Monday, March 8, 2010

Native Fruits

Yesterday I was in Delaware attending a one day class hosted by Lee Reich. He was giving a talk on native fruits and was doing a book signing afterwards. Unfortunately I wasn't able to buy his book for it to be signed. He's written a few books and a number of them were on sale. One I hope to pick up is featured next to this paragraph.

The talk was on native fruits, many of which have fallen out of favor for various reasons. Lee was very knowledgeable and entertaining on the topic. So I thought I'd post a list of plants he discussed and add comments as I remember them.

*The fallowing are native and edible to some degree*

Oregon Grape Holly, Mahonia aquifolium. Holly trees are probably the last thing I would expect to see a food crop from. Though covered in thorns this plant's berries are considered edible. Personally I'd plant it for the decorative yellow flowers and eat the fruit as an afterthought.

Clove Currant, Ribes odoratum. The USDA doesn't seem to recognize this species. But it is native and a number of Ribes species are edible.

Cranberry (Lee personally hates these but mentioned them because some people find them
edible. It was actually funny because it kept coming up in his lecture.) Vaccinium species. They don't need to be grown in bogs as you see them being farmed. It's a simply fact that ripe cranberries float off the plant and it makes them easier to harvest.

Lingonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea. Related to Cranberry and Blueberry, Lee described this as a delicious ground cover. They flower twice a year and produce two crops of berries. That's a win win if you ask me. However, they do require the acidic soil that blueberries need. Perhaps they would be a nice ground cover for those two crops.

Wintergreen, aka Teaberry, Gaultheria sp. There are a couple of these wonderful little plants. They have blueberry-like flowers and produce red holly-like berries.

Highbush Cranberry, Viburnum trilobum. This is another one not found on the USDA website. God only knows why. It's a Viburnum, not a Vaccinium like other cranberries. I think it's only looks like a cranberry and has little to do with the flavor. 

Beach Plum, Prunus maritima. These require two plants to pollinate one another. Like all Prunus species they get loaded with pests including assorted caterpillars. I think Chickasaw Plum, and Native Plum work just as good.

Elderberry, Sambucus nigra. This is the Black Elderberry species. There is also the Red Elderberry, Sambucus racemosa. Bare in mind thought that Red Elderberry SEED is toxic. At least according to Green Dean from Eat The Weeds. I highly recommend his videos but pay attention to the warning at the beginning. He talks about a lot of common greens that grow like weeds and all look the same to me.

Maypop, Passiflora incarnata. This is the most cold hardy Passionflower and it's native to the US. I learned from the class that it takes two clones (not from the same plant, as they do sucker) for the plant to produce fruit. The flowers are pretty enough to grow on their own though.

Black Caps, aka Black Raspberry. The difference between Raspberry and true Black Berries is, when you pull off the fruit, Raspberries separate from the fleshy part of the plant. Black Berries don't separate from this white flesh but it's edible all the same. Also Raspberries reproduce by underground suckers. Black Berries only do this when stems grow to long and touch the ground; this contact the stem to produce roots and a clone is born. Both are found in the genus Rubus.

*The fallowing are native to a point. There are imported varieties from across the globe and many of them are now hybrids. Pure natives can still be found.*

Grape, Vitis species. A little bit of pruning is required to sweeten the fruit up some but all that info is available online. Our native grapes produce tendrils that are not forked at the end. Though I haven't researched this a number of our native grapes were imported to Europe. And this is one of the rare cases where our US species came out ahead because our native grapes introduced a disease that nearly killed off all the European native vines. They've since hybridized both but it's still possible to find pure natives in the wild. Here is another one of Green Dean's Videos on Grapes though he doesn't clear up the matter. Concord is a native variety and often times Concord root stock is used to graft all other types of grapes. The disease resistant Concord roots allow for other varieties of grapes to grow in America.

Mulberry, Morus rubra. This is a great old tree. There is an import that's also widely sold but we still have a native species or two. Morus microphylla is naive to the states boardering Mexico.

