One of the first shrubs to bloom in our woods is Osoberry, Oemleria cerasiformis. We usually see the first signs of blossoms opening in late February. Some plants are still showing flowers this week, although they’re starting to look a little aged by now. The photo above was made on March 23, showing flowers on one of the plants that bloomed a little later than others.
Osoberry, which we used to also call Indian Plum, is dioescious, meaning that male and female flowers are on separate plants. At a glance it’s not that easy to tell the boys from the girls. You have to get up close and personal with the flowers. The picture above shows male flowers with a handful of stamens. Going through my photos of the species for this blog post I discovered that I’ve never photographed female blossoms close enough to see the pistil(s).
Osoberry flowers dangle in loose racemes from near the end of the twigs, little cascades of white below the brilliant green of new foliage.
As you would expect, only the female plants produce fruit. Like all plums, they’re edible by humans. However, the fruit is small and mostly pit so I’ve never heard of people gathering them for the table. It’s much better to just leave them on the stems for the birds and squirrels. They keep a close eye on the maturing fruit and will strip it bare just as soon as the fruit is sufficiently ripe.
Osoberry fruit starts out a soft golden yellow, then turns by shades through orange and red to a deep blue-black when fully ripe. I photographed this cluster of ripe fruit in early July 2011 at Lewis & Clark State Park a few miles north of Toledo, Washington.
You can learn more about osoberry and see more photos on my Pacific Northwest Wildflowers website.