Monday, February 25, 2013

Permaculture Plants: Salal or Shallon

Salal is an evergreen shrub that fruits in shade! Awesome!

Common Name: Salal, Shallon
Scientific Name: Gaultheria shallon
Family: Ericaceae (the Heath or Heather family)

The small berries have a sweet, unique flavor that some say tastes like blueberries.

Salal is an evergreen understory shrub native to the West coast of North America. It has sweet, great-tasting berries that are reminiscent of blueberries. It is one of the few plants that fruit well in shade. It also attracts beneficial insects, feeds wildlife, can be used as a low windbreak or ground cover, and once established, it can tolerate drought. A great understory plant for the Forest Garden.

Gaultheria shallon

Salal is a common understory plant, typically growing under conifers, and is native the the West coast of North America. It has been introduced in the UK where it has readily grown in more acidic environments. Some in Europe consider it a mildly invasive weed.

  • The name "salal" comes from the Chinnot Jargon sallal.
  • The name "shallon" come from the Native American (unsure which people group) shellwell.

Salal Preserves!

A couple more links to preserving salal berries:

Primary Uses:
  • Fresh Eating - fruit is like small blueberries
  • Baking - pies, tarts, turnovers, etc.  Use like blueberries or currants
  • Cooking - can be used in savory dishes
  • Preserves, jams, jellies, etc. The seeds are tiny (like strawberry seeds), so there is no need to strain them out
  • Dried fruit
  • Fruit Leather
  • Flavoring component to beers, wines, liquers, etc.

Secondary Uses:
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Wildlife food plant
  • Wildlife shelter plant
  • Groundcover plant - perfect for shady locations. Space about 3 feet (0.9 meters) apart.
  • Windbreak Shrub (very dense plant)
  • Hedge plant
  • Drought tolerant plant
  • Tea plant - from dried leaves
  • Edible leaves - young leaves are reportedly edible, but I have yet to try this
  • Salal is used in floral arrangements
  • Dye plant - fruit and leaves
  • Medicinal Uses

Yield: no reliable information can be found
Harvesting: Summer (July - August). Pick when the berries get dark and soft.
Storage: Like blueberries, will store fresh for about a week.

The dainty flowers of a blooming Salal.

USDA Hardiness Zone: 6-8
AHS Heat Zone: 8-6
Chill Requirement: 50-450 hours/units depending on the species and variety

Plant Type: Small to medium-sized Shrub
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: This plant has not been developed much

Pollination: Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile. Pollinated by insects.
Flowering: April - June

Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 2-3 years
Years of Useful Life: No good information available, but since this plant produces runners so easily, an individual plant's lifespan is not that important. An established community of Salal will live almost indefinitely.

The small berries have soft hairs on them - reminiscent of raspberries.

Salal berries will open as they mature.

Fully mature berries. Fruits are usually picked for eating before this stage.

Size: 1-6 feet (0.3-1.8 meters) tall and indefinitely wide
Roots: Fibrous with stolons (aka "runners" - stems right at ground level that form roots)
Growth Rate: Medium

Salal makes a great groundcover for deep shade.

Light: Full sun to part shade
Shade: Tolerates deep shade
Moisture: Medium moisture soils
pH: prefers an acidic to fairly neutral soil (5.5-6.5), but can tolerate very acidic soils

Special Considerations for Growing: 
Salal has a combination of traits that let it fill a unique niche in the Forest Garden. A difficult spot to fill is often under conifers, but the acidic soil and shade is where Salal will thrive.

Propagation: Typically by seed - requires 4-17 weeks cold stratification (depending on the source of information). Can be propagated by cuttings or more commonly by splitting the new plants that develop from the runners.

Takes a little care to get young plants established as they are more frost susceptible, but once established, the only maintenance will be cutting back the runners from where you do not want them to grow. A mature patch of plants will try to expand at a rate of about 1 foot (30 cm) per year. This is easy to maintain and keep in bounds.



  1. Haven't been able to find out much about this plant. I have had one for a year, not much growth. Thank you for the information.

  2. Glad I could help! Give it another year or so, and you should be able to start getting some fruiting.


  3. The fruits are looking so beautiful. Is it safe to eat? If yes how test? I never seen like this fruit. Thank you.

  4. This is one of the rare plants that are easy to spot and when you do run across a salal bush, there will be a huge amount of berries to feast on. There is a bush near here that has to be 1/2 a square km in the middle of the forest. It goes on and on in every direction.

    If course, you do sometimes have to share it with the bears as they like them too.

  5. Ticks like this plant as well. Be careful early spring. They hangout at the edge of the leaves, waiting for passers by.

  6. Excellent information about Salal. Thanks!

  7. Thanks for providing this info. I only recently learned about this plant. I live in the midwest, so we haven't seen these around growing naturally. I wonder if they would be deer resistant?

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