The Q&A Archives: Sumac or Pepperberry Shrub Growing in Extreme Northern MN

Question: My in-laws just bought a cabin in extreme nothern Minnesota - Ely, MN - which is not all that far from Canada (probably a zone 2-3). The previous owners planted three shrubs/plants. It is currently about 4-5 ft tall and seems to contain itself to about 2-3 ft wide, growing more upright with small branches. The leaves look like sumac and it has a small red berry on it but the berry does not look like the traditional sumac fruit in that the berries are hard and look exactly like that of the pepperberries sold around christmas time. In addition, it is growing upright like that of a lilac bush where the branches both leaf out at the main trunk as well as at the bottom of the shrub/tree itself. we cut several of the berry-producing branches off, in the hopes of drying them. any idea what it is?

Answer: I thought about sumac and looked at a photo of pepperberry (you may need to cut and paste the complete url into your browser to make it work correctly)

and together these reminded me of the way a pokeweed - Phytolacca americana -- looks at this time of year.

This is a poor photo but it shows the overall plant so you can see the outline or typical shrub-like shape.

As the berries ripen they darken and dangle downward. The overall plant can seem like a shrub because it is large and robust, but the stalk is not actually woody. It is a favorite of birds and they spread the seeds. It is very deep rooted and difficult to remove where it is not wanted. I am finding conflicting hardiness ratings for it, however some do rate it hardy as cold as zone 2. The USDA map does show it being distributed in Minnesota.

If this is not it, you might want to take a photo or two and check with a local naturalist or your local county extension for a more specific identification. Please take care in handling the berries and the plant in case it is something you could be allergic to -- and by all means don't eat it unless you have a firm ID.

Good luck with your quest.

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