It’s unmistakably silver and only looks a little bit like a willow. That suggests it should probably be called by its other name, Silverberry. However, everyone knows this flowering shrub by the common name Wolf Willow. However, it’s not a willow; rather, Elaeagnus commutata, a member of the Oleaster Family, and thus related to Buffaloberry.
The smell of spring run-off
No matter what you call it, you sure can’t miss it. Even if you don’t see the medium-height shrub’s iridescent silver leaves, you can smell it a mile away. The plant’s stems, top to bottom, are covered in tiny, shiny, silver scales. In May and June, it has those tiny yellow flowers. They emit that pungent aroma that to us says “spring” and “flood” at the same time. The aroma timing coincides with the high water we get during spring run-off.
We always think of this shrub as a river valley dweller. But you’ll find it all over the place in dryer soils, gravelly and disturbed places like roadsides, hillsides and ravines. It can grow as single plants or as aromatic clumps (sometimes all along a trail, as in the photo to the right). It can be found as far south as Wyoming and Utah, and as far north at the Yukon. It’s also a popular ornamental plant for gardens.
The plant’s uses
Those wonderfully smelling flowers turn into a tiny fruit, which is dry, mealy, and tastes like dried peas. Those fruits were only ever used as a famine food by native North Americans. You can squeeze out the seed, throw them in a little bit of water, boil them, and make a poor man’s thin pea soup. There’s no real evidence that the fruits are eaten by bears. The Blackfoot and the Cree used the single large seed inside the fruit to make beadwork. Some B.C. tribes used the tough, fibrous bark for baskets and ropes.
See more the the beautiful flowers of K-Country here!