California native plant of the month: Lemonade berry

The berries on the lemonade berry shrub are a significant food source for birds and small animals.

Lemonade berry shrub, or Rhus integrifolia

Lemonade berry is a shrub or small tree. It tends to grow upright when somewhat inland, and low and sprawling when close to the ocean.

It is native to southwestern and Pacific coastal California, from Santa Barbara County to western San Diego County, with its range extending to north-central Pacific coastal Baja California and some offshore islands like Cedros.

The leaves are evergreen and leathery, and the flowers – which appear from February to May – are small, sticky and clustered closely together. The seed or fruit is dark red, block-shaped and sticky, and has a tart flavor that gives the plant its name.

Lemonade berry is an important wildlife plant. The berries are a significant food source for birds and small mammals, and the thick, sprawling form provides excellent shelter for animals. The plants are extremely drought-tolerant once established.