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Forest garden plants that deer won't eat

 
Posts: 14
Location: NC Piedmont and SW Virginia
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At our weekender property in the Virginia Blue Ridge mountains we have heavy deer pressure. We do our best to put them in our freezer :-) but we don't make a dent. In some areas of the woods there is not much undergrowth other than Christmas fern, which apparently is not tasty. We have areas with white pine, beech, and mixed hardwoods. We have some creek bottomland ranging up to open pasture. We do have a small number of ramps, bloodroot in the bottomland area. I would be most interested in food, medicinal, and pollinator plants. Thanks!
 
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I've heard aronia does not get eaten by deer and they make very nice berries, very nutrient-rich.
 
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De Mott wrote: I would be most interested in food, medicinal, and pollinator plants. Thanks!



Hi De Mott, I want to suggest Jerusalem Artichokes. They are native to north america, the roots are edible and they can grow quite tall with a happy yellow apple sized sunflower. I know they are proliferate, so only plant where you want to keep them. There are some great YouTube videos by people about cultivating them. I have not done a search based on their appeal to dear, but I thought to suggest it for the fact it's edible and native.
 
Posts: 32
Location: Columbia MO
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Fencing possible?  Good to hear hear you are eating the deer too, thats my first response when they are eating too much 😄
 
pollinator
Posts: 3114
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even Soil:SandyLoam pH6 Flat
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A double fence around say 2 acres of land aka 2x 1200ft. That should be able to keep out the critters and give more than enough land to put in 300 tree a 1/4 acre fish pond, 3+ bee hive, self feeding and self watering chicken coop, with weekend moves. and 1/4 acres of herbs and such and 1/4 acres of bulk vegetables. It would be like going shopping on the weekend.
 
De Mott
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Location: NC Piedmont and SW Virginia
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john holmes wrote:Fencing possible?

Not very practical for us to fence in 15+ acres of woods, plus we don't want to - it's where we hunt deer for one thing. We do have very small fenced in areas for gardens around the house. What I'm interested in doing is enhancing the forest we already have. We'd be ok with removing white pine and replacing with other trees, but mostly I'm looking to plant something in the woods that's more useful than Christmas fern which is most of what I see.
 
De Mott
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Location: NC Piedmont and SW Virginia
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Aronia looks like a good candidate, thank you!
Jerusalem artichokes are appealing, but it looks like deer love them. I may try them by the creek with a very small fence.
 
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I have lots of plantain and nettles so I assume the deer don't like them.

Also they do not like the rosemary plant so I am assuming it is the smell.  Plant lots of things in with lots of the rosemary.
 
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Location: Zone 5 Atlantic Canada
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I tasted wild Aronia berries last fall and they were terrible. Reading permies I thought they would be a dream plant because of their ability to grow in wet shade, fix nitrogen, and produce edible, nutritious fruit —- but the edible fruit part is extremely questionable to me now. Are the cultivated varieties insanely superior, or are these another berry kind of like sea buckthorn that is barely palatable at the best of times?

 
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Eon MacNeill wrote:I tasted wild Aronia berries last fall and they were terrible. Reading permies I thought they would be a dream plant because of their ability to grow in wet shade, fix nitrogen, and produce edible, nutritious fruit —- but the edible fruit part is extremely questionable to me now. Are the cultivated varieties insanely superior, or are these another berry kind of like sea buckthorn that is barely palatable at the best of times?



Taste is such an individual thing.  I've never tasted Aronia berries, but I love seaberries.  I'm starting a couple dozen more this year so I have more of them to eat.  I have a deal with my chickens.  They get anything they can reach, I get everything else.
 
Posts: 40
Location: Ozark County, Missouri
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Eon MacNeill wrote:I tasted wild Aronia berries last fall and they were terrible. Reading permies I thought they would be a dream plant because of their ability to grow in wet shade, fix nitrogen, and produce edible, nutritious fruit —- but the edible fruit part is extremely questionable to me now. Are the cultivated varieties insanely superior, or are these another berry kind of like sea buckthorn that is barely palatable at the best of times?