Gooseberry, Ribes. There are a lot of Gooseberries out there. These were actually banned from sale in the US despite being native. The reason is due to a disease that needs two species to finish it's life cycle. Similar to Juniper and Apple, this species needs True Gooseberry and White Pine. Because White Pine was so vital to the timber industry the plant was banned, irradiated from most of the wilderness, and growing a plant in one's garden was a punishable offense. Thankfully modern cultivars don't spread the disease nearly half as well as wild Gooseberries. However, the government is still a little slow to catch up with things and it's still illegal to grow Gooseberries in some states, and some states have the law written to go county by county. Considering the disease can travel over 100 miles in good conditions I don't see the point. And frankly if anyone today can recognize a gooseberry they deserve a metal or reward of some sort. I'm interested enough to grow a few varieties and find out what the beach ball-like berries taste like.

Currant, another Ribes species. He highlighted Pink Champagne, though why I'm not sure. There are a number of edible Currants. I think it's just that they're related to Gooseberries. Red and Yellow Currants are good.

Blackberry, another Ribes species. What's neat about this plant is they have biannual canes. Meaning the first year a cane will grow 3 to 6 feet long with vigorous growth. The second year the cane will flower and produce fruit. Afterwards the cane should be cut out to make room for new growth. Allowing it to get long enough to touch the ground will result in a new plant and if left unattended will result in a nightmare of thorn covered bramble. There are hornless varieties available.

Raspberry, I'm starting to think Ribes is the fruit of the god's genus or something. There is so much food.

*The fallowing are native and Lee's absolute favorites fruits.*

American Persimmon, Diospyros virginiana. This is among the easiest fruits to grow. The only issue is all but like 3 rarely sold cultivators of this species need to have a second tree to pollinate with. And for a tree that gets 50 feet tall that's a big issue. Asian imports don't get that big and stop around 15 to 30 feet. Asian Persimmons also oddly produce fruit without seeds if they're not pollinated. This is crazy. Trees in this Genus are strange in that they are on the boarder of self fertile and separate male and female trees. Cultivars are still being developed but even the ones marked as self pollinating are 50% to 30% male and female. This is a good excuse to buy two or three trees to be divided among friends, and you practice grafting branches. 

Alpine Strawberry, Fragaria vesca. Every bit as tasty as regular strawberries. There are varieties of this plant where the fruit doesn't turn red. Personally I thin the passion of eating strawberries is completely lost but birds don't bother eating them even when they're ripe. 

Juneberry, Amelanchier sp. There are a number of species in this genus, with a lot of common names like Service Berry, and Shad Bush. He pointed out the one that specifically looked like blueberry. Reports on how they taste vary. I'm unsure what species anyone is talking about to be honest.

Blueberry, Vaccinium. By far one of the most popular fruits in America. There is the low bush type, which supposidly spread by underground suckers. And the high bush type which is usually what farmers use to get the mega crops. Regardless of size they're an excellent plant. White flowers in the spring, blue berries in the summer (planting assorted varieties will ensure year long color and food), brilliant fall color, and in winter they have showy red stems. The fruit is among the easiest to freeze and preserve over the winter. I recommend storing them in a metal container that has been chilled in the freezer first before adding the blueberries. Be warned though as birds love them too. It's not uncommon to cage plants for protection.

Paw Paw, Asimina sp. This is the most northern occurring member of the custard apple family. Paw Paws taste like bananas with a hint of mango. The skin of the fruit and seeds are not eaten. It's cut open and dished out with a spoon. Two plants with different genetic background are needed for pollination. Cultivars are available. Each flower produces multiple fruits and it's wise to remove some early on for young trees. Otherwise the fruit, which is the largest native to North America, can weigh the tree down and result in little if any new growth. They produce suckers and whole patches of Paw Paw can turn out to be one plant. The issue here is sometimes one plant takes over and shades out others needed for fruit production. So some weeding and manicuring is needed. 

So that's what I learned from his class. He went into more detail of course and I expect his book is worth a read. I'll buy it in the next couple of days and let you know how it is.