Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the the August 9, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:
At about 4000 feet, small, head-high thickets of Bitter Cherry, PRUNUS EMARGINATA, are bearing clusters of little, reddening cherries, shown above.
The pea-sized cherries are too small and bitter for humans to eat, very astringent. If you've chewed on green cherry-tree stems, that's the taste, but stronger. Still, birds and small mammals eat them gladly. Also, the tree's slender, stiff stems provide preferred browse for Black-tailed Deer. The dense thickets the trees form by root-sprouting create important cover for many kinds of wildlife.
Bitter Cherry trees also benefited Native Americans. Fruits were used as laxatives and the roots and inner bark were boiled and ingested to prevent heart disease. The tree's bark peels off in long fibrous strips that can be used for making baskets and other implements.
This is a very important native species, occurring from British Columbia south to southern California, and east to Montana, Utah and New Mexico.