HOME FRUIT GROWING-- Less Common Fruits

These are the fruit plants that you may not be familiar with, that are often hard to find except in specialty fruit nurseries and catalogs, and usually may only be found as a species with no cultivars.  They’re often called “minor” crops or fruits, compared to major ones such as strawberries and apples.  Some of these fruits are delicious eaten right off the plant, some are best only if they’re cooked, and still others are enjoyed more by wildlife or those who have grown up with them and learned to like their unusual flavors.  Every section of North America has its own native fruits including beach plums, buffalo berries, bearberries, chokecherries, sand cherries, cranberries, highbush cranberries, and huckleberries.   Some of these listed here may be more common commercially, but not generally in home landscapes.  Or they may be just in home landscapes and not grown commercially.  Others may be great fruits just waiting for you to discover them and help make them more popular.  Check these out if you’re looking to expand your fruit collection, or to get some fruits not otherwise available locally.  Many make nice additions as well for wildlife gardens and ornamental landscapes.

 There are many other uncommon fruiting plants that are grown more for ornamentals, yet have edible fruits that wildlife and some gardeners like, such as bearberry or Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), Chinese haw, and in particular Red Sun (Crataegus pinnatifida), Nanking or Manchu cherry (Prunus tomentosa), chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), crabapples (Malus, look for cultivars with more desirable edible fruit), European cranberrybush or highbush cranberry (Viburnum opulus), hackberry (Celtis), Korean mountain ash (Sorbus alnifolia), quinces (Chaenomeles, not to be confused with the tree quince), strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo), and wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens).  This latter species, and related ones, grow wild and may be threatened in some areas.

 Others sometimes listed for their edible fruits have become invasive plants in many areas so are not recommended and may even be outlawed.  Check with state agencies and horticulture professionals in your area before planting autumn and Russian olives (Elaegnus species), bitter-orange (Poncirus trifoliata), Chinese wolfberry or Goji berry (Lycium barbarum), grape holly (Mahonia species), honeysuckles (Lonicera species), rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa), sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), white mulberry (Morus alba), or Wineberry (Rubus phoenicolasius).

            In the following descriptions, for those for which some cultivars exist you may find more, as new ones are continually being bred or introduced from other countries.  Checking out very specialized fruit catalogs, and rare fruit organizations, you may run across even more obscure fruits (in North America at least) such as the Mediterranean Azarole (Crataegus azarolus) with blueberry-sized fruit that are red or yellow; the Kei Apple (Dovyalis caffra) from South Africa with yellow-orange fruit about an inch wide; the Prinsepia (Prinsepia sinensis) from Russia with its sweet fruit like small, purplish-red cherries; the hardy magnolia vine or “five flavor berry” with its red berries that are used in herbal medicine (Schisandra chinensis), the subtropical Ecuadorian Mortitia (Vaccinium floribundum, older species name mortinia) with red fruit similar to its relative the highbush blueberry; and the Mayhaw (Crataegus opaca) from the southern U.S. states with bright red or yellow fruit the size of cranberries but with the taste of crabapples.


Less Common Fruits for Various Regions

(S=south, N=north, M=midwest, W=west)  Even though recommended regions are listed, these are only general, and some fruits may grow in other areas depending on specific conditions and microclimates. This is especially true of the west, where some prefer warmer regions and others the cooler Pacific Northwest.  Those fruits in bold are the more common, of the less common.  See the planting zone map from the USDA.








Alpine strawberry





Grows well in pots, zones 3-10

Asian pear





Hardiness varies with species, zones 3(5)-7

Beach plum





Does well in dry, sandy, salty soils; zones 3-7






Close relative of blueberry, zones 3-8

Buffalo berry





Tolerates drought and alkaline soils, zones 2-6

Chinese date, Jujube





Needs summer heat, zones 6-9






Often grown as an ornamental, zones 4-9






Likes acid  and moist soils, zones 2-6






Needs moist to wet soils, zones 3-9






Likes acid soil, zones 3-8






Vigorous vine, hardiness varies with species






Doesn’t like hot summers, zones 3-7






Also a nice ornamental, zones 8-10






Attractive, unusual flowers; zones 6-10






Not good in extreme heat or cold, zones 5-8

Mountain Ash





Mainly hybrids with other plants, zones 3-6






Growing area varies with species

Nanking Cherry





Great spring-flowering, zones 3-6






Likes cold winters, hot summers; zones 5-8






Fruiting region varies with cultivar, zones 4-9

Pineapple Guava





Edible flowers, also ornamental, zones 7-10

Quince, tree





Ornamental small trees, zones 6-8






A raspberry relative for the west, zones 5-9

Sandcherry, Western





More common in Plains, zones 2-8






More common in Plains, zones 2-7






A raspberry relative of the west, zones 3-9


Alpine Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)  (See the Fruit Gardener's Bible, coming in 2011).

 Asian Pear (Pyrus species)  (See the Fruit Gardener's Bible, coming in 2011).

 Beach Plum (Prunus maritima)

            As you might gather from its name, this plant produces plums and grows natively along the shoreline.  If you deduce from this that it tolerates salty soils and air, you’d be correct.  But it will grow equally well away from the beach, in zones 3 to 7, as long as it is in sun and well-drained soil.  Unless it’s grafted onto an upright-growing understock, it will tend to grow suckers and spread, and can be quite thorny.  You can train it with some yearly pruning into a hedge or shrub for gardens.  It grows about 6 feet high as a species, cultivars often being more or less if you can find them.  It is bothered by few problems, with even less in the west. Although native to the northeastern states, the species is listed as endangered in some.

            The massive amount of white (sometimes pink) flowers in spring make it a great ornamental in landscapes, then they yield the fruit in late summer.  One problem with this plant is its variable fruiting, lots one year and little another.  Two clones (different seedlings) or cultivars are needed for cross pollination.  Generally under an inch across, the reddish to deep purple fruit resemble a small plum, although this is a separate species from the more known plums.  Since they are a bit tart, they’re best used with some sugar in jellies.  If you visit the Cape Cod area you’re likely to find such for sale.  Cultivars were popular and available the middle part of the last century, but are very difficult to find now.  What you’ll usually find are plants from seedlings.


Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus)

A relative of the blueberry, Bilberry has been used for over a 1000 years in European medicine especially for helping eyesight, but even for other ailments such as diarrahea.  It may be seed an whortleberry, a name used also by early settlers to refer to native blueberries.  The deep blue, almost black, berries are juicy and sweet and also are used to make good jams, pies, and cobblers.  Although about the size of peas, they are abundant, one plant yielding up to 4 pounds.  Plants are low and spreading, so good in landscapes as a groundcover or near fronts of beds.  As plants may be difficult to find for sale, seeds to start your own may be more available.


Buffalo berry (Shepherdia argentea)

This also may be called the Silver buffaloberry from its silvery appearance, the leaves being narrow and silvery-white.  It has very small, yellow flowers that produce red (rarely yellow) berries (actually “drupes”)  in mid-summer.  They are between the size of currants and gooseberries, and difficult to pick due to the short thorns on stems.  Native peoples of the Pacific Northwest used these to make a foamy confection called “sxushem”, collecting the berries by beating the stems with a stick and collecting the ripe berries that fell off onto a tarp below.  Berries do have a pleasing flavor, dry and store well, and in addition to eaten fresh are good in sauces and jams. 

