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Sugar bush vs. Lemonade Berry

November 10, 2010

Photos from a recent hike at Santiago Oaks:

These are two related but distinctly different shrubs: Sugar bush (Rhus ovata) and Lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia).

Both are native only to California (well, a few lemonade berries don’t recognize the state line and live in Arizona).  My point: similar to rare rain forest plants, these shrubs can’t be found anywhere else in the world–except in our California hills. Pretty cool. (For more information on our unique California Floristic Province, and the many rare and endangered plants and critters found only here, see the web site Biodiversity Hotspots.)

For some reason, I could never remember how to tell these two sister plants apart on the trail–their flower structures are so similar  . . .  until I realized that SHugar bush has SHarp pointed leaves. (Lemonade berry’s leaves are rounded. ) Problem solved, mnemonically.

Both these plants provided food and medicine for native Californians–see the amazingly helpful web site CalFlora for an easy way to look up native plants and then check out links to native uses.

Three years ago I planted a little Lemonade Berry in my back yard, across the path from the living room’s sliding glass door. It’s now five feet tall,  a little gangly (I’ve pruned it back a bit each year to make it bushier, but it likes to gangle, I guess) and finally in bloom . . . I can’t wait to pick the berries later this year and make some California lemonade.

Here’s my gangler: (viewed from indoors)

And a close-up of the new growth this week, after an early morning rain.  Rain pearls!

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