Usher in Spring with Osoberry (Indian Plum)
Late winter and early spring can be fairly dreary here in western Washington. But Osoberries (Indian plum) brighten up the grey rainy days with their bright green leaves and white flowers that show up before most plants have woken up. Keep reading to learn how you can add this great native plant to your property to chase away the grey of late winter and make the living world around you come alive.
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Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) goes by a number of different names, including Indian plum.
I find Osoberries to be a really interesting plant. At first when I moved to western Washington, I didn’t notice it. Throughout most of the year, it doesn’t really stand out. It sort of blends into the background.
But in late winter or early spring, and again at the end of summer, this plant really jumps out.
Along with native red flowering currants, Osoberries are the first native plants to leaf out with bright green leaves.
These bright green leaves really stand out when most trees are still bare. They seem to call out to you when you’re driving or walking in late winter, tempting you with signs of spring. And then, right when the very first bees are waking up, Osoberries add their bright white flowers to the mix.
They really do usher in spring.
Later, at the end of summer, Osoberries are the first native plants to turn yellow and drop their leaves.
You really can tell when fall or spring is on the way by watching Osoberries. But these great native plants do a lot more than just usher in spring and fall. Let’s dive into this great plant—but before we do, let’s make sure you have a way to remember them, along with the many other great native plants you discover.
To help you keep track of them all, we’ve made a native plant tracker that you can use. Don’t forget to grab your copy so you can start keeping track of all the amazing native plants in your area.
Getting Started with Osoberry (Indian Plum)
Osoberries are a fairly common native plant here in western Washington, and they can also be found in western Oregon and throughout much of California. They’re also found in British Columbia.
You will often find these plants growing in open forests, but also along the edges of forests. Osoberries tend to do fine with either dry or moist soil conditions.
But they will grow faster in well-mulched and moist conditions.
Since Osoberries can handle a mix of sun and shade, they’re great native plants for hedgerows and thickets. They can grow up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) tall/wide and wide, which can help you create a decent- sized hedgerow.
I’ve really enjoyed mixing them along side red flowering currants. Both plants have similar patterns of growth and tend to grow well together. Though red flowering currants are more tolerant of dry, sunny conditions.
The combination of red flowering currants and Osoberries is really striking in early spring.
While Osoberries look good on their own, I’ve found they’re best grown in a mix with other shrubs and with trees. They can easily be grown on the shady side of any large tree.
Osoberries also transplant really easily, and you can propagate them simply by bending branches down to the ground where they will take root.
And once you get them established, you will likely get volunteers planted by birds.
But this does mean you will need to have a mix of female and male plants. While both get bright green leaves and flower in the spring, only the female plants produce berries.
This means that, if you want to get volunteers, you will likely need to plant several plants to make sure you get a mix of female and male plants.
Though once they’re established, and you can identify which are female and which are male, you can then use a trick called the buried branch trick to ensure you can get more females or males, depending on what you want.
Essentially, you just bury the tip of a branch into the ground, making sure the branch is still connected to the original plant. The branch will root and start a new shrub. Later you can cut the branch to separate the 2 plants.
It will take a couple years for your Osoberries to get established to the point where they start producing flowers and potentially berries.
I should add that some people aren’t fond of the smell of the male flowers, but I’ve never noticed this myself. But this can be a reason to focus on propagating more female plants than male plants, along with the female plants’ edible berries. Just make sure you keep some male plants so you get the berries.
Info on Osoberries (Indian Plum) - Oemleria cerasiformis:
Benefits of Growing Osoberries
A big reason I love these plants is just how beautiful they are in early spring. Every year I look forward to their bright green leaves and white flowers.
If you live in western Washington, or some other parts of the Pacific northwest, you know what I mean. After months of grey days and long, dark nights, the radiant greens and whites of Osoberry leaves and flowers are as welcome as water in the desert.
But Osoberries also support numerus types of wildlife.
Their early spring flowers are great for pollinators—especially bumblebees and other native bees.
And then, later, their berries will attract all sorts of birds, including Bohemian waxwings, which just love to eat Osoberries.
Of course, this can make it hard for you to harvest any berries. But while their berries are edible, and they don’t taste bad, they also don’t really stand out. They have a large seed without a lot of flesh on them.
But if you do get some ripe berries, they can be a fun late spring harvest.
And they add more color to your land, like a second bloom. The berries will start out green and then turn orange before finally turning a deep shade of purple when fully ripe. While the birds will eat them when they’re orange, you will enjoy them a lot more if you wait.
Unripe Osoberries are astringent and they don’t taste great.
While I do enjoy harvesting Osoberries, this isn’t why I plant them. As a native plant, they co-evolved with the wildlife that call this area home. By planting Osoberries I can support birds, native bees, and nearly a dozen types of moths and butterflies that depend on this plant to live.
The result is a more abundant environment that better supports my family as well as all the other life that calls my property home.
And of course, we get to enjoy the earliest splashes of color and light as these beautiful plants wake up to usher in spring.
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