Shrub Layer

Our First Goji Berry Harvest!

We planted four young Goji Berry plants this Spring on the farm. I intend to plant a lot more, but I wanted to test them out first. All four plants lived, but one of our Goji Berries was attacked by a Tomato Hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata). I thought this was odd, because I thought Tomato Hornworms only eat tomatoes and peppers.

A few weeks later, the plants started to produce fruit. I was excited to finally eat a fresh berry. I had only ever eaten dried fruits. Well… it tastes kind of like a green pepper. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was not sweet at all. Our farm intern and I were talking about the flavor and then recollecting the Tomato Hornworm attack. I did a quick search, and sure enough, Goji Berries are related to tomatoes and peppers.

Goji Berry, also known as Wolfberry, are one of two closely related plants, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. These plants are in the Nightshade family (Solanaceae); I think I knew this fact at one time, but I entirely forgot it. But it was very interesting that with the caterpillar attack and the flavor of the fresh berry, we were able to place this plant into its botanical family.

I gave the fruit some more time to mature, and they did get a bit sweeter, but not much. I can see why no one sells the fresh berries. It’s not that they are not edible, but they are not that enjoyable. If I was very hungry, I could easily eat a few handfuls of fresh Goji Berries. But I wouldn’t seek them out.

There are a few named varieties of Goji Berry that have been developed, and they are reported to have a sweeter flavor when fresh. I will have to do some more research!

However, drying the fruit intensifies the sweetness. It changed the rather boring fresh fruit into a much sweeter, almost nutty, raisin flavor. They are quite good dried, and this is what I have done with all our Goji Berries this year.

Okay, so this is not a huge harvest, but it’s a start!

 

All photos in this article are ours. If you would like to use one, please let me know!

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Permaculture Plants: Currants

Common Name: Currant, Blackcurrant, Red Currant, White Currant
Scientific Name: Ribes species
Family: Grossulariaceae (the Currant or Gooseberry family)

Blackcurrant harvest!

Blackcurrant harvest!

Common Species: there are over 150 species in the Ribes genus. The Gooseberries were discussed previously in this article. The “flowering currants” are not discussed in this article. While there are a number of very uncommon edible currants, it is the common edible currants that are discussed below:

  • Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum): A more cold-hardy currant distributed throughout Europe with fair flavor.
  • American Black Currant (Ribes americanum): Our native Black Currant. I’ve never tried this species. Reports on flavor range from very poor to very good. This probably has to do with location, plant, and personal preference.
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum): Native to western North America, these currants reportedly have a good to very good flavor.
  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): This is the most widely grown currant with many varieties available.
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): This North American native has clove-scented flowers and can produce small batches of very good flavored fruit. This would be a prime plant for breeding/selective improvements.
  • Rock Red Currant (Ribes petraeum): A less common European species.
  • Trailing Red Currant (Ribes procumbens): A very low-growing Asian currant with good flavored fruit.
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): There are a number of red-fruited currant species that all have the name “Red Currant”, but this species has had many names in its past. Ribes rubrum is sometimes called Ribes sylvestre or Ribes sativum or Ribes vulgare, and you will still see these names in older publications (or with writers who aren’t aware of the taxonomic updates). These fruits are more tart than Blackcurrant, but full of flavor. They typically can tolerate more shade than Blackcurrants.
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): this is actually an albino sport of the Redcurrant, and it has a mild flavor and a pale color. Depending of the cultivar, the fruit color can range from almost translucent white to salmon to pink to yellow. These other colors are often sold as
  • American Red Currant (Ribes triste): Our native Red Currant. Good flavor, very tart, with a lot of seeds.
  • Downy Currant (Ribes warszewiczii): A Siberian currant with very good flavor.
There are a wide variety of currants.

There are a wide variety of currants.

Description:
Currants are one of my favorite uncommon fruits in the United States. Many other countries know and love them, and I think Americans are just reawakening to this small shrub thanks to their high antioxidant content. But apart from their health benefits, they are quite tasty fruit, albeit a bit tart when eaten fresh. Currants are shade-tolerant, provide food and shelter to wildlife, and while their leaves are edible, they are more commonly dried and used for tea. In addition, many currants can be quite beautiful plants. Unless you live in an area that restricts their presence, then I would highly recommend the addition of currants to your property.

Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum)

Blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum)

History:
The Blackcurrant is native to temperate central and north Europe and northern Asia. The Redcurrant is native to western Europe and Britain. The Blackcurrant was cultivated as early at the 11th century in Russian monasteries. It was mainly used as a medicinal for many centuries. In the UK during the 1940’s (and World War II), Blackcurrants were used as a primary vitamin C source, and the government distributed Blackcurrant syrup to children under age of 2 years for no charge. Historians make a good argument that this is the reason for the lasting popularity of Blackcurrants in Britain. Blackcurrants were also popular fruits in North America, but once the White Pine Blister Rust (see below) threatened the timber industry in the U.S., a federal ban was placed on growing this plant. The federal ban was lifted in 1966, and only a few states still have existing bans. The contemporary focus on antioxidants, along with Blackcurrants’ high antioxidant levels, have combined to bring about a resurgence in awareness of this fruit. Although, the Blackcurrants previous popularity has not yet returned.

"White" Currants

“White” Currants are really an albino form of the Red Currant (Ribes rubrum)

Another version of the "White" Currant

Another version of the “White” Currant

A pink or "Champagne" Currant

A pink or “Champagne” Currant, also a Red Currant variety.

The Golden Current (Ribes

The Golden Current (Ribes aureum)

Trivia:

  • Blackcurrant is very high in vitamin C and antioxidants.
  • Blackcurrant seed oil is being investigated for its health properties (similar to grapeseed oil).
  • Zante Currants or Corithian Raisins (often just called “Currants”) are dried, seedless grapes (a.k.a. Raisins) from the small ‘Black Corinth’ grape (Vitis vinifera). These are not related to the true currants of the Ribes genus. These are tasty little raisins.
  • Jostaberry (Ribes x nidigrloaria) is a tetraploid cross of the Blackcurrant (R. nigrum), the western North American Spreading or Coast Gooseberry (R. divaricatum), and the European Gooseberry (R. uva-crispa). These have a taste that falls somewhere between Blackcurrants and Gooseberries, and there are a number of varieties available.
  • Cider & Black is a drink that combines Blackcurrant cordial with hard cider.
  • Lager & Black is a drink that combines Blackcurrant cordial with lager beer.
  • Snakebite & Black (a.k.a. Diesel) is a drink that combines Blackcurrant cordial with lager and hard cider.
  • Johannisbeerschorle is a German drink made from Redcurrant syrup and soda water.
  • Bar-le-duc or Lorraine Jelly is a hand-made jelly produced in the town of Bar-le-duc, France using whole, seeded Redcurrants or White Currants. It is highly prized and considered an elite food product. The seeds are traditionally removed with goose quills, and Here is a great article about this culinary gem.
Whit Pine Blister Rust on Currants (left) and Pines (right).

Whit Pine Blister Rust on Currants (left) and Pines (right).

White Pine Blister Rust:
This is a fungal disease that infects White Pine trees (Pinus, subgenus Strobus) and causes serious damage or death to these commercially important trees. The problem with White Pine Blister Rust is that it requires two host plants to complete its life cycle. One host are the White Pines. The other host can be one of a few genera of Broomrapes (small, flowering plants), but most commonly it is the Ribes (Gooseberries and Currants). The rust is native to Asia, and it was accidentally introduced to North America in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. Seedlings and young trees are the most susceptible. Alternatively, the infection on Gooseberries and Currants is usually minimal, especially in Redcurrants and Gooseberries. Also, there are a number of immune or resistant Blackcurrant cultivars now available. In infected Ribes species, the leaves may get chlorotic spots (light spots), and they may turn orange-brown and fall off early. But then the leaves fall off anyway in Autumn, and the infection is done. Many places in North America have banned the import and growing of Ribes species, and while some locations still have these policies (especially in New England), this management has not been very effective due to alternate hosts and wild Ribes species. I recommend checking with your local state’s Agriculture Extension Service/Department. Look to plant resistant cultivars especially if you have a lot of susceptible pines.

Baked desserts are one of my favorite ways to eat currants!

Baked desserts are one of my favorite ways to eat currants!

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating – All currants can be eaten fresh, but many are very tart, especially Redcurrants. The tarter varieties are often used raw in small amounts in salads, fruit dishes, and as an edible garnish.
  • Cooked –  Preserves, jellies, jams, fruit leathers (may need to be mixed with more fibrous fruit juices/pulps), compotes, and desserts are significantly more common than raw currants and can be exquisite. Cooked currants also pairs with flavorful meats (lamb, venison, and other and game meats) or poultry (turkey, goose, pheasant, etc.).
  • Syrup – This is another common use of currants and can be used in salad dressings, desserts, and drinks.
  • Juice – This is a growing market as the juice is very high if vitamin C and other antioxidants. Typically combined with other juices before serving.
  • Primary or secondary/adjunct flavoring in wines, cordials, liqueur, and other alcoholic beverages, including herbal beers. Here is an interesting article on Blackcurrant Leaf and Nettle Beer.
Currant leaves are edible but most commonly used in teas.