            Forming a large shrub between 6 and 10 feet tall, it may form a small tree 15 to 18 feet high.  It is hardy and grows in northern climates (zones 3 to 7).  Plant in a cool site if possible to delay flowering, so buds aren’t damaged by spring frosts.   You’ll need both male and female plants to have fruit.  Although they prefer well-drained, moist soils they will tolerate dry and poor soils as the roots utilize nitrogen from the atmosphere similar to legumes.  They’re slow growing, so be patient or buy as large plants as possible.  Sakakawea is a cultivar released by the USDA in Bismarck, North Dakota which suckers to form a thicket, and has many small, red fruits.  There is another related species, the russet buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis) that doesn’t have thorns but its fruit are bitter and sour.   Buffaloberry  is native to western and south central states, and the Plains of the U.S. and Canada.


Chinese date, Jujube (Ziziphus jujuba)

Many have heard of the gummy candies by this name, which originally came from candied Chinese dates.  The plump fruit, about the size of a small plum or egg and naturally oblong or pear-shaped, start green and turn reddish brown to red.  As they continue then to ripen, the fruit shrivel, the yellow flesh turns brown and becomes chewy, and the sugars get more concentrated similar to dates.  Their taste is often likened to apples, some saying they taste like dates flavored with apples and chocolate.  The more frost sensitive Indian Jujube (Ziziphus mauritiana) is considered to have less flavorful fruit.

Harvest the fruit when they are partially to fully ripe, as picked green they wont continue to ripen.  Ripe, they’re eaten fresh, or dried to be eaten or used like raisins and dates.  Minced, try them as the main ingredient in confections such as cakes.  To candy, bring about 3 pounds of fruit (pricked first) to a boil in 5 cups water with 5 cups sugar, and a tablespoon of cornstarch.  Boil, then simmer about 30 minutes, then allow to cool overnight.  Continue then by bringing to a boil and simmer for another 30 minutes, then remove the fruit.  These candied fruit are then dried either in the sun for a couple days if warm, or in an oven on a low heat, or dehydrator.  The remaining liquid can continue to be boiled until only about 2 cups.  This syrup can be used on pancakes or ice cream.

            The jujube is hardy in zones 6 to 9, most commonly seen in the warmer western regions (as it needs summer heat to ripen well and has a low need for winter chilling), and increasingly in the southeastern states. It is quite low maintenance with really no pest or disease problems, nor special pruning needs. Once established it tolerates drought, and in fact tolerates saline and alkaline soils.  The only real situations it doesn’t tolerate are shade, severe cold, and poorly drained soils.

 This tree with glossy-green leaves, and attractive bark, reaching 15 to 20 feet tall or more, makes an attractive ornamental.  The small, yellow flowers, with a fragrance described like grape soda,  in mid- summer lead to the reddish fruit in the fall.   Most cultivars and the species have spines which may fall off as the bark grows matures.  Trees can spread by underground suckers, largely a result of the understock on which the cultivars are grafted. 

 In China, these are treated as we might apples in this country, and have been cultivated for over 4000 years.  They’ve been used in herbal medicine for most any ailment.  Even as early as the 6th century A.D., 75 cultivars were listed, with well over 700 there now.  Over such a long time they’ve been selected for particular growing regions, so have varying needs and fruiting depending on where they are grown.  Early immigrants from China brought some of these to the U.S. in the early 1900’s, as well as some through plant introductions.  Today there may be 3 dozen or so cultivars you can find in the U.S., but only a few are more widely available.  Some are listed as self-fruitful, but bear better with a couple different cultivars.

Autumn Beauty.  early to ripen, sweet and dark-colored fruits

GA 866. good flavor, sweeter than most, elongated fruit ripens similar to Lang, good for the humid Southeast

Lang.  can reach 20 feet, and has many fruit early that are bell-shaped, popular

Li.  some of the  largest fruit, perhaps the most popular, more rounded fruit than Land, and is good to cross-pollinate with Lang even though fruit ripen earlier.

Sherwood. sweet fruit, few thorns, a few less fruit than others and month later ripening but one of best, fast-growing, better in dry western climates

Sugarcane. Dark red-brown when fully ripe, crunchy texture to flesh, very sweet, rounded

Tigertooth.  long, slender fruit that are quite sweet, bright red when ripe, good for the humid Southeast


Chokeberry (Aronia species)

            Most commonly grown for its fruit is the black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa).  You’ll likely find the red chokeberry as well, with its red fruits (Aronia arbutifolia), and a cross between the two—the Purple-fruited chokeberry (Aronia xprunifolia).  Since they readily interbreed, it may be difficult to tell the black from the purple-fruited species. They’re native to the eastern half of North America, growing in zones 4 (possibly 3) to 9.  After the second World War, they were imported to Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union (mainly Siberia) where they were grown commercially.  They’re popularity elsewhere is increasing with research showing their fruit are one of the top natural sources for healthful antioxidants and other compounds.  For hundreds of years the berries were used to produce some of the darkest natural inks and dyes, and recently are being used for food coloring.

            Generally reaching 5 to 6 feet high, shrubs can grow up to 10 feet.  The purple-fruited often gets a couple feet taller.  Suckering readily, they form colonies.  The clusters of white flowers in late spring form the easily-picked clusters of fruits in late summer to fall.  The red chokeberry, with red fall leaves, is often suggested as a substitute for the invasive burning bush in landscapes.  Leaves tend to be a darker red on the other species. 

            Chokeberries (don’t confuse with chokecherries in the genus Prunus), don’t like full shade, but are quite adaptable to most other conditions from wet to dry soils, and part to full sun.  They’ll even tolerate stresses such as compacted and saline soils, and air pollution.  They need little care, other than pruning out some of the older branches after 5 to 7 years.  Although they tolerate poor conditions, they’ll fruit better with full sun, better soils, water if needed, and some fertility.

            Fruits are quite astringent, said to cause choking and so the name.  Pick when fully ripe, or even later.  They’ll last on the plants until winter (unless stripped off by birds first).  Sugar can tone down the tartness, and with high levels of pectin they make good jam by themselves or added to fruits not high in pectin.  Native peoples dried the berries and used them in pemmican.  The cultivar Nero was selected for fruits high in vitamin C, twice the size of the species, with more yield and better flavor. Viking is very similar only more vigorous and with bright red fall leaves.


Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon)

            This fruit, native to cooler areas of eastern North America, is known by most as it is synonymous with Thanksgiving and turkey.  Abroad it is either unknown or a rare treat.  Commercial production in the U.S. is focused in 3 states (Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New Jersey), mainly in sphagnum peat bogs where stems can be under water during winter.  In Canada, there is limited production in Ontario, Quebec, the  Maritimes, and British Columbia.  Although stems (actually they are vines) are rather sensitive to cold, they’ll withstand such submersion well.

In a home planting, a cool moist soil with plenty of peat moss or organic matter is sufficient.  It must be acidic though, similar to those for blueberries and its other heath family relatives (see Blueberries, chapter XXX).  Similar to these too, the fruit contain many healthful compounds.  Plants form an attractive, low-maintenance, evergreen groundcover growing under a foot high, and 2 to 3 feet wide in sun.  The light pink flowers in spring yield the tart, red berries in fall.  It is seldom found in catalogs, and then mainly as species seedlings. Pilgrim is a cultivar with large fruits the size of cherries.


Elderberries (See the Fruit Gardener's Bible, coming in 2011).


Huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata)

            Huckleberries are very similar in fruit and culture to their close relative the blueberry.  Their berries tend to be darker, and plants shorter (one and a half to 3 feet high and wide), but have nice red fall leaves too.  There are two different genera with the name huckleberry, this one being in eastern North America.  Less common in the mid-south is the buckberry (Gaylussacia ursine).