Eon, aronia is one of my favorite plants here in our forest gardens. it's beautiful and no fuss! we don't eat the berries raw, but incorporate them into smoothies (with sweeter things already included), cook them up with a bit of sugar and make a syrup (amazing!), freeze the juice for additions into drinks all year round. I would also like to brew with them. the thing about aronias aka chokeberries is that they'll never be a blueberry or some delicious fruit that you can eat raw right off the bush. but that's not what we grow them for. any google search of their nutritional qualities will far and away make it worth your while in growing them. again, see above at how easy they are to grow! finding creative ways to add them to things - i forgot to mention aronia infused apple cider vinegar! or aronia sauce for wild meats! - is a small token of our appreciation for this easy peasy amazing native shrub!
 
pollinator
Posts: 149
Location: Idaho
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We have a lot of Oregon Grape here and the deer don't seem to like it at all. I harvest the berries in August and make a sweet/tart jam or syrup out of them. Sometimes the jam goes in with blueberries to make a sauce for pancakes and sometimes it goes into a mixed drink to add color and great flavor. The roots contain berberine and are medicinal/antibiotic. Overall a great plant in my opinion. I haven't found a use for the leaves yet.
 
pollinator
Posts: 132
Location: zone 6a, ish
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Deer ate the two Aronia plants I bought from Baker Creek a couple years ago.

In my experience, deer will eat anything and everything, and if they don't like the taste they'll rip it out for spite (like garlic/ onions).  So far, the only things they've left alone are mint, tansy, coneflower, daffodils, and bee balm.  They've also let the white mulberry seedling alone, but it could be because it's very small and gets smothered with weeds every year.  They usually don't bother the gooseberries and currants much (only a few nibbles), but they've gone after them harder in the past.  Oh, and pawpaw, they've only browsed leaves on that like once when the plants were small and decided nope.
 
Posts: 92
Location: Near Libby, MT
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I am planting juniper in areas where we have disturbed the dirt for construction. Of course the berries are probably only good for making gin, not necessarily a bad thing. But I agree, there are times when deer will eat anything. One fall they even chewed down my Bittersweet. And a very pregnant doe once knocked over the fencing around a little plum tree. They don't seem to bother the Solomon's Seal, which has a very edible root. And having foiled the ground squirrels with lavender I am going to give that a try outside the fence.

We have planted a traffic island with things that aren't supposed to tempt deer. Don't want them getting hit by the cars whizzing by. Not much of what we planted there is edible however. Who wants to eat barberry? Some Oriental lillies survive.

If you have altitude you could try huckleberry, which seem to survive the deer. And morels where there is shade and rotted wood. They are really prolific following a heavy fire season. You might have to fight the bears for the Huck's however. Good luck with that.
 
gardener
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Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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What you're describing is a very real problem. In many areas of Eastern North America, the deer are so prolific and the deer predators so scarce that the deer are actually preventing forests from renewing themselves. You would probably be doing your ecosystem a real favor to find a way to fence some "islands" and fill those with a good selection of whatever plants are native +/- useful and supportive to the ecosystem. By islands I'd be picturing making some circles of fence around 10 ft in diameter - that would be small enough inside that the deer might be less inclined to jump it. I'd plant a polyculture inside including local bulbs, onion-type things near the fence edge so it doesn't "smell good", things like red and black currents for birds, and a suitable central tree. Depending one what the existing tree structure is like, you could try surrounding a tree with such an island, or make them in the center of a group of trees. Either way, this sort of approach won't stop the deer from passing through your land, although make your life easy by *not* blocking obvious deer trails! (I'm sure since you hunt, you'd know that, but others reading this might not be as familiar with the signs.)
 
pollinator
Posts: 1340
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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I agree with the general sentiment that whatever you can eat, so can deer. One thing you might try is figs, they don't like them at all. Lots of herbs they don't touch. Persimmon would be a strong recommendation (they do browse them a little) but they are superior for deer season, you will have a crowd every evening when they are dropping.
 
pollinator
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in my area, deer may nibble on a pawpaw tip, but rarely more than that if ever.

in my experience aronia tends to be hammered by deer.
 
pollinator
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I like the idea of a smallish, fenced area with the beginnings of a food forest in it.  Sounds like a mulberry tree (when it gets big enough you'll be sharing the fruit with them), pawpaw, and a few other things with plenty of herbs, daffodils, onion, and garlic all around.  Inside the fence the trees can grow big enough to be safe from them, eventually without a fence, I think.
 