Currant leaves are edible but most commonly used in teas.

Secondary Uses:

  • Medicinal Plant – The leaves and fruit are often used medicinally.
  • Tea Plant – The leaves can be dried and used as a tea or used with herbal tea mixes.
  • Edible Leaves – Young, tender leaves are edible, and most commonly used in soups, although I have yet to try this. I cannot find any source that states the leaves need to be cooked first, but all recipes use cooked leaves. I do not know if, for instance, the leaves contain any toxins that are destroyed with cooking, or if the leaves just taste better when cooked and used when mixed with other flavors. I’ve even seen a recipe for Blackcurrant Leaf Ice Cream!
  • Dye Plant – The leaves and fruit have been used as a natural dye.
  • Wildlife Food – many animals will eat the fruit, especially birds!
  • Wildlife Shelter – mainly birds and small mammals find refuge in the mini-thickets these plants can form.
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Hummingbird Plant – these plants have nectar for Hummingbirds
Blackcurrant Syrup!

Blackcurrant Syrup!

Blackcurrant Syrup:

  • Blackcurrant syrup has long been used as a treatment for sore throats and cough in children, but it can also be used to flavor soda or tonic water, teas, other juices, or mixed drinks.
  • Blackcurrant syrup is a pretty simple recipe. It consists of roughly one part sweetener, one part water, and two parts fruit. The sweetener is dissolved in the water over heat, and then the fruit is added. Boil for 5-10 minutes, then remove from the heat for a few minutes. Mash the fruit (a potato masher works well for this). Return to boil for another few minutes to make sure the juice is all extracted. Some people will add lemon juice or citric acid at this point. Strain the juice through a fine sieve, muslin, or jelly bag. Pour into sterile jars and keep refrigerated.
Red Currant plant in full fruit!

Red Currant plant in full fruit!

Yield: Variable, but an established Blackcurrant bush can produce up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) per year/3-5 quarts/3-5 liters.  Redcurrants produce a little less than Blackcurrants. Clove Currant can produce 4-8 pounds (1.8-3.6 kg) per plant. White Currants, being significantly smaller, produce even less.
Harvesting: Harvest in mid to late Summer. The longer the fruits stays on the plant, the sweeter they become. Although, this give birds more chance at eating them. The more “wild” species (ones with no varieties) will ripen more unevenly, so these plants may need to be harvested a few times.
Storage: Use within 1-2 weeks.

The Clove or Buffalo Currant has clove-scented flowers! (Ribes

The Clove or Buffalo Currant has clove-scented flowers! (Ribes odoratum)

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum): Zone 2-7
  • American Black Currant (Ribes americanum): Zone 3
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum): Zone 3
  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): Zone 4-8
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): Zone 3b-8
  • Rock Red Currant (Ribes petraeum): Zone 5-9
  • Trailing Red Currant (Ribes procumbens): Zone 3-7
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 5-9
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 5-9
  • American Red Currant (Ribes triste): Zone 3
  • Downy Currant (Ribes warszewiczii): Zone 3-7

AHS Heat Zone: AHS Heat Zones have not been defined for most of these plants (that I can find!), but most prefer less heat-stress locations.

  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): Zone 7-1
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): Zone 9-3
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 7-1
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): Zone 7-1

Chill Requirement: Blackcurrants need 1,200-2,500 chill hours/units. Redcurrants need 800-1,500 chill hours/units. The farther north the range of the native plant, typically the higher chill requirement.

Plant Type: Small Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available. This is a nice Cornell review of some popular Ribes varietiesand here is a very extensive list of cultivars available, also from Cornell. 

Pollination: Ribes are self-fertile, but Blackcurrant cultivars will fruit significantly better with insect-mediated cross-pollination of other cultivars. Clove Currant will also produce better with cross-pollination.
Flowering: Early to Mid Spring

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 3 years
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: 3-4 years
  • Years of Useful Life: Not defined for most Ribes species, but Redcurrants can still fruit for 10-15 years, and Blackcurrants have been known to still be productive at 15-20 years of age.
Currants can be beautiful plants.