 In the Pacific Northwest you may find the deciduous native red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium), the evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum), or the thinleaf huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum).  The latter is the state fruit of Idaho, has large flavorful fruits, and is best suited to higher elevations.  The Himalayan huckleberry (Vaccinium glauco-album) has blue-black edible berries in summer, but is grown mostly as an ornamental—an evergreen shrub tolerant of shade, only one to 2 feet high.

Growing in some shade, as they do naturally, they’ll be more open in habit than if grown in full sun, and fruiting will be less.  Their main cultural need is for acidic soil, just like other members of the Heath family (see Blueberries, Chapter XXX).  They’re hardy throughout a wide range of zones 3 to 8. 

            Similar to blueberries in general, they are only partially fertile so need two or more slightly different genetic plants (different seedlings or cultivars) for best fruiting.  There are no cultivars for the eastern huckleberries.  For the evergreen you may find Fall Creek with dark blue fruit and upright, compact growth; or Thunderbird with better red to bronze spring color, and white flowers streaked pink.


Kiwi Fruit (Actinidia species)

When most think of kiwis, they recall the brown fuzzy fruit in stores the size of a cylindrical egg.  This is the common or fuzzy kiwi (Actinida deliciosa), sometimes known as the Chinese gooseberry.  It needs to be peeled, revealing a soft green pulp with small edible seeds.  Depending on your taste, you may think of melon, strawberry, pineapple, and banana.  These are fruits that the kiwi combines well with, such as in fruit salads or smoothie drinks.  Try combining them with orange juice in home-made ice cream.  Kiwis have healthful antioxidant chemicals, similar to many fruits, and also are a good source of potassium, fiber, and vitamin C (higher than most citrus fruits).  For some, kiwis may be a strong laxative.

Similar, but less known, is the Chinese or golden kiwi (Actinidia chinensis).  Although they started out in the same species, they’re now separate as their fruit are slightly different.  At maturity, the Chinese is less fuzzy than the common kiwi, more like a peach skin, and more rounded.  The flesh can be green, or other colors as gold. If you find it, it will usually be as just the species. Various parts of both these plants have been used medicinally for a range of ailments, and a tea from the leaves has even been used to treat mange in dogs.  Both are tender, hardy in zones 8 and 9.

But don’t despair if you like kiwis and would like to grow them, but live in colder zones.  The hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta) and the Arctic or Russian kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta) both grow in zones 5 to 8, perhaps even colder for some selections.  Sometimes these common names are confused, and you’ll find the hardy listed as the Arctic.  Then there are other common names you may see, such as the hardy being called the dessert or cocktail kiwi, kiwi berry, or baby kiwi.

The hardy kiwi is the most common of the two grown for fruit, which tend to be sweeter than the regular kiwi; the Arctic are often grown just as an ornamental for its variegated leaves. It tends to be less vigorous than the hardy kiwi. Young leaves on the Arctic start out purplish, then become green with white and pink areas, but sometimes not until they are a couple years old.  Both these kiwis have smaller fruits than their more tropical kin (botanically they are berries), the size of large grapes, greenish with perhaps reddish tints, more sweet (higher sugar content of 15 to 30 percent or so, depending on cultivar), with smooth skins that don’t need peeling.  A couple of other species are similar, only purpurea has reddish fruit and flesh, and polygama (Silver Vine) has orange-yellow fruit.

The kiwis have been popular in their native Asia, but only in the latter half of the last century did breeding, production, and promotion in New Zealand make them known elsewhere.  They are vigorous vines, often growing 20 feet in a season, so need sturdy supports.  Trellis systems similar to those used for grapes are common for kiwis too.  Most often used are T-shaped supports, about 6 to 8 feet high, with wires strung between them resembling the look of many clotheslines, only more sturdy.  Unlike grapes, they are vines that climb by twining rather than with tendrils, so need some help getting going on a trellis.  They make effective visual screens too, or coverings on overhead patio trellises.

The large, heart-shaped leaves tend to hide the slightly fragrant, but rather inconspicuous greenish flowers in spring.  Plants are dioecious, having male and female flowers on separate plants, so you’ll need at least a male plant or two so the female plants will bear fruit. Recommended is at least one male for each 6 to 9 female plants, and of course in close proximity.  Even with this, the early flowers can be injured by spring frosts in northern areas, in which case they wont bear fruit.  Sometimes fruiting is uneven if the pollen is injured by cold, even if the flowers aren’t.   Since flowers are formed on the current year’s growth, fruit aren’t ready until early fall.

Fruiting may not start until plants are 3 to 5 years old.  Plants need at least 150 frost-free days to bear fruit, and some chilling although they are adaptable to low-chill areas.  The hardy kiwi, at maturity, may yield 50 to 100 pounds of fruit per plant, depending on season and cultivar.  Fruit size varies somewhat as well with cultivar.  Similar to some apples, kiwis may have alternate fruiting—heavier crops on alternate years, with little to known on years between.  Fruit can be picked before fully ripe, while still tart, and they’ll continue to ripen.  Speed this up by placing them in a plastic bag with an apple or banana that gives off the ripening gas “ethylene”. They’ll hold several weeks in the refrigerator.

Kiwi vines are easy to grow, giving them some fertilizer early in the season (but not too much as this can damage roots), full sun (although they tolerate a little shade), and plenty of water during the season.  Vines don’t usually need fertilizer the first year, but the second year apply 2 ounces of 10-20-10, or the equivalent, per plant. Increase this each year by 2 ounces, but don’t exceed 8 ounces per plant.  Compost helps, as does straw mulch, just keep the mulch away from the stems to avoid conditions for crown rots.  They like somewhat acidic (5.0-6.5) and well-drained soil, but not drying out.   Plant about 10 feet apart, or you can grow in large containers in warm climates.

Problems are seldom seen, but diseases that may attack the hardy kiwi include crown and root rots, gray mold, and powdery mildew.  Well-drained soil and good air circulation provides good disease prevention.  Insects may include scales, root-knot nematodes, spider mites, leaf rollers, thrips, and Japanese beetles.  The hardy kiwi plant seems to attract cats, similar to catnip, which can result in uprooted and shredded plants. A chicken wire cylinder around stems keeps them away.

 One of the keys to culture of the kiwi is proper pruning.  Since they are so vigorous, they’ll need tipping back several times in summer, but allow them to put on as much growth as possible the first season.  Cut back so just a few leaves are left beyond the last flower in subsequent seasons.  Cut off “watersprouts” in summer—vigorous upright shoots.  In winter, dormant pruning is done to remove older shoots.  Flowers are formed on shoots coming from last year’s growth, but seldom on shoots older than 3 years, so these latter can be removed. You should prune last year’s shoots too, leaving 8 to 10 buds to form the new growth for the coming season.


Common (Fuzzy) Kiwi (A. deliciosa)

Blake.  Bears at a early age, early to ripen, good for cooler areas

Elmwood.  Large fragrant flowers and very large fruit, bears at an early age, adapts in many climates, low chilling requirement

Hayward.  Productive, good flavor, large fruit, the one commonly found in markets

Saanichton.  One of more cold hardy (relative to other common kiwis), medium size fruit, originally from British Columbia


Hardy Kiwi (A. arguta, unless noted)

Ananasnaya (Anna). Fruit green blushed red, good yields, hardy to zone 4, popular commercially

Andrey.  Hardy male from Vladivostok, Russia

Chico.  Medium size, green fruit.