Posts: 389
Location: SW PA USA zone 6a altitude 1188ft
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The deer here have different tastes. There are 1000's of garlic plants in the field next door. They leave alone  quince, pumpkins, and turnips. They ignore peaches and pears , even when I throw my trimmings under the apple trees. They stand on their hind legs to trim apple branches with the peaches and pears at their feet.
 
Jay Angler
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Location: Pacific Wet Coast
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Anne Pratt wrote:I like the idea of a smallish, fenced area with the beginnings of a food forest in it.  Sounds like a mulberry tree (when it gets big enough you'll be sharing the fruit with them), pawpaw, and a few other things with plenty of herbs, daffodils, onion, and garlic all around.  Inside the fence the trees can grow big enough to be safe from them, eventually without a fence, I think.

I agree! I was figuring on the fence moving to a new spot once plants seemed big enough to protect themselves. I know from reading one of Sepp Holzer's books, that he intentionally leaves the lower branches on fruit trees specifically for the deer, knowing that he will get the fruit from higher up. Mind you, he's also generous with that bone salve he makes, but I need to find a suitable pair of pots to try making it, and our Thrift shops are closed due to the pandemic at the moment. But that's an aside - if I was doing this, I would try to do it in a way the allowed me to move the fence to a new spot and either use posts that wouldn't be too hard to get back out, or use wooden posts that could be left to biodegrade, or the odd one could be tall enough for a bird house to support our feathered friends - nothing like stacking functions!
 
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I've heard that pawpaw fruit trees are not popular among deer
 
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I agree with Jay Angler on his Sepp Holzer suggestions and would also like to sing the praises of stacking functions, extremely helpful though I'm not very familiar with deer and how you would steer them away without fencing other than either planting loads of undesirables that have another function such as hazel for coppicing and thereby sacrificing the nuts, this would hopefully keep them away from other crop at least in the autumn or you could also plant other sacrificial crop plants away from where your actual cropping plants are. Most foraging animals will tend to return to the same spot if there is an abundance. Plus you may even create a very easy routine for culling if you know they always return to the same spot or spots.
 
S Tonin
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Tj Jefferson wrote:One thing you might try is figs, they don't like them at all.



Either last night or this morning, they ate one of my figs down to the ground.  Granted, it was only 8" high and probably only had 6 leaves, but yeah.  Our deer will eat anything.
 
Trace Oswald
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I just found Aronia and planted it in my food forest.  It was eaten by the next morning.
 
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Having kept the deer off my wild, rural garden, I've found they are the easiest to deter.  The real problem is the rabbits, and the packrats, and the mice, and the voles (if you have them, but don't be surprised if you do and don't know it,) and quail who routinely yank at greens that interest them.

All of the above will eat things down to the ground, overnight.  Some years there are more than others.  

I've surrounded my 1-acre garden with chicken wire turned out 6 inches at the bottom and held down by letting the weeds grow through it.  If rodents start going in and out of the wall of chicken wire there will be a little trail that is easily spotted.

The voles are always an issue since they use the gopher tunnels, make tunnels of their own, climb up fruit trees and eat fruit.  One was sitting and staring at me the other day in the greenhouse after it helped itself to a couple of whole tomato plants that were at least 4 feet high.  If I had a vole coat I could spend a comfortable winter in Alaska.  They have impressive coats.   He got Rat X, which kills them without hurting anything that might eat the vole after it eats the Rat X.  There is also Mouse X that works on mice, but don't let it near kids/pets.
 
Posts: 52
Location: Reeds Spring, MO; zone 6b Ozarks
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I don't seem to have crazy deer pressure despite my location in a forest with precious little for them to eat, but the deer DO eat my aronia.

They have left my figs alone so far, and although they will take some bites off my elderberries, they don't seem to like those much.
 
Posts: 54
Location: North Thomas Lake, Manitoba
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Buffaloberry and Wolf Willow are the two shrubs I planted in my forest garden that haven't been munched down by deer. Both fix nitrogen and produce edible berries.
 
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Thank you all for posting this! I have deer pressure and was hoping a sea berry hedge would work. Thoughts?
 
Jay Angler
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Tinamarie Maison wrote:Thank you all for posting this! I have deer pressure and was hoping a sea berry hedge would work. Thoughts?