Currants can be beautiful plants (Ribes aureum)

Blackcurrant flowers.

Blackcurrant flowers.

Red Currant flowers.

Red Currant flowers.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • Alpine Currant (Ribes alpinum): 3-4 feet (0.9-1.2 meters) tall and 2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 meters) wide.
  • American Black Currant (Ribes americanum): 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) tall and wide.
  • Golden Currant (Ribes aureum): 3-8 feet (0.9-2.4 meters) tall and 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) wide.
  • Blackcurrant or Black Currant (Ribes nigrum): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and wide.
  • Clove Currant or Buffalo Currant (Ribes odoratum): 6-12 feet (1.8-3.6 meters) tall and wide.
  • Rock Red Currant (Ribes petraeum): 3-6 feet (0.9-1.8 meters) tall and wide.
  • Trailing Red Currant (Ribes procumbens): 8 inches (20 cm) tall and 3 feet (0.9 meters) wide.
  • Redcurrant or Red Currant (Ribes rubrum): 3.5-5 feet (1-1.5 meters) tall and wide. Up to 7 feet (2 meters) tall on occasion.
  • Whitecurrant or White Currant (Ribes rubrum): 2-3 feet (0.6-0.9 meter) tall and wide.
  • American Red Currant (Ribes triste): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and wide.
  • Downy Currant (Ribes warszewiczii): 3-5 feet (0.9-1.5 meters) tall and wide.

Roots: For the species that have been defined, most have fibrous or heart-shaped root patterns, and the American species often sucker (produces new plants from underground runners).
Growth Rate: Medium to Fast.

Beautiful Red Currant esplier grown by Lee Reich.

Beautiful Red Currant espalier grown by Lee Reich.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers partial sun/shade to almost full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade and can grow in fairly deep shade, but fruiting is substantially reduced.
Moisture: Prefers moist soils. Can tolerate pretty wet soils, but does not tolerate dry soils.
pH: As a very general rule, European/Asian Ribes prefer more acidic soils, and the American Ribes prefer a bit more alkaline soils; however, both do well at close to neutral.

Special Considerations for Growing:
Ribes tolerate juglone, a chemical produced by black walnuts that can be toxic to other plants (killing or severely stunting them), so Currants can be used as a buffer plant between your black walnuts and your other forest garden plants.

Propagation:
Most common propagated with seed; needs cold stratification for 12 weeks. Can also be propagated via cuttings, and this is how cultivars are propagated.

Maintenance:

  • With many Currants, about one-third of all stems can be cut out at just above ground level after leaf die-back in Autumn. The first to be pruned should be older stems with the least new growth. The goal is that fruits will be borne on spurs of 2-3 year old wood. Redcurrants need to be pruned less, unless you want to trigger new wood growth.
  • May need potassium supplementation (aka Potash) to maintain good fruiting.

Concerns:

  • Susceptible to White Pine Blister Rust as noted above. If in an area of concern, then choose resistant varieties.

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.leereich.com/2014/08/weeds-birds-pest-free-currants.html
  • http://store.isons.com/content/220634/product_images/Currants/Red_Currant_Hi_Res_SS.jpg
  • http://www.rougemagz.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/red-black-white-currants-wide-wallpaper-514833.jpg
  • http://www.plantandgardens.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/white-currants.jpg
  • http://www.ornamental-trees.co.uk/images/products/zoom/1309442907-03271300.jpg
  • https://fruitforum.files.wordpress.com/2010/07/champagne-hampton-c.jpg
  •  https://thefruitnut.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/p5128822.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/Ribes_rubrum_HC1.JPG
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-IFGz6wQkfQQ/Ta_TTEEHtRI/AAAAAAAAE98/ntYz27bZ3Fs/s1600/SAM_3978.JPG
  • http://plantillustrations.org/ILLUSTRATIONS_full_size/136900.jpg
  • https://thefoodieatdotorg.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/blackcurrant-leaf.jpg
  • http://pharmeko.eu/wp-content/uploads/Pharmeko-Black-Currant-%E2%80%93-Ribes-Nigrum-wholesale.jpg
  • http://www.newplantsandflowers.com/wp-content/uploads/Ribes-aureum-Vierbeere-Fairberry-Orangesse-%E2%80%93-photo-Lubera.jpg
  • https://granadanativegarden.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/ribes-aureum-3-21-13.jpg
  • http://rootstofruits.biz/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/IMGP7987.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-bic0xItk6Nc/U85Sj3nHX_I/AAAAAAAADls/3lZCoXLx8MY/s1600/Black+currant+cordial+recipe.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-2t475likkzk/Tf6esr5TGqI/AAAAAAAAAs4/x3RmdKDMfs0/s1600/DSC_0297.JPG
  • http://www.fs.fed.us/rm/highelevationwhitepines/images/Education/rust_canker.JPG
  • https://extension.umass.edu/landscape/sites/landscape/files/news/images/Jostaberry_WPBR1.jpg

