Twinberry easy on eyes, not tongue

May 1, 2007 


    Scientific name: Lonicera involucrata
    Where found: Moist forest, clearings, swamps, alongside streams
    Places to look: Boardwalk at Tennant Lake Interpretive Center in Ferndale, Lake Whatcom trail

The twinberry shrub is known by numerous names — black twinberry, twinberry honeysuckle and bearberry honeysuckle. But whatever you call this native perennial, one thing remains constant — its small bluish-black berries are yucky.

“They taste either very sour or really bitter,” says Holly Roger, a naturalist at Tennant Lake Interpretive Center in Ferndale. “The birds like them, so they are a nice plant for your yard if you want to attract more birds.”

Perhaps that’s why the native coastal people called the plant, which has berries that that grow in sets of twos, “raven’s food” and “crow berry.” They found uses for the plant, although they seemed to be somewhat concerned about eating the berries. The Kwakwaka’wakw believed that those who did would lose their ability to speak.

Tribal people turned the bark and twigs into medicine to treat digestive tract problems or as contraceptives. While the Haida rubbed the berries on their scalps to keep hair from turning gray.

This time of the year, you’ll know the plant by its yellow tubular flowers.

Sources: Local naturalist Holly Roger; “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast,” by Jim Pojar and Andy MacKinnon; Washington Native Plant SocietyReach Kie Relyea at 715-2234 or kie.relyea@belling hamherald.com.

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