My local deer munched my seaberry enough to kill it over several years, although it wasn't all that happy in that location to begin with. You might have to give protection if planting small plants, but once it's hedge size it may work, particularly if you plant some things deer like better outside the hedge.
 
pollinator
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Can confirm, Aronia berries survive casual deer munching fairly well.

Note: The deer munch on them a little, but don't damage them much after the first year, as their growth outpaces deer munching, at least for my area.

I planted mine right before winter hit in 2018, and I placed milk jugs over them with no cap on the jug. This protected them from deer during winter (and gave them a few extra weeks growing in winter and spring), and once spring came, I put small cages over mine and removed them a year later, just for that first year. These were just spare hunks of hog wire I had lying around. After that, they can survive deer on their own, at least in my area.

Eon MacNeill wrote:I tasted wild Aronia berries last fall and they were terrible. Reading permies I thought they would be a dream plant because of their ability to grow in wet shade, fix nitrogen, and produce edible, nutritious fruit —- but the edible fruit part is extremely questionable to me now. Are the cultivated varieties insanely superior, or are these another berry kind of like sea buckthorn that is barely palatable at the best of times?



Aronia berries (at least the cultivated varieties) are extremely popular for juices and wines. Aronia berry wines are quite popular. As a kid, we used to get Aronia Berry juice by the gallon from Costco and was one of our favorite juices. Mine haven't produced fruit yet, but it's for the juice and the wine that I'm growing mine. I've never tasted them raw.

Wikipedia says: "The sour berries, or aronia berries, can be eaten raw off the bush, but are more frequently processed. They can be found in wine, jam, syrup, juice, soft spreads, tea, salsa, extracts, beer, ice cream, gummies, and tinctures. The name "chokeberry" comes from the astringency of the fruits, which create the sensation of making one's mouth pucker."

Presumably they were called "choke berries" for a reason. They were only recently (a few decades ago) renamed "Aronia berries" for marketing purposes, and they've really grown in popularity, due to their great juice and wine taste.

Also, people often mix up Choke Cherries and Choke Berries (Aronia Berries). If you accidentally ate Choke Cherries, you would've experienced very recognizable and intense "cotton mouth" for a few minutes. Choke Cherries are also great, and my family harvests two dozen or more gallons of wild Choke Cherries every suitable year (weather makes them only produce well about every third year), predominately for choke cherry jelly, but also for pancake syrup and wine.

There are alot of berries that taste fairly terrible until you heat the juice up during the juicing process, or until it ferments as wine. Aronia berry and choke cherry are just two. Huckleberry tastes like soggy spinach, but once you add sugar to huckleberry, it tastes like soggy spinach with sugar on it - still disgusting. But once you make wine from it, it tastes really good.
(Huckleberry is another berry with multiple berries sharing the same or very similar names, making people confused about which berry is which. There are probably half a dozen entirely different berries called Huckleberry in the USA, all unrelated).
 
pollinator
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Cassie Haurli wrote:

De Mott wrote: I would be most interested in food, medicinal, and pollinator plants. Thanks!



Hi De Mott, I want to suggest Jerusalem Artichokes. They are native to north america, the roots are edible and they can grow quite tall with a happy yellow apple sized sunflower. I know they are proliferate, so only plant where you want to keep them. There are some great YouTube videos by people about cultivating them. I have not done a search based on their appeal to dear, but I thought to suggest it for the fact it's edible and native.



I grow them.  Deer eat them down to the ground.
 
Jay Angler
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Janet Reed wrote:

I grow them.  Deer eat them down to the ground.

My friend grows then and her deer eat them too, although not to the ground. Part of that is what else is around that the deer like better or worse. If there are a *lot* of deer coming through, the patch will be gone. If there are only a deer or two, they will nibble and then try to eat something they like better.

Summary - in my ecosystem, Jerusalem Artichokes are edible by deer, but are not a "preferred" food. (That said, they ate my friend's garlic and alliums are also supposed to be "deer resistant".)
 
S Tonin
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The only thing deer left alone this year was red shiso, which self-seeded from one plant last year into a dense 3'x3' patch this year.  I'm thinking I might try using it around some more vulnerable plants and seedlings next year, especially the fruit seedlings that keep getting eaten down to twigs.  Even mints aren't a reliable deterrent; the only one they left alone was peppermint (while eating and otherwise destroying spearmint, chocolate, ginger, and mountain mints).
 