 

 

Permaculture Plants: Wineberry

Common Name: Wineberry, Japanese Wineberry, Wine Raspberry
Scientific Name: Rubus phoenicolasius
Family: Rosacaceae (the Rose family)

Wineberry_07

The Wineberry (great photos from World Turn’d Upside Down Blog)

Description:
Many people living in the eastern U.S. have seen this plant without knowing it, because it is often mistaken for the wild blackberry or raspberry plant. To be honest, people who know of Wineberry either love it or hate it. It is used as an ornamental and is grown for its delicious berries, but, this plant is viewed as a weed and invasive in many parts of the eastern U.S. and Europe. If you are not a fan of Wineberry, it doesn’t much matter as it is not going anywhere soon. Instead of trying to eradicate it with toxic chemicals, we can use it as a supplemental feed for browsing animals, and we can use its sweet fruits for ourselves.

Wineberry

Wineberry Rubus phoenicolasius

History:
Native and widespread in Asia (China, Korea, and Japan). It was introduced into the U.S. in 1890 (at least) to be used for breeding programs with raspberries/blackberries and as an ornamental. It “escaped” and has spread through eastern North America becoming so well established that it is often considered invasive. Wineberry is still used today in berry breeding programs.

Trivia:

  • Wineberry berries are not technically a berry, they are considered an aggregate fruit, just like raspberries and blackberries.
  • Wineberry’s stems are covered in reddish hairs (rather thorny) that make the stems appear red from a distance. This was a main contributor to its ornamental appeal. The Latin name phoenicolasius is derived from phoenicus which is Latin for red.
  • It was once thought that the Wineberry was a partially carnivorous plant. The developing berries are covered in a bristly calyx that produce a sticky fluid. Insects are often caught in this fluid, but research has shown that the plant does not digest the insects.
Wineberry

Wineberry Tartlets (click on the image for the recipe in German)

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating – many claim to like Wineberries better than raspberries, but others believe there are too many seeds for the size of fruit. When fully ripe, it has a flavor of mostly raspberry with a bit of strawberry.
  • Cooked – used as raspberries or blackberries. Pies, tarts, cobblers, jams, preserves, etc.
  • Alcohol – should be a great primary or adjuct juice for wines, beers, and liquors.


Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – the red stems are rather pretty in the Autumn and Winter
  • Pioneer Plant –
  • Wildlife Shelter – birds and small mammals take shelter in the brambles.
  • Hedge Plant – large animals (4 and 2 legged) have a hard time traversing a hedge of Wineberry. Could be used/encouraged as a planted barrier/fencing.
  • Wildlife Food – birds, mammals, and some reptiles enjoy the fruits (and therefore spread the seeds!)
  • Browse Plant – while I would not plant this specifically for browse (i.e. food for goats, sheep, etc.), if you have it on your property, it can be used for this purpose. There is research from Wisconsin that shows cattle will graze, and may prefer, foraging on brambles.
  • Can be used for dye (purple/blue).

 

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Berries are produced in early Summer to early Autumn.
Storage: Use fresh. Can be frozen (individually on a cookie sheet is best, then stored in a freeze bag). Can be dehydrated. Use within a few days at most.

Harvesting Wineberries

Harvesting Wineberries (great photos from World Turn’d Upside Down Blog)

Wineberry

Wineberry canes in production.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4-8, although some sources state hardiness only to Zone 5
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: While interbred with blackberries and raspberries, the Japanese Wineberry has not been improved much in the U.S. as it is often considered an invasive, although it was cultivated in Asia. There are some named varieties.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by insects.
Flowering: Late Spring to early Summer (May-June)

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: 2 years
  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available, but as this plant produces on second year growth and spreads so easily via root buds and new canes, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.
Wineberry

Wineberry fruit ready to harvest!

Wineberry stems have numerous, small thorns.