Cordifolia.  Early introduction, early to ripen, good yields and flavor, actually a separate variety cordifolia; may be seen as an earlier to ripen Early Cordifolia

Dumbarton Oaks.  Lime green fruit, somewhat ribbed, large; from a planting at this famous estate near Washington, DC

Fortyniner.  Large fruits, productive, a California introduction

Geneva.  Medium size fruit, hardy, a New York state introduction

Hardy Red. Cranberry red skin and red flesh, late, good flavor, purpurea species

Hot Pepper™.  Orange-yellow fruit skins, more compact plant, somewhat spicy flavor, from near Vladivostok, Russia; polygama species

Issai.  Early to ripen, self-fruitful but often produces more with cross pollination, less vigorous vine better for smaller spaces, Japanese origin, one of most popular and hardy

Ken’s Red.  Red skin and flesh, early to ripen, large fruit, productive, New Zealand origin; purpurea  and melanandra hybrid

Meyer’s.  rounded, very sweet, productive, early ripening

Meader Male.  Good male pollinator, hardy through zone 4

Michigan State (MSU).  Good fruit size and flavor, lime green, partly self-fruitful,  introduction from that university

Natasha™.  Rounded green fruit, very hardy to zone 3, from near Vladivostok, Russia

Pavel™. Male, silvery white leaves, fragrant white flowers; polygama species

Red Princess.  Red flesh in small, oval fruit, productive, New Zealand origin

Rossana.  Large fruit with red blush, very productive, Italian origin

Tatyana™. Large, lime-green fruit, hardy to zone 3

Vera’s Pride™. Large fruit, light orange, white-tinted leaves in spring, white fragrant flowers; polygama species


Arctic Kiwi (A. kolomikta)

Arctic Beauty.  the most often seen cultivar, usually as an ornamental, male

Dr. Szymanowski.  Large fruit; red, white, and green leaves; compact, from Poland

Emerald™.  Large fruit, more compact vine, lime green fruit

Frost™. Medium to large fruit, bright green, early to ripen

Hero™.  productive, large cylindrical fruit, at least partly self-fruitful, hardy, from near Vladivostok, Russia

Nahodka™. Medium to large fruit, early to mid-season ripening, from Russia, named after a Far East seaport

Pasha. Male, colorful

Red Beauty. Female version of Arctic Beauty, often sold with it for pollination, leaves have a reddish tint

September Sun™. one of most colorful of female cultivars, green large fruit, productive

Viktor. Very large fruit, very hardy to zone 3, a wild selection from near Vladivostok, Russia


Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)

            This low fruiting and ornamental plant is another relative of the blueberry, huckleberry, bilberry, and cranberry which it most closely resembles.  The berries are less tart with a better flavor than cranberries, and are slightly smaller. It may be confused with the bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), only lingonberry fruits are more bright red and slightly larger.  There are many different common names, depending on location.

The species often goes by the unflattering name of cowberry (from the Latin name vacca from which the genus is derived), but the plants known for their fruits are either the native American variety (actually a subspecies) minus, or a European variety (subspecies) vitis-idea also found in parts of Asia.  The two are similar, only the European lingonberry plants are slightly larger.  Both are hardier (zones 3-7) than the species. Most the cultivars are of the European.

 Little known in North America, they are quite popular in northern Europe and particularly Scandinavia where they are often picked from the wild.  The small, white or pink bell-shaped flowers yield the small berries in late summer to fall.  In mild, longer climates there may be a second bloom with lesser and later yield. You might figure on a pound or less per mature plant.  You’ll need a couple different cultivars or clones for best fruiting.  They store for quite a few weeks in the refrigerator.

Being rather tart, berries are best cooked into preserves which go well with meats, particularly wild game.  They may be used with, or in place of, cranberries.  Berries are used besides for sauces, beverages such as teas, mixed with other fruits, on ice cream and pancakes, with yogurt, and even in wine and liqueurs. They are rich in vitamin C, and similar to blueberries have many healthful properties.  Leaves and stems contain a compound, arbutin, used in skin care products.

            Plants are usually under a foot high and are slow growing, spreading just below the surface with runners (rhizomes).  Space a foot or two apart in rows or beds.  Leaves are evergreen.  With growth and culture similar to blueberries, their shallow roots they need ample water, but well-drained soils, attention to weeding, and an acidic soil (pH 4.0-5.5).  They grow best in sun, but will tolerate light shade or a couple hours a day of indirect sun.  They don’t tolerate hot summers, and may survive to zone 2 if adequate snow cover.

            Although mainly found as a species, or rather subspecies, there are a few cultivars available including these more common ones.

Balsgard is a commercial Swedish cultivar with flavorful, large fruit.

Koralle arose from seedlings in Holland, and is a popular European cultivar.  Plants are upright and compact, spreading slowly.  Berries are bright red, of medium size in midseason.

Red Pearl grows taller (to 16 inches) and more rapidly than most, has many large fruit, and is vigorous with a rapid spread. It came from wild plants in Holland.

Regal, released from Wisconsin but selected out of seedlings from Finland, has large fruit early in its life, but is often grown more as a low ornamental (only reaching 2 to 4 inches tall).

Sanna from Sweden has dark green leaves, grows upright and compact, with medium size dark red berries in summer.

Splendor, another release from the University of Wisconsin, starts bearing at an early age (heavily by the third year), is moderately vigorous, and has somewhat frost-tolerant buds.

Sussi from Sweden was the first named cultivar having abundant and larger fruits, on plants only 4 to 8 inches high.



Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)

The loquat is often grown as an ornamental, with its large, evergreen leaves on large shrubs 10 to 15 feet high and this wide or more.  It is subtropical, growing in zones 8 to 11, including the Mediterranean, India, and South America.  It may grow in a zone or two colder, but not fruit.  Fragrant, creamy white flowers in fall are followed by yellow, fuzzy, pear-shaped fruits in early spring.  Ripe fruits are eaten or used fresh, unripe ones best in jams.  Native to southeastern China, it is used there to make a syrup to soothe irritated throats.  Avoid eating seeds and young leaves as these are slightly toxic.   Most cultivars for fruit are in commercial use abroad, but you may find Oliver, Eulalia (early), or Golden Red (mid-season).



Maypop, Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)

This is the temperate version of the tropical passionfruits, growing in zones 6-10.  This spreading, herbaceous vine produces unique and attractive flowers, followed by greenish, egg-shaped fruit that go “pop” when stepped on. The good part is the jelly-like pulp around the seeds inside, which can be eaten as you would a pomegranate.  Native Americans made a tea from dried vines and flowers for a stress reliever, and to help with insomnia. 

The flowers are produced a month or so after the vines emerge from the ground, have a lemony scent, and although only lasting a day keep producing through the season.  They’re interesting, in addition to their beauty and host for several butterfly species, for a couple reasons.  They have both male and female parts, but fruit better with cross-pollination from different clones or plants since the flowers often change during the season.  So for instance, late in the season, if there are fruit then more male flowers are produced.

The other flower interest is from its religious significance.  Early missionaries used the flower parts to teach the “passion” of Christ to native peoples.  The ten petals and sepals (resembling petals) represented the ten apostles at the crucifixion, all the thin rays at the base the crown of thorns, the five stamens for the five wounds, the three styles for the three nails, the three-lobed leaves for the Trinity, and the vine tendrils for the scourges.


Medlar (Mespilus germanica)

            Uncommon in North America, this small tree fruit (only reaching 8 to 10 feet tall) has been popular in Europe since the Middle Ages, at least with some.  Others such as Chaucer described it as an “open arse” fruit.  Shakespeare apparently didn’t like it either, referring to it in unflattering terms in 4 of his plays.  In As you Like It, Rosalind says the right virtue of the medlar is “rotten ere you be half ripe.” 