Jamin Grey
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Janet Reed wrote:


There are alot of berries that taste fairly terrible until you heat the juice up during the juicing process, or until it ferments as wine. Aronia berry and choke cherry are just two. Huckleberry tastes like soggy spinach, but once you add sugar to huckleberry, it tastes like soggy spinach with sugar on it - still disgusting. But once you make wine from it, it tastes really good.
(Huckleberry is another berry with multiple berries sharing the same or very similar names, making people confused about which berry is which. There are probably half a dozen entirely different berries called Huckleberry in the USA, all unrelated).



Wow....huckleberries here are beautiful big, juicy and sweet right off the bush.  They are fabulous in baking.  Sometimes as big as my thumb they command a high price if you’re unable to pick them yourself.  

I have never heard of anyone referring to them as soggy spinach or disgusting.  Can’t imagine.



There are over a half-dozen entirely unrelated berries all called Huckleberries (probably because of the overwhelming popularity of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. =P)

The Huckleberries I grow are very small - about the size of peas, entirely black, and are an entirely different (and genetically unrelated) fruit. They are actually Nightshade plants, closer related to Tomatoes than your Huckleberries. Mine are good for wine, but not good for eating raw. I'd love to have your Huckberries around here, they sound delicious!
 
Janet Reed
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Janet Reed wrote:[quote=J

There are alot of berries that taste fairly terrible until you heat the juice up during the juicing process, or until it ferments as wine. Aronia berry and choke cherry are just two. Huckleberry tastes like soggy spinach, but once you add sugar to huckleberry, it tastes like soggy spinach with sugar on it - still disgusting. But once you make wine from it, it tastes really good.
(Huckleberry is another berry with multiple berries sharing the same or very similar names, making people confused about which berry is which. There are probably half a dozen entirely different berries called Huckleberry in the USA, all unrelated).



Wow....huckleberries here are beautiful big, juicy and sweet right off the bush.  They are fabulous in baking.  Sometimes as big as my thumb they command a high price if you’re unable to pick them yourself.  

I have never heard of anyone referring to them as soggy spinach or disgusting.  Can’t imagine.

Would you happen to know the botanical name?
 
Janet Reed
pollinator
Posts: 216
Location: Dry mountains Eastern WA
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Jamin...I believe your garden huckleberries in the nightshade family are a completely different group of plants than our huckleberries. They don’t look like them and they don’t taste like them. And they are not related to our wild food.

Ours are not in the Blueberry family but are closely related. they look much like a blueberry with the indented blossom end.  They can be quite large. And, it’s one berry per stem..not bunched like nightshade. Sometimes they are on low bushes, sometimes tall.  I’ve picked them at 2100 feet and at 7000 feet plus. You will see several varieties here as you prowl the mountains.  All apparently related.

They are wonderful and luscious, free for the taking and really there is no success growing them in your yard by seed or transplant.  They are a wild thing and a gift. At $40 a gallon many people make a nice bonus selling them to restaurants and folks in more urban areas.

So....a huckleberry by any other name......
 
roberta mccanse
Posts: 92
Location: Near Libby, MT
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Yes, Huckleberrys! They may be free for the picking, if you don't mind the climb, but you could end up fighting the bears and yellow jackets for them. I send huckleberry jam to friends and relatives around the country, all consider it a delicacy. My neighbor used to pick them with a big thing that looked like a cross between a rake and a broom, sort of like bear claws. Never hurts to imitate a predator.

With regard to what deer will not eat, the Forest Service will send you a list. It is all lies.
 
roberta mccanse
Posts: 92
Location: Near Libby, MT
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Merry Christmas. My favorite deer.
IMG_20201214_170903116.jpg
Favorite deer
Favorite deer
 
pollinator
Posts: 490
Location: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
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What I know as "huckleberry" is a small red fruit, half the size of large pea, or the same size as a small pea. It is a very pale red to orangey pink, and looks so much like a salmon egg they are often used in fishing as bait.

The flavor is delicious, tart and sweet, and they sort of pop as you bite down. They grow on a low bush, love the shaded environment of our coastal rain forest, often preferring fallen Doug fir trunks and stumps to grow from. Even a perfectly loaded bush would likely only yield a cup of berries, as they grow individually, not clustered (like grapes).  

These were one of the first fruits we learned to identify as children on hikes, and a laden bush was always a welcome, thirst quenching delight.
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