Coffeeberry must be and ‘acquired’ taste. (Ick!)

Before the 49ers of the Gold Rush discovered that the seeds of the native coffeeberry, Rhamnus californica (or Frangula californica), make a nice uncaffeinated coffee substitute, the native American Indians were eating the fruit and using the leaves and bark herbally. The black berries supposedly make good jelly, but do not last long, and are too bitter while still red or greenish.

Before the birds get them, the quarter inch wide berries are somewhat colorful, but are not very abundant. The small clusters of tiny greenish yellow flower that bloom in spring are not much to look at either. The army green evergreen foliage is the main appeal. New stems are somewhat ruddy. Old stems and main trunks have smooth gray bark.

Large coffeeberry plants in the wild can get more than ten feet tall, with relatively open branch structure. Garden varieties stay smaller, with compact branch structure. ‘Eve Case’, which is probably the most popular variety, stays less than six feet tall, and is densely foliated. ‘Mound San Bruno’ is even more compact, with smaller leaves. ‘Seaview’ is a groundcover.


2 thoughts on “Coffeeberry

  1. What a pretty plant. We have a similar native ground cover, bearberry (arctostaphylos uva-ursi) but it’s leaves are tiny and rounded. The fruit is most likely not quite so large either. I rarely see the fruit on my plants. I get to see the pretty white blooms in spring, but as soon as the fruit reddens, it’s gone. Wildlife love it.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bearberry has prettier foliage and stems, and is more useful for refined landscapes. We use it here too, although it is different from the native species. It is marketed as a native because it is the same genus as the native manzanitas.


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