Growing in temperate zones 5-8, it has a tropical appearance with large leaves and large white flowers.  The rather odd-looking fruit in fall are chestnut brown, and look a bit like apples only with flared ends opposite the stems.  Once they ripen to a dark brown they have the texture and flavor of applesauce and spices.  There are a handful of cultivars, more commonly seen being Breda Giant and Royal.  


Mountain Ash (Sorbus cultivars, hybrids)

            There are several small trees that go by this name, the most common being the European mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia) and its cultivars.  Most reach 25 to 30 feet tall, have leaves divided into many leaflets, and clusters of orange or red berries late in the season.  Quite cold hardy (zones 3-6), these generally don’t like too dry or too wet, nor alkaline, soils.  Similar to pears and apples they may get fireblight disease.

Fruit of these ornamentals is not edible fresh, being quite bitter, except for some cultivars selected from its native Europe and Asia.  Rabina is a cultivar from native stands in Russia, selected for its tart but sweet, bright orange fruit.  Rosina is a cultivar from the east of Germany, selected for its reddish-orange fruit that sweeten after frosted in fall.  Mountain ash fruit are high in vitamins A and C, as well as niacin.  In addition to fruit of these sweet cultivars being eaten fresh, they are good for jams from the pectin content.  Rowan berries, as they’re called in Europe of the species, make a slightly bitter jam or jelly good with venison.  They contain sorbic acid, named from the genus.  Europeans also use them to fortify wines and cordials.

This tree is interesting in that has been crossed with other fruits to make new ones.  The Shipova (x Sorbopyrus auricularis) is one of those rare crosses between different genera, this between the mountain ash and a pear, resulting in a hardier fruit (zones 3-9).  The fruit resemble a small, rounded pear with a reddish tint.  It is sweet, the taste similar to a pear too.

Another bigeneric cross, this one between the mountain ash and chokeberry, resulted in Ivan’s Beauty.  It is a small tree, only reaching about 10 feet high, with dark green leaves larger than those of the mountain ash.  Its dark purple berries are good fresh, or used to make a juice.

Ivan Michurin was a famous fruit breeder of the Soviet Union in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, known for crossing fruits of quite different geographic regions and ending up with over 300 new species.  He came up with another bigeneric cross in addition to the above, this one between the mountain ash and the hawthorn and known as Ivan’s Belle.  This too has large, attractive dark green leaves on a small tree.  The sweet, yet tart, berries are wine red and the size of small cherries.  Use them fresh, in jams, and even for wine. 


Mulberry (Morus species)

            When talking about mulberries, you need to know if they are black (M. nigra), white (M. alba), or red (M. rubra).  They range in mature height from 30 feet for the black, to 70 feet or more high for the white or red. Fruits resemble blackberries, only on trees.

The white mulberries are the most hardy (zones 4-8), but this will vary with cultivar.  White mulberries are named for their buds, not fruit color. They were introduced from Asia by early colonists trying to start a silkworm industry.  Check with your state regulations before planting this species since it is invasive in some areas.

One way the white mulberry is invasive is through crossing with, and displacing, the native (to eastern North America) red mulberry.  One such cross, Illinois  Everbearing, was selected in Illinois around 1947 and introduced in 1958.  Its berries are long, large, black, tasty, with few seeds, and bear in mid-summer over a long period.  Another cross you may find is the cultivar Collier, similar to Illinois Everbearing only a couple of weeks earlier. Both are small trees to about 35 feet tall.

The red mulberry is still common in the wild in the U.S. but listed as endangered in Canada.  It is hardy over a wide range in zones 3-9.  Although plants mainly found for sale are the species, you may find the cultivar Mystic.  Make sure to eat ripe fruit, as unripe ones may cause stomach upset.

The black mulberry is the best for fruit, with the most cultivars (although many are hard to find), and has attractive heart-shaped leaves, but unfortunately only grows in the mild climates (zones 7-10) of the west coast and south.  A couple cultivars of the black mulberry you may find more easily are Noir de Spain, and Black Beauty.  The latter is a bit more hardy (zone 6) and shorter (10 feet) than most others.


Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa) (See the Fruit Gardener's Bible, coming in 2011).


PawPaw (Asimina triloba)

I grew up in the south familiar with this plant, as it grows well into zone 8 and needs summer heat to ripen the fruit.  Although hardy in the north reliably to zone 5, it usually grows less vigorous with fewer fruit there.  Native to the temperate woodlands of the eastern U.S., it was spread west and south early by native Americans.  Grown in so many regions, it has acquired local names such as Hoosier Banana and Michigan Banana.  Ideally it likes cold (not too cold) winters and hot summers.  It will grow in areas of northern California. 

Pawpaws give a tropical feel to gardens, with large leaves that are elongated ovals similar to the avocado.  Even the smooth and white flesh inside the fruit, shaped somewhat like a mango, tastes reminiscent of this tropical fruit, banana, or pineapple.  It’s an easy- to-grow plant, tolerating poor soils, and with few cultural needs nor problems.  It is a variable crop though, with fruit varying in size up to half a pound, the amount of seeds, and fruiting time from late summer to fall. 

This is one of those crops more common commercially, especially in the upper South and Midwest, grown both for the fruit and the bark which has a compound (asimicin) used as an insecticide.  Yet the pawpaw serves as food for Zebra Swallowtail butterfly larvae.  Much of the information including recipes, research, and new varieties have come recently from the pawpaw program and foundation based at Kentucky State University (see Appendix). 

            Since the pawpaw doesn’t like transplanting, make sure to plant where it will stay.  The cultivars, usually grafted, often will bear fruit sooner than just seedlings or the species.  Planting and culture is the same as for most bush fruits (see Chapter XX).  Young plants may need some shade the first couple years, especially in warm climates, and will tolerate some shade later in life but just may fruit less.  In warm climates pawpaws can reach 25 feet tall, but can be kept lower with pruning.  Since the fruit is borne on year-old branches, pruning older wood out usually stimulates more of these younger, productive shoots.  Trees need to be at least 5 years old, however, before they begin fruiting.  You may need to prune off, or mow, the suckers or sprouts that come up from the spreading roots.  Otherwise you’ll get a thicket with less fruit.

 If fruiting is heavy (you may get 30 pounds from a mature plant in a warm climate), you may need to support the branches so they don’t break. If fruiting is light, perhaps pollination is poor.  This crop needs at least two different clones (varieties or seedlings) for cross pollination.  Since flies often pollinate these, the same as are attracted to carrion, one grower hangs “road kill” in the orchard to attract more flies, resulting he says in better pollination and subsequent fruiting.

            You’ll want to pick your pawpaws when they are about ripe, even to when they’ve just fallen from the tree.  They’ll be softer than before, and more yellow.  They can store several weeks in the refrigerator.  Or, you can scoop out the brown, lima-bean sized seeds, then remove and freeze the pulp.  It’s easiest to freeze the pulp first on a cookie tray, then when hard pack into freezer bags or containers. Eat or use the pulp fresh, or freeze it, as heat from cooking into jams for instance can change its flavor.  Try a tablespoon of pulp when making a vanilla milkshake, or more (to taste) when making a pudding or vanilla ice cream.  Some even ferment the pulp to use in beer, wine, or brandy.  Before sampling the fruit, make sure you aren’t one of the few people that are allergic to this fruit.

There are about two dozen cultivars you can find through specialty nurseries, the species available through some general fruit catalogs and nurseries. Some of the more common you may find  include the following (with those marked * best in fruit quality).

