Hedge. Back of mixed shrub border. Dappled shade. Windbreaks/screens. Erosion control.