Berries and Brambles: Unusual and Uncommon Berries

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Unlike the berries and brambles I've written about in our berry and bramble series, I occasionally receive calls and emails asking about growing alternative berries. These are berries you've probably heard about in the last couple of years due to their increasing popularity based on the fruits having high antioxidants and large concentration of beneficial vitamins. For instance, Aronia is a tart berry that grows particularly well on Midwest farms and has seen a lot of research efforts into growing. Because of the sudden popularity of Aronia, growers are always looking for the "next" berry. Many of these berries can be ordered from companies that specialize in fruit trees. These companies will be able to provide you with additional growing information. You'll still want to have some idea as to what you are planting though.

Before you decide to grow these plants, taste them. While the berries may have good nutritional benefits, many are tart and require combining with another fruit to sweeten depending on what you are going to do with them. Some of these plants have thorns. Keep in mind pollination as you may need to plant both a male and female, different varieties, or it may be self-fruitful. This will vary among the berries. I would also ask around at the farmers market you visit as you might find a grower already growing these that can give you some clarity on what they are seeing with it locally.

So let's get into three of these "new" ones: Goji, Seaberry, and Honeyberry.

Goji berry is also known as Wolfberry and is high in antioxidants like the Aronia berry. It has a sweet and tart flavor. The plant has a wide range of temperature toleration from -15 degrees F to 100 degrees F. The plant is in the nightshade family and produces purple flowers that will eventually become red-orange fruits. For the plant to grow well, it needs direct sunlight, moist soil, and more of an alkaline soil (pH above 7). If soil conditions are right, the plant can reach up to 12 ft tall.

Seaberry is also known as sea buckthorn. It has bright, orange clusters of berries and needs full sun combined with good drainage. Seaberry can actually improve the soil and sequester nitrogen. Unlike others, it does need pollination from a different variety. If only one variety is grown, this can result in poor yield and no fruit. When mature, the plant might reach 6 to 18 ft tall.

Honeyberry is a blue colored berry that is a member of the honeysuckle family. It has a high level of antioxidants and is cold hardy. It ripens in early summer. You'll need to plant 2 varieties. It is exceptionally cold hardy.