Thimbleberry Flower

The thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) species name means “small flower” in Latin. Yet thimbleberry flowers are among the largest in the Rubus genus, making the species name a misnomer. Thomas Nuttall (an early 19th Century naturalist and botanist) originally collected thimbleberry on the shores of Lake Huron and named the plant. Perhaps Nuttall’s specimens did have small flowers, or he did not have other Rubus species as a point of reference.

Previously I did a post on thimbleberry fruit – a bright red, edible aggregation of hairy drupelets that resemble a thimble-shaped raspberry (see “Thimbleberry” 08-13-11). Drupelets are small one-seeded, fleshy fruits in which the seed has a hard, stony covering.

Thimbleberry is a shrub belonging to the Rose Family. It forms dense thickets from an extensive network of rhizomes. It is an unarmed shrub without thorns or prickles. A native plant, thimbleberry can be found in moist, shady forests and glades, especially along mountain streams, from Alaska east to Ontario and the Great Lakes and south to California and New Mexico.

The large white thimbleberry flowers have five crinkly petals, five sepals and numerous pale, yellow stamens. They are located in terminal clusters of three to eleven blossoms.

The large, alternate, maple-shaped leaves, as well as the flowers, of thimbleberry are high in vitamins and minerals. Dried they make a pleasant-tasting tea. Thimbleberry shoots were, and still are, picked in the early spring for use as a green vegetable. Peeled, thimbleberry shoots may be eaten raw or steamed. Of course, the berries are also edible – my favorite way to enjoy this shrub. Mule and black-tailed deer also eat the leaves and stems.

These thimbleberry flowers were growing along Burney Creek below the falls in McArthur Burney State Park (Shasta County CA). I plan to return and pick thimbleberries later in the summer.

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