Twinberry shrubs in California are beautiful no matter the season. In spring and summer, they grow yellow trumpet-shaped flowers. The base leaves, or bracts, of these flowers are burgundy, poised to decorate the next season. When the flowers drop away, the burgundy bracts remain into fall when small aubergine berries appear. The berries are around 9 mm wide, and they are spherical. Two berries appear on top of each bract. When I photographed the shrub in winter, some of the bracts and berries remained amidst the still-green leaves.
I was on a birding quest when I was learned about the twinberry. Twinberry shrubs in California live in one of my favorite habitats, brackish wetlands. I photographed this twinberry on a birding walk through San Simeon State Park on the Central Coast of California. A trip leader was skilled at plant identification and pointed this out. I apologize for the blurry photos. My trip companions were focused on birds, and there was little time to stop for plant photography.
The twinberry is a plant of symmetry: berries appear in pairs resting across from each other (unless a bird eats one and not the other). The trumpet-shaped flowers also grow in pairs from the same leaf axis. To me, it seems a perfect plant for Valentine's Day (and that is why I had to feature it for February 2007). Enhancing the romantic impression is the burgundy color of the bracts in winter.
Native peoples of North America used this plant in a variety of ways. Some considered it poisonous; it is not but the berries do not taste that appealing. A number of tribes used the leaves or berries to induce vomiting in individuals with stomach troubles. The South Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia combined the bark, berries or leaves with sea wrack and alder bark to make a poultice. Another British Columbian tribe used the branches as medicine for mothers after childbirth.
The Hesquiats of Vancouver Island mashed the berries to make purple paint, and similarly, a tribe in Western Washington used berry paint to color the faces of dolls. The University of Michigan-Dearborn ethnobotany database contains facts like these for a variety of plants.
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