Davis*. Green skin, yellow flesh, mid-season, medium fruit

Mango.  Orange-yellow skin, yellow flesh, midseason, large fruit, fast-growing

Mitchell*.  Yellow skin, gold flesh, early to midseason, medium to large fruit

NC-1. Green skin, orange-yellow flesh, early, large fruit with few seeds, vigorous

Overleese*.  Green skin, orange-yellow flesh, early to mid-season, few large seeds, popula

Pennsylvania Golden. Yellow skin, gold flesh, early, medium to large fruit, available as this name or as numbered 1-4 variations

Prolific*.   Green skin, yellow flesh, early to mid-season, medium to large fruit with small seeds, may begin fruiting 2 years after planting, good in cooler climates

Sunflower*.  Yellow skin, golden flesh, mid-season, large fruit with few seeds, reportedly self-fertile (you don’t need another clone to pollinate), popular

Sweet Alice*.  Green skin, orange-yellow flesh, medium-size fruit, mid-season, prolific bearing, slower growing, one of more hardy cultivars

Taylor*. Green skin, yellow flesh, late, small size fruit

Taytoo* (also seen as TayTwo or Taylor 2). Light green skin, light yellow flesh, early, medium to large fruit, prolific bearing, good for cooler climates

Wells*.  Green skin, orange flesh, mid-season, medium to large fruits


Persimmon (Diospyros kaki and virginiana)

            There are two related but somewhat different species of this “fruit of the gods” (the meaning of the genus name).  That is, if they ripen properly.  Otherwise they can be quite astringent.  Captain John Smith, a well-known early settler of the Virginia Jamestown colony, wrote of the native American persimmon (virginiana), that if unripe “it will draw a man’s mouth awrie with much torment.”  Ripe, for the American, is when the fruit are not only colored but also are soft and pull off easily.  This plant is native to the eastern and southern U.S., below the Great Lakes and Northeastern regions, and in some states natural stands may be listed as threatened.

            The oriental persimmon (kaki) often just goes by its species name. Having been cultivated in the Orient for centuries, there are hundreds more cultivars of kakis than with the American, and they are usually the persimmon fruit you’ll find in stores.  They were even recorded by Marco Polo in the 14th century.  Native to China, they were later introduced to Japan and Korea, and into California in the 1880’s.  While kakis may be a minor fruit in North America, they are a major crop in Asia. They’re grown in many other areas, from the Mediterranean and Middle East to South America. In North America, they are best suited for the southeastern and southwestern regions.

Kakis are more complicated in their ripening than the American, varying with cultivar. They can be classified as astringent before fully ripe, or non-astringent (that is, “pucker free”). Then within each there are those that need pollination to fruit, and those that aren’t as affected but may bear better with pollination.  Some of the non-astringent may fruit without a different pollinator, but remain astringent until fully ripe if not pollinated.  Recent research has shown that it is actually the seeds of a cultivar that determine its astringency.  Pollination needs vary as well with the American, by cultivar. If cross pollination is needed, another cultivar ensures this as with most fruits, but some persimmons will have male and female flowers on the same tree. Sometimes you may find a male cultivar grown just for pollination.  Commercially, growers use one male tree for every 8 female trees, or even hand pollination in Asia.

 For the astringent kakis, pick fruit when soft and fully ripe as with the American.  For the non-astringent kakis, these can be picked when colored but still firm.  You can pick the astringent types and continue their ripening simply on a countertop.  Place them in a bag with an apple or banana (which gives off ethylene gas, which ripens fruit) to hasten ripening.  Non-astringent fruits only store a few days at room temperature, so should be refrigerated.  Firm, astringent fruits store for at least a month refrigerated, and can least 6 to 8 months frozen.  Freezing firm, astringent fruits whole will make them a bit sweeter.  Prior to freezing ripe fruits, you can peel and puree before sealing in containers or freezer bags.

Some like to add sugar and lemon juice when eating fresh.  In addition, fruit are used in puddings, confections such as cakes and cookies, ice creams, and preserves. Persimmons can be dried (termed Chinese fig), frozen, or even fermented.  Dried fruits are popular in Brazil. Firm, astringent kakis, when peeled and dried whole, become sweet with texture of dates.  In China, kakis are fermented with vinegar and brandy; in southern U.S. states with cornmeal into “simmon beer”; and by Native Americans with honey and locust pods.  The tannin compounds from unripe fruit are used in Japan variously, from brewing Sake to preserving wood.  Seeds have been used as a coffee substitute.  Those with recent gastric surgery or complications are advised not to eat large quantities.




Differences between persimmons


American (virginiana)

Oriental (kaki)


Zones 5-9

Zones 7-10

Tree height

35ft. north, to 60 feet south

15 to 35 feet

Leaf size

To 5in. long, 2in. wide

To 7in. long, 3in. wide

Fall leaves

yellow-green or reddish


Fruit color

Yellowish to pale orange

Red, orange, or yellow

Fruit size

Medium tomato

Cherry tomato

Fruit shape


Various round to oblong or flattened

Fruit texture

Soft, drier

More jelly-like



Astringent or not, varies with cultivar


The Oriental may be grafted onto a relative, the Date Plum (Diospyros lotus).  This species has small fruits in fall, the size of cherries, that change from yellow to a bluish-black as the ripen and lose their astringency.  This small, upright tree only reaches about 20 feet high in temperate areas and until much older, growing in zones 6 to 8.

Persimmons make small trees for the oriental, medium size ones for the American.  The American can sucker and form thickets, and will even tolerate some shade.  With a taproot, it is tolerant of drought once established.  The male flowers of the American are bell-shaped, creamy-yellow, and fragrant—a good nectar source for bees.  Otherwise the flowers in spring are rather inconspicuous, but the large, drooping green leaves give a tropical feel and in fall turn yellow on the American, and more colorful on the Oriental.  Fruits too add fall color, lasting well beyond the leaves falling.  Even the bark on older trees is attractive in winter, being thick, dark and in scaly square blocks. 

 Although in the colder climates trees may be hardy, seasons may be too short and cool for fruit to be produced or ripen enough to be edible.  When ripe, American fruit may contain up to 30 percent sugar.  Warm falls and late frosts trigger the ripening.  Fruit often persist on trees through late fall, even early winter.  Although the plants are poisonous to, so not browsed by deer, the fruit are eaten by them as well as by many other mammals. 

They are fairly care-free and pest-free, given sun and a well-drained soil. Water as needed as trees are becoming established, and afterwards in drought.  Place them where they’ll stay, as they don’t like transplanting.   Don’t be alarmed if the roots are black, this is normal compared to most plants with white roots if alive.  Since the wood of kakis is weak, prune from an early age similar to what you might an apple.  It helps to pick fruit early in the year from young branches so they don’t break under the weight of mature fruits. Wood of the American is strong, so has uses from flooring to golf clubs, tool handles to billiard cues.  It has even been called the “golf club tree.”  Persimmons are in the ebony family, named for the prized hardwood tree.


American Persimmons

Often these are just found as the species.  Those mostly self-fertile will bear more with a pollinator.  Color below refers to ripe fruit. Meader is probably the most common.

