The Homeowners Column

The Homeowners Column

It’s the Berries

Photo of Sandra Mason

Sandra Mason
Extension Educator, Horticulture
slmason@illinois.edu

No other food spells fun like a berry. Which would you rather party with - zucchini or a farkleberry?

Yes, there really is a farkleberry. There are also buffalo berries, bogberries, bilberries, whortleberries, cloudberries, gooseberries, huckleberries, jostaberries, dewberries, mulberries, elderberries, June berries, loganberries and lignonberries. Except for the occasional local jam or jelly most of these party animals go about their berry way largely ignored.

Farkleberry also known as sparkleberry, Vaccinium arboreum, is a relative of blueberry. Although birds enjoy the black fruit, it is relatively and disappointingly tasteless. Farkleberries are native to rocky slopes and woodlands of southern Illinois. Farkleberry bark is used in leather tanning and the wood is made into tool handles.

Lignonberry, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, is a tastier blueberry relative. It is grown in the northwestern U.S. and Europe. Lignonberries are berry particular to their growing requirements and need an acidic soil similar to blueberries.

Buffalo berries, Shepherdia argentea, are scarlet grape-sized fruits. It has been listed as a potential commercial fruit crop for the last 100 years. Maybe buffalo berry sounds too much like horse apple. Buffalo berry can be dried and stored or used to make jelly or eaten fresh. The 1 to 2 inch long thorns make harvesting a challenge. As natives to the Great Plains of the U.S., buffalo berries are berry winter hardy and drought tolerant.

Mulberry was once called "King of the Tree Crops". Its weediness and messiness have led to its decline in popularity. That's a nice way of saying mulberries are often cussed for their part in the purple splotches on cars and driveways. Red mulberries, Morus rubra, are native to North America in bottomlands and along streams. A hybrid named 'Illinois Everbearing' originated in White County Illinois and reportedly has a large almost seedless sweet fruit. White mulberry, Morus alba, is native to China. It was introduced into the U.S. for silkworm production. It's now escaped into backyards thanks to the greedy eating and generous droppings of birds. As a fruit crop they have a great deal going for them. Mulberries are very cold hardy and bear abundant fruit. They tolerate difficult conditions from dry to wet and even salty areas. In the right place and with some judicious pruning mulberry might be worth a spot in a fruit orchard.

Huckleberry is not just Tom Sawyer's ingenious friend. Garden huckleberries are an edible relative of the common nightshade weed. Their flavor is similar to a bitter tomato. Be sure you know what you are eating since many members of the tomato family are poisonous.

Logan berry is a cross between a red raspberry and a blackberry. Although they look like red raspberries, their flavor is distinct. Logan berry is used in processing as dried, juiced or canned products. They were once berry popular in the late 1800's and early 1900's, but have dwindled to some acreage of commercial production in Oregon.

Boysenberries are an interesting mix between blackberries, red raspberries and loganberries. The story goes in the 1920's in California Rudolf Boysen was experimenting with different berries. His many berry progenies would have remained in obscurity had it not been for George Darrow of the USDA and a local farmer Walter Knott . The straggly vines were taken to Knott's farm. Once he got the berries into production he found his farm stand customers continually asked for those large purple berries. Knott started calling them boysenberries. Mrs. Knott made preserves from the boysenberries and that's how, you guessed it, Knott's Berry Farm became famous.

With the interest in natural food colorings and healthy phytochemicals we may see a wider array of berries.

The following websites may be of interest:

Midwest Fruit Explorers http://www.midfex.org
California Rare Fruit Growers http://www.crfg.org

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