The thing that I love about nature walks is that the more often you visit a place, the more likely it is that you’ll see something new. Such is the case with the small introduced flowers that I’m training myself to notice. It is also the reason why I “discovered” a nice stretch of Black Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata) growing alongside the river path between downtown Courtenay and the Airpark Lagoon. I say “discovered,” but in reality these shrubs were here all along – I just hadn’t noticed them before.
Black Twinberry is in the honeysuckle family. While the general appearance of this shrub is similar to other shrubs the flowers and berries make it easy to identify. The flowers are yellow and tubular in shape resembling somewhat the form of the longer trumpets of the Western Trumpet Honeysuckle (L. ciliosa). The flowers are usually in pairs in the leaf axils, making them quite distinctive. The fruits produced by the plant are deep black berries cupped in “purplish-maroon bracts” – I’ll look for those later in the season.
Regretfully, the berries aren’t considered to be edible. First Nations people called them “raven’s food” and “monster’s food” and didn’t eat the bitter berries. According to Plants of Coastal British Columbia the berries were used to make a black pigment and the twigs and bark were used to counteract digestive problems and for contraception. Apparently the Haida rubbed the berries on their scalps to prevent premature graying of their hair!
While I’m not planning on trying any of the medicinal uses of this shrub I am looking forward to enjoying it on my walks and would love to have one growing in my yard. For more information about Black Twinberry see Green Timbers Heritage Society’s excellent profile of this beautiful shrub.