Originally published in The Native Plant Press December 2013
In addition to being one of the most common of the Pacific Coast endemics, salal is also one of the most utilized. Salal is a dominant understory plant throughout much of its range, along the Western Slope from just north of Juneau Alaska, south to Santa Barbara County, California. It is well suited for preventing erosion, and, in a garden setting, provides habitat for birds and other small wildlife. The foliage is browsed by animals ranging from elk to mountain beaver, especially in winter. The berries (actually fleshy sepals) are food to numerous birds and animals, including humans. Hummingbirds have been observed visiting the flowers.
Salal boughs are one of the “non-timber forest products” for which commercial permits are available on Forest Service land. The specifics of the permits vary by forest, since each forest administers their own permits. Free “personal use” permits are also available.
The salal bough industry in Washington State is centered on the Olympic Peninsula. In 2000, 4 million pounds of salal was shipped from the PNW, and 80-90 percent of that went to Europe. The Washington harvest in 2002 was worth an estimated $236 million. A study published in 2006 found that the short-term response to harvesting was increased growth, but concluded that that was probably not sustainable and called for further studies.
Salal was a favorite plant of David Douglas, who introduced it to Great Britain in 1828. It was first recorded in the wild there in 1914, and has since become locally invasive in acidic soils. It has also become naturalized in parts of France.
Cocksedge, Wendy, and Titus, Brian D. Short-term response of salal (Gaultheria shallon Pursh) to commercial harvesting for floral greenery Agroforestry Systems October 2006 Volume 68, Issue 2
Report on the Floral Greens Industry
compiled by George Draffan, Endgame.org
for The Evergreen State College Labor Center
Revised Feb 20, 2006