Early Golden.  Early to bear, medium size fruit, mostly self-fertile

Garretson. Deep orange and large fruit, early to bear, more hardy, yellow-orange fall leaves, partly self-fertile

John Rick. Large fruit, reddish-yellow, yellow-orange fall leaves

Meader. Medium size fruit, deep orange, early to ripen, mostly self-fertile; nice red and yellow fall leaves, originally selected by a Professor Meader from New Hampshire

Morris Burton. Medium size fruit, many rate as most tasty American cultivar

Pipher. A selection from Illinois, good fruit size and production and flavor

Prok.  Large fruit, heavy yields, 30 to 50 ft. tall

Ruby. Large fruit, mostly self fertile, good ornamental resists leaf spotting

Tatum. Early to bear, many golden fruit, selection from Kentucky

Yates (Juhl). Early to bear, large fruits, mostly self fertile, selection from Indiana


American and Asian hybrids

Nikita’s Gift.  Reddish-orange fruits, flattened globes, orange-yellow fall leaves, hardiness listed through zones 6-9, a Ukrainian selection

Rosseyanka.  Large fruit, nearly seedless, as name suggests of Russian origin, tastes more like kakis, zones (5)6-9


Oriental/Asian Persimmons (Kakis)

The following are only a few of the more commonly found of the 200 or more cultivars currently on the market.  They derive from Japan, China, and Korea.

(*classic or more common cultivars; A=astringent, or NA=nonastringent)



Reddish with brown flesh, medium, conical, late, many male flowers, pollinator

Coffee Cake (Nichimura Wase)


Large, rounded, early ripening to good in shorter seasons, pollinate with Chocolate

*Fuyu (Fuyugaki)


Medium to large, midseason, deep orange, rounded, self-fertile, often misnamed

Giant Fuyu (Gosho)


Reddish orange, red flesh, late, large, rounded, partly self fertile

Great Wall


Reddish orange, medium, 4-sided, biennial bearing, zones 6-9, found on Great Wall of China in 1930’s

Gwang Yang


Orange, large, early, seedless, dwarf tree, self-fertile, zones 6-9, from Korea



Conical, large, orange-red, midseason, colorful fall leaves, basically seedless, self-fertile

Hira Tanenashi


Orange, medium, early, self-fertile, red fall leaves, zones 6-9

Honan Red


Dark orange-red, small, midseason, abundant fruits

*Ichi-Ki-Kei-Jiro (Ichi)


Rounded, orange, bears at early age, 10ft. tree, zones 6-10, self-fertile, seedless



Dark orange, large, early to ripen, rounded, self-fertile,  small tree

*Jiro (California Fuyu)


Medium, bright orange, rounded to slightly square, early to midseason, self-fertile, zones 6-9

Saijo (Very Best One)


Yellow-orange, conical, small, early to ripen, self-fertile, mostly seedless, zones 6-9, good dried

San Pedro


Large, squarish-rounded, reddish, small tree to 10ft. tall, good reddish fall leaves, self-fertile, zones 6-8

Sheng (Etter)


Orange, rounded with lobes as pumpkins, large, large leaves too, small tree, self-fertile, zones 6-9

Smith’s Best (Giboshi)


Orange, conical, early, dwarf tree, zones 6-8, from Virginia

Tam Kam


Orange, large, early, orange fall leaves, seedless, self-fertile, zones 6-9, from Korea



Yellow to red-orange, yellow flesh, nearly seedless




Pineapple Guava (Acca, formerly Feijoa, sellowiana)

            This subtropical evergreen shrub from South America may reach 15 feet high and wide, growing in zones 7-10.  The fleshy white petals and red stamens of the flowers can be used in salads.  The rounded to egg-shaped fruit are one to 3 inches long, have a waxy blue-green skin and a greenish-white pulp inside that is juicy and tastes like a minty pineapple.  It is often used fresh or in drinks.   This low maintenance shrub is often seen just as a landscape ornamental.  The dozen or so cultivars originating from Australia, New Zealand, and California are more common there, with the species usually found elsewhere.


Quince  (Cydonia oblonga)

This is a fruit  grown in the warmer areas of North America, and it has admirers who praise it highly. If you want to have a complete orchard and add variety to your fruit diet, and if quince will grow in your climate, you’ll probably want to plant a tree. Greeks and Romans regarded this native plant of Persia as a health food and gave it much more respect than it generally gets now.  It is more popular in Europe and western Turkey. 

Don’t confuse this quince with  the ornamental flowering quince shrub (Chaenomeles japonica or Chaenomeles speciosa).  The latter gets about 6 feet high; has attractive white, red, pink, or orange flowers early in the season; yet has small, poor quality fruit best for preserves if you want to try using these.

            Quince fruit is shaped like a small pear, the flesh is firm, and the skin is covered with a slight fuzz. It has both an unusual flavor and scent. The odor is so pronounced, in fact, that it is never wise to put it in the refrigerator or leave it near other fruits because they will soon take on the same smell. Perhaps that is why it is little grown commercially and rarely found in stores or fruit markets.

            Some people plant the tree for its attractive appearance rather than for its fruit. The well-behaved trees are small — usually 15 to 20 feet tall— and have a rather twisted habit of growth. They bloom after the apples, so there’s not much danger of frost damage. 

Quince are best purchased, usually as grafted or budded plants.  If you are patient, it is also possible to start them from cuttings or by layering them.  It is not necessary to plant two different cultivars, since quinces are one of the few tree fruits that are truly self-pollinating. The trees are so productive that one tree can easily supply all the fruit that an average family needs or wants. 

Grow them much the same as you would pears, but keep in mind that they are suitable only for zones 6–8 reliably, although sometimes listed for zones 5-9. They thrive in similar soils to pears and, unfortunately, have the same susceptibility to fire blight. Although they are slow-growing trees, do not over-fertilize them since this makes them even more vulnerable to fire blight.  Unlike most other fruit trees, quince can grow and produce well year after year with little pruning, although you should remove crossed limbs and any dead or diseased wood. Quinces are bothered by the same diseases and insects that strike pear trees (see Chapter XXX). 

Even if the trees were hardy everywhere, quinces ripen so late that most northern gardeners never could get them to ripen. The fruits should stay on the tree until they have turned deep yellow, developed their strong odor, and can be snapped off easily.  Ripening takes place as early as mid-October in some areas, but it is more often well into November.  Handle the fruits with great care because they bruise easily. They will keep in a cool place for a month or more, and it is best to store them in shallow trays where there will be no weight resting on them.

            The fruit is seldom eaten raw, rather they are cooked into jellies, preserves, marmalades, or a sauce that is mixed with applesauce. Some people are devotees of the quince custard pie they remember from childhood. Others enjoy quince ginger, quince honey, or quinces baked and severed with whipped cream. The fruits also are delicious canned or spiced. Because of their high pectin content, they are often combined in jellies with berries or grapes that are low in pectin.

Although finding quince trees may be a challenge in many areas, these are some of the more common cultivars being offered.

Cooke’s Jumbo.  large fruit, heavy crops, yellow and aromatic as it ripens

Ekmek.  creamy yellow flesh, juicy, large crops of medium-sized fruit, from western Turkey

Karps.  sweet in warm climates, juicy, from Peru

Orange.  rounded, bright yellow fruit with orangish flesh, good flavor, turns red when cooked, older cultivar

Pineapple.  large, tart fruit best for baking and jams, hardy yet low-chilling requirement, good ornamentally in bloom, self-fruitful, developed by Luther Burbank

Rich’s.  very large, lemon-yellow fruit; aromatic

Smyrna.  large fruit resemble pears, light yellow, from Turkey

VanDeman.  heavy bearing, very large and oblong fruit, bright yellow, spicy flavor good in cooking, a Burbank selection


Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis)

This native of western North America in zones 5-9 was a food of native peoples who, it is told, ate these fruits with salmon.  It is related and similar to the raspberry, only the canes are perennial not biennial, and the larger fruits vary from yellow to orange-red.  They are borne on shrubs anywhere from 3 to 12 feet high, in mid-summer in the Pacific Northwest to late summer elsewhere.  They may be eaten raw, but often if tart are best in jams or cooked.  It is a vigorous shrub of streambanks and temperate moist forests, and outside such areas might become invasive.

