July 24, 2007

What the Bears are Eating

Bear turd with squawbush berries. July 2007. Custer County, ColoradoOur intrepid team of southern Colorado nature-bloggers is examining what the bears are eating. The sample above, photographed near the Nature Blog World Headquarters guest house, is full of the berries of Rhus trilobata, also known as squawbush.

Squawbush berries, Custer County, Colorado, July 2007The word "squaw" is hardly ever complimentary, although the idea that it means vagina is apparently an urban legend of the 1970s. The bush's common name came from the use of its branches for basket-making by American Indian women.

To the USDA, it's skunkbush sumac. Skunk? Allegedly from the odor of the leaves.

Dave Van Manen, author of our much-used Plants of Pueblo Mountain Park, calls it "threeleaf sumac" (Rhus aromatica ssp. trilobata). But Betty Derig and Margaret Fuller stuck with "squawbush" in their Wild Berries of the West. Since the word "sumac" usually means the bush or small tree Rhus glabra, whose leaves turn a spectacular scarlet in the early fall, the name threeleaf sumac is a little confusing. I don't think that it has caught on yet.

Meanwhile, the berries are sharp-flavored--edible but not palatable, as the saying goes--and I wonder how much nutritional value the bears get from them.


Anonymous said...

I have those all over the north side of my property. Thanks for identifying them!

mdmnm said...

One thing about bears, it usually isn't too much trouble to see what they had for dinner! I saw a similar thing with juniper berries years ago. A bear had been taking advantage of the very heavy crop and scat was everywhere. It consisted of more whole berries than anything appearing digested and we wondered how the bear was making a living off of them.