PNW Landscape Plant Guide

brought to you by the plant geeks at Calendula Farm

Salal (Gaultheria shallon)

Salal is one of the ubiquitous green forest dwellers that makes the Pacific Northwest feel like home. Gautheria species are found in many parts of the northern hemisphere but this is the one found between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascades & Sierras, from British Columbia to Central California. It has a long history as food and medicine and Salal is an essential member of our NW forest ecology, serving as food and habitat for every kind of creature from insects to mammals, tiny and large.

Salal is used to growing around and among Firs, Hemlocks, Madronas, and other large trees. It is not very picky, though, so you can find it along open roadsides as much as in the deepest darkest corners of the forest. In sun, it will stay shorter and more compact. In deep shade it will get taller and more open in form, growing up to 6 or more feet tall.

Salal is evergreen with sturdy leaves along deep red stems and will spread slowly into a colony of itself. Small white & pink flowers dangle on the stem tips like a line of tiny bells in late spring. These turn to tasty black berries in late summer.

Here’s the tricky part – they are almost always perfectly ripe for about two weeks in mid to late august. Before and after that they’re kinda nasty. Get them when they are perfect, and they make wonderful preserves. Harvesting Salal is one of our mental markers of the progression of seasons. Pick Salal, then get ready for autumn.