Sandcherry, western (Prunus besseyi)

This native of the Great Plains forms a shrub 4 to 6 feet high, spreading by means of suckers.  In a few states the species is listed as threatened in the wild. 

Clothed in fragrant, white flowers in late spring, it has dark purple cherry fruits in mid-summer.  The bitter fruits sweeten as they ripen, and although edible when ripe fruits are more commonly used for jellies.  The glossy green leaves turn orange-red in fall.  It prefers well-drained soils, but otherwise tolerates rather unfavorable sites in zones 3 to 7 including alkaline soils, clay, and drought once established.  Unlike other relatives in this genus, it is seldom bothered by insects and disease.  It was named in 1894 by the “father of horticulture” Liberty Hyde Bailey after Charles Bessey, a proponent of this plant in Nebraska.  Some now use the name Prunus pumila var. besseyi. 

You may find this plant either as the species, or one of several cultivars.  Perhaps most common are Black Beauty with small, black, sweet fruits; and Hansen’s with large, dark purple fruits.  Select Spreader may be a bit lower and more spreading, with brilliant red fall foliage in addition to a heavy yield of berries.  Even lower and more spreading, growing about 18 inches high and 4 to 6 feet wide, is Pawnee Buttes®.  This latter selection makes a good groundcover in harsh, higher elevations of the Plains, with nice mahogany-red fall color. 

If you dig further into rare fruits, you may run across the uncommon Cherry Plum, originally a cross between the western sand cherry and the Japanese plum (Prunus besseyi x Prunus salicina).  Don’t confuse this with the common ornamental Cherry Plum (Prunus cerasifera).  While the first crosses between the species were made in the late 1800’s, others in the early 1900’s were between different cherry plum selections.  Plants are upright and taller than the western sand cherry, reaching 6 to 10 feet.  Fruits are similar to plums, but not as sweet and flavorful, so better for jellies.  It tolerates similar harsh conditions as the western sand cherry. The two cultivars with sweet fruit that you may find include the clingstone Delight and the freestone Sprite, sometimes with both grafted onto the same tree.  This helps, as the cherry plum is not self-fruitful, so needs another cultivar or clone for cross pollination.  It might be pollinated by native American plums or sand cherries, if they bloom at the same time.


The Saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia)

The Saskatoon is one of the few fruits that not only survives in the sub-zero temperatures of the prairie provinces and northern states (depending on cultivar might reach zone 2), but also produces tremendous crops. Few gardeners in the East are familiar with this relative of the wild shadbush that blooms early in the spring, and is not happy growing in zones 6 and farther south of the eastern states.  It is native to western North America and the prairies, and has several related species (arborea, x grandiflora, laevis, and cross of these) called Serviceberries, Juneberries, Shad or Shadblow.  These relatives occur in native stands, and as both species and cultivars, and are mainly grown as ornamentals.  The Saskatoon is grown as a commercial crop in the western provinces of Canada, and makes a good ornamental as well as fruit crop. 

            Although commonly called a berry, the fruit of the Saskatoon is actually a small pome, like an apple or pear. Most wild bushes produce fruits of {1/4} to {3/8} inch in diameter, although the improved kinds are much larger. Both resemble blueberries in appearance and flavor, although they are not related to blueberries. The bushes grow from 8 to 12 feet high, and produce 6 or more quarts of fruit per bush. It takes 3 to 4 years for plants to start producing fruit, with most yield reached after 7 or 8 years.  Similar to the elderberries, plants are only partly self-fertile, so plan on having several plants or even some wild plants or related serviceberries.

            The bushes are very hardy, but like the shad, the flowers come early, so late spring frosts sometimes damage the crop. To avoid frost damage, plant them in a spot where air drainage is good. Plant in a well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter, and a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. Set them about 6 feet apart, and if you plant more than one row, space the rows at least 10 feet apart.  Fertilize after planting, and lightly in spring as you do for elderberries.  Compost spread around plants in spring helps these too. Keep the plants weed-free by mulching or mowing. Mechanical cultivation is likely to damage their tender fibrous roots, which are close to the surface.  Wild plants produce well with no pruning, but the cultivars do best if you prune away all the old wood from time to time. Don’t cut out too much of the young growth, however, because unlike elderberries, the fruit is produced on wood that grew during the previous season. Prune in early spring after the coldest part of the winter is over, but before the buds swell.

            If you want more plants, you can dig up offshoots or suckers before growth begins in spring.  If you don’t see these, cut root pieces 4 to 6 inches long and about a half-inch wide in early spring.  Cover these lightly with loose soil and keep watered.

            Occasionally some years plants may get powdery mildew—the whitish disease on leaves, which plants can tolerate as they can the less common rust and leafspot diseases.  If you see some shoot blackened with dead leaves, as if hit by fire, this is likely the fireblight bacterial disease.  Cut such branches off, destroying them, and dip pruners afterwards in a weak bleach solution (one part bleach, 9 parts water).

            Because birds (especially cedar waxwings) love the ripening fruits, some growers plant a hedgerow of wild saskatoons nearby hoping birds will get their fill on these, and leave the cultivated fruits alone. Because fruit maggots occasionally attack saskatoons, some years you may need to spray them with an insecticide. Mildew and mummy fruit, a form of rust, are diseases that can affect the Saskatoon, so a fungicide may be necessary.

            Saskatoons grow in clusters and all ripen at once, so you can harvest the whole crop at one picking. Fruit that is overripe has less vitamin C and is not as good for freezing and preserving. You can use saskatoons in the same way as blueberries. Native Americans of the Great Plains used to pound them with buffalo meat into their pemmican, their winter staple.

Cultivars generally have larger and sweeter fruit than the species, and mostly have been selected from wild plants in Alberta and Saskatchewan, Canada.  Those marked *

may be more generally available and popular.

Altaglow.  more ornamental than for fruit, upright to 8 feet tall, bright red and yellow fall color

Honeywood.  large fruit in large clusters, blooms late so better avoids spring frosts

Martin. good size fruits, uniform ripening, from a seedling of Thiessen

Moonlake.  Medium size fruit, erratic producer

*Northline.  very hardy to zone 2, large and flavorful fruits beginning when plants are young, only to 6 feet tall, produces suckers, similar to Pembina

Pembina.  Along with Smoky, one of the original Canadian cultivars; similar but less sweet although considered of better flavor

*Regent.  good fruit, lower and more compact than older cultivars (4 to 6 feet high and wide)

*Smoky.  from Alberta in 1952, perhaps the most common commercial cultivar; up to 8 feet high, medium season fruiting, large mildly sweet fruit, suckering\

*Thiessen. very hardy to zone 2, perhaps largest fruits, flavorful, to 15 feet high, early so may be injured by frosts


Thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus)

This relative of the raspberry looks like one, the red fruit in late summer on shrubs to 6 feet high.  Unlike the raspberry, fruit are tart so best in jams; the shrubs have no thorns; leaves are large and palm-shaped; flowers are quite large (hence another name of “flowering raspberry”); and it prefers part shade and moist soils.  When picked, the fruit with hollow centers resemble a thimble.  This hardy native plant of the west (zones 3-9 within its range) is found in the Plains up to Alaska, higher altitudes down to Mexico, and upper Midwest.  It had many uses by native peoples including boiling the bark for soap, the leaves for a medicinal tea, and powdering the leaves to apply to burns.  Current gardeners find it useful in edible landscapes as an ornamental.

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