Today I was visiting Cathedral Park in the St. John’s neighborhood of North Portland when I spotted some salal berries planted, conveniently, right next to some equally ripe and edible Oregon grape berries. Lucky me, I ate them both and had a free wild snack.
Salal, Gaultheria shallon, is a shrub (or a bush) native to the Pacific Northwest. It has alternate, leathery-textured oval leaves and big round blue berries. It grows at low to mid elevations and is especially common in the forest understory and in Portland-area landscaping.
The berries are really good, similar to blueberries in flavor and appearance. The stems attached to the berries are red, making for high contrast with the fruit. In some areas, especially those at higher elevations, salal is still only just flowering. If you see it in that phase of its life, you’ll notice the flowers are whitish or pale pinkish and shaped like upside down cups. (See photo below).
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