Alaska Wild Berries and Flowers
When thinking of Alaska often lush eco-systems and expansive terrain comes to mind. And you wouldn’t be wrong. There are dozens of integral eco-systems that span across this enormous state. These wildernesses are intricately interwoven with vast layers of bio diversity. More specifically, they are filled with Alaskan wildflowers and berries.
From the frozen tundra to the ocean sides, life is teeming around every turn. Nothing beats a day in the sunshine eating fresh picked berries and sauntering through vibrant and fragrant fields. Further, it is a great activity for all ages and abilities to be able to identify and spot native Alaskan wildflowers and berries.
Fireweed is an Alaskan wildflower that you can find almost anywhere in the state. It’s primary growing season ranges from early summer to late fall. This flower is tall and vibrant with bright displays of fuchsias. This species becomes easily abundant and can blanket full meadows and hillsides. You can find these blooms from sea level to sub alpine zones (USFS).
These wild blooms are known to be some of the first species to colonize after large fires and disturbances to the soil. They can grow so big that some have been recorded at 9 ft. tall! Simultaneously, fireweed is an important plant to indigenous cultures. In the fall this plant starts to seed with silky tufts. These tufts become airborne seeds, spreading far and wide. One single fireweed plant can produce 80,000 seeds.
⚠ CAUTION ⚠
To find this ominously named plant you will have to head to the well-drained forests on the coast of Alaska. Due to the cover of spines and stinging hairs on the stalk of this plant it is in your best interest to avoid direct contact. These spines and stingers cover the plant from stalk to leaves, leaving only the berries and roots without the threat of injury.
Additionally, this plant has been used for a variety of medicinal benefits by indigenous people across the world for hundreds of years. Just recently has western medicine recognized these benefits. Bears are a big fan of the berries and help their seeds travel all over Alaska. This plant then grows to help stabilize areas that have been disturbed. If you are hiking through areas with Devil’s Club be sure to protect yourself with thick pants and long sleeves!
The beach pea is typically found near coastal regions of Alaska. These pea-shaped flowers can spotted in hues of pinks and purples. The Denaʼina people have been known to eat their seeds either raw, boiled, or preserved in seal oil (Central Coast).
These Alaskan wildflowers bloom from June till August along beaches and dunes. These are easy to spot on kayaking trips through the bays and sounds of Alaska. Find them alongside sandy and rocky beaches as well as beyond the hightide lines amongst the driftwood.
In Alaska each region has a different adaptation of wild rose. To the North, the Arctic rose, in the coastal areas there is the Nootka rose, and to the South, the Sitka rose. Each comes from the same family, but is specialized to their specific region. Many people like to forage this plant as many parts of it are edible.
These Alaskan wildflowers have spiny stalks and flower in beautiful shades of pinks. In the fall they fruit. These fruits are known as rosehips. These plants are typically low lying shrubs found in meadows and woodlands. In addition, the pink flowers have yellow stamens and come with a pleasant aroma. So go ahead, stop and smell the roses if you spot these bushes.
Lupine grows primarily along the coastal regions in Alaska, along roadsides and filling meadows. You can spot them by their brilliant colors and defined leaf shapes. They come in hues of blues and purples that tower up the stalks of the plant. This plant is native and essential to restoring nitrogen in soils.
The pea pods that contain their seeds are known to be toxic, and are not to be ingested. These flowers reach to be about 3 ft. tall. This plant is characterized by its fuzzy stalk and leaves that have radiating symmetry and come with 5 to 9 leaflets.
Alaska is often revered for it’s bountiful collection of edible wild berries. The Alaska blueberry is often at the top of that list for many berry pickers. Beautiful pink flower bonnets bloom through the summer and have a delicate sweet scent to them. These blooms are even considered an Alaskan wildflower. Look close to the ground for these, they are a shrub like plant.
As the fall rounds the corner you can find mountain sides and fields filled beyond your imagination with delicious berries. Check out where to find the best blueberry picking spots here. They are an essential food source for many animals and are well loved and used by indigenous peoples. You can spot these small black and purple berries quite easily.
This fruiting plant is often found along the coastal regions and mountain sides of Alaska. Their fruits are quite similar to raspberries. However, they are much larger, less sweet (still delicious), and range in colors from deep maroons to sherbet oranges.
This wild berry can reach heights of 3 to 12 ft. and thrive beside red alder (USFS). These plants have woody stalks with fine prickles. However, they are not too much trouble when it comes to picking. You can enjoy collecting their berries during the summer months, dependent on the region, from early May to late July.
Cranberry (Low-Bush and High-Bush)
Both of these berry bushes thrive in Alaska. You may have guessed already but the high bush vs. the low bush characteristics are in the names. The low cranberry grows in abundance all over the state as a close to the ground shrub only becoming a couple feet tall. The high cranberry can reach up to 12 ft. tall along the Southeastern regions and offers their fruit from their branches above.
Both species flowers through the summer months and fruit in the fall as their leaves turn a deep red along with their fruits. The low cranberry grows into mats along the ground. Both species berries are tart and sweet, noted for their relationship in the food system and with indigenous cultures.
The crowberry is a low and creeping plant that crawls across the ground in mats that are spongy to the touch. These plants flower in the summer and produce small black berries in the fall. Their leaves are needle like in shape yet not too prickly to the touch. When flowering you can enjoy views of their small purple to white blooms.
Once fruited, you can spot the berry by its dark black to purple colors and shiny exterior. Inside, the berry is juicy and sweet along with a slight crunch of the small nut like seeds inside. They almost remind you of eating a pomegranate seed. You can find this berry in the forest, in alpine regions, and even in the tundra. This plant has a prominent role as a medicine in indigenous cultures for benefits to the eyes and kidneys.
⚠ CAUTION ⚠
The baneberry is the only poisonous berry in Alaska. To be able to characterize this plant could be essential to your explorations. The plant has a poisonous essential oil in each part of the plant and can be extremely harmful if ingested. If ingested in large quantities they could have adverse effects to the nervous system. Some symptoms include; irritation of the mouth and throat, nausea, stomach cramping, headache, dizziness, diarrhea, increased heart rate, etc. (Crane M.F. 1990).
They can even be fatal to small children. These plants are characterized by small white cluster flowers. Additionally, the stamens of these blooms have a feathery appearance to them. The berries grow in spherical bundles at the end of the stalks in red and white colors. Their leaves are three pronged with serrated edges and grow in a shrub like fashion. The white blooms of flowers occur in the summer while the berries are present in the fall. These plants are essential to feeding small animals and creating ground cover for the forest.
The Offerings of Alaska
As you explore the wilderness and wildland areas of Alaska be sure to keep an eye out for these Alaskan wildflowers and berries and see if you can identify these plants. If you are looking to forage plants, flowers, and/or fruits be sure to keep in mind; Do not eat ANY wild plant unless you are 150% certain of its identification! This article is not a foraging guide. To explore more information on foraging and identification visit this Foraging Alaska Manual and utilize their contact resources for questions you may have.
When visiting wilderness areas practice Leave No Trace and be aware of your surroundings and local wildlife. We love berries and flowers and it is important to keep in mind that other animals do as well, especially bears. In summary, be aware of your surroundings, be a considerate guest to the areas you are visiting, and give space to wildlife. Further, enjoy the sights, smells, and tastes that wild Alaskan wildflowers and berries have to offer.