This Shrub is for the Birds

Lycium species shrub.jpg

Lycium spp

  • Large, sprawling shrubs

  • White to purple flowers in warm weather

  • Fruits edible to people and animals

  • moderate to low WATER USER, (terrace to top zone)

  • FULL SUN to part shade

  • Hardiness varies per species, but all hardy in Tucson

  • Nectar rich flowers for pollinators, habitat for birds and small mammals, larval food plant for moths


In Arizona, there are about ten species of wolfberry (Lycium spp.) and in their respective habitats, all are important. It is not clear where the name "wolfberry" came from but perhaps arose from confusion over the genus name, Lycium, which resembles lycos, the Greek word for wolf.

Plants are spiny, and leaves vary from species to species, sometimes being almost succulent in nature. All produce nectar-rich flowers loved by butterflies, moths, bees, and nectar-feeding birds like hummingbirds and verdin. Flowers are followed by orange fruits loved by birds and humans. Fruits will vary in flavor but are almost always somewhat tart, all become sweeter with drying. Several moth species are known to use wolfberries as a larval food plant. These relatives of the tomato (nightshade family, Solanaceae) flower and fruit in warm weather, spring through fall. 

All species are somewhat sprawling shrubs, so give them room to grow. They provide cover and nesting sites for all sorts of animals and birds, in addition to being a great food plant. Because of their spiny nature, wolfberries are excellent used along fence lines as barrier plants. This isn't a plant we would prune. Just give them room and let them do their thing. 

In the Tucson basin, most species are hardy to whatever winter cold may come our way. If you live higher up, consider L. andersonii or L. pallidum which are native to higher elevations. Plants will lose leaves with severe cold or drought. 


Katherine Gierlach