Do not be fooled by the common name “Wolf Willow”, this plant is in fact not part of the willow species! Instead it is part of the Eleagnanceae (Oleaster) family and is related to the buffaloberry. Wolf Willow (Elaeagnus communtata), also known as the Silverberry, is a shrub that is usually under two meters tall. The plant’s distinguishing features are its smooth silver leaves, yellow flowers and silver berries. The flowers open in late spring to silver berries with a single seed inside each one. These berries work in aiding the reproduction of the plant as they attract the birds who help spread the seeds along the land. These seeds are so tough that they even stay on the shrub during the winter. You can usually smell the plant before you even see it as it has a very strong fragrance. An interesting fact about the plant is that its roots can perform nitrogen fixation which enriches the soil. You can find this shrub in Alberta along the moister edges of the prairies, dry hillsides, in open fields in aspen forest and right here in Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park!
Not only does the Wolf Willow smell and look good, it plays a very important role for the animals and the Indigenous people. Moose, elk and birds will typically eat the plants in the winter time as a source of food. The shrub also provides shelter for these animals from weather conditions. The yellow flowers provide nectar for pollinators and other insects to use. For the Indigenous people, the Wolf Willow has had a cultural, medicinal and craft significance. A strong ointment would be created by mixing the bark and grease to treat frostbite. Tea was also made with the bark to treat chest colds. The bark could also be made into strong baskets, rope, headbands and mats. The berries could be used to make soap, soup and beads for necklace. Since the berries are so fragrant, the shrub was also be used to make perfumes.
When you’re walking around the park this spring, make sure to look out for the Wolf Willow!
Submitted by Akaysha Envik (Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park)