Wineberry stems have numerous, small thorns and red, bristly hairs covering the stems.

Wineberry fruits developing.

Wineberry fruits developing within the calyces covered in bristly hairs that secrete a sticky liquid.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 9 feet (3 meters) tall and 3 feet (1 meter) wide
Roots: Fibrous
Growth Rate: Fast

Wineberry seedlings

Wineberry seedlings

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers light shade to full sun
Shade: Tolerates light to moderate shade, but likely produces more fruit with more sun
Moisture: Prefers moist to wet soils, but can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions
pH: Tolerates a wide range of soil conditions

Special Considerations for Growing:
Wineberry produces fruit on second year growth. Here is how it works: New growth originates from the root as a single, non-woody, non-branching stem called a primocane. That primocane will grow to full height, but it does not put out any side shoots, and it doesn’t produce any flowers. Come the second year, the stem becomes woody and is now called a floricane. The floricane does not grow taller, but it will now produce side stems or shoots. These side shoots will produce clusters of flowers on a structure called a racime. These flowers will then yield the Wineberry’s berries.

Propagation:
Seed – easily. Requires cold stratification for 4-16 weeks. Layering with tips is commonly used – new plants grow from the tips of canes that touch the ground. Can be divided in Spring.

Maintenance:
It is important to cut out and remove the old, fruiting stems (floricanes) after fruiting. This is typically done when the plant goes dormant in late Autmn or Winter. This allows the plant to move nutrients from the leaves and stems into the roots. However, it can be done right ater harvest if the plants are showing a lot of disease.

Concerns:

  • Listed as a “noxious weed” in many locations. Connecticut and Massachusettes have banned Wineberry.
  • Spreads easily through seed (birds are a major factor) and vegetative growth.

 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f2/Rubus_phoenicolasius_D.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5f/Japanse_wijnbes_rijpe_vruchten.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/85/Rubus_phoenicolasius_stem_001.JPG
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Botanischer_Garten_Uni_Bonn_-_Rubus_phoenicolasius.jpg
  • http://www.permacultuurnederland.org/planten.php?zoek=braam&laag=&functieSER=YjowOw==&page=0&pid=27&sort=naz
  • http://chocolat-bleu.blogspot.com/2010_07_01_archive.html
  • http://worldturndupsidedown.blogspot.com/2011/07/wild-berry-picking.html
  • http://donwiss.com/pictures/F-2011-07-04/0017.jpg
  • http://www.plantillustrations.org/illustration.php?id_illustration=3995&height=3621
  • http://thefruitnut.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/imgp9587.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Sage

Common Name: Sage, Common Sage, Garden Sage, Broadleaf Sage, True Sage, Cullinary Sage, Kitchen Sage, Dalmation Sage, and many more…
Scientific Name: Salvia officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae (the Mint family)

Sage

Sage is a small plant with big contributions to the garden.

Description:
Almost every herb garden has its obligatory Sage plant off in the corner, but few people know how to use Sage in the kitchen, and even less as an herbal medicine. While it is one of my favorite cullinary herbs, Sage has numerous other attributes. Sage attracts beneficial insects and confuses problematic insects. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, is drought tolerant, and can be used as a groundcover. it is just a beautiful plant, and is being planted more and more just for its ornamental value.

Sage

Garden Sage
Salvia officinalis

History:
Native to the Mediterranean area, Sage has been transported and transplanted all over the world. It was a very common medicinal and cullinary herb, and it had a reputation for healing and extending life. It remains one of the more popular cullinary herbs, although I think fewer people know how to use it nowadays. It has also become a rather popular ornamental plant, which is well deserved.

Trivia:

  • The scientific name, Salvia officinalis, comes from the Latin salvere (to feel well and healthy, to save) and officina (traditional storeroom in a monestary where herbs and medicines were stored).
  • “Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit in horto” is Latin for “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?”
  • Sage has a reputation for aiding in the digestion of fats and oils. Not surprisingly, these are the foods that pair best with this herb.
  • Sage leaves are covered in trichomes. These trichomes come in two types. One type is like a fine hair, and these are used to protect the leaves a bit. The other type is a spherical, glandular structure that secretes oils.
  • Sage, along with a variety of other herbs and spices, was always a component of the Four Thieves Vinegar. This concoction was used to ward off the Black Death in the Middle Ages. 
Sage

Sage is a popular cullinary herb and can be used fresh or dried.

Sage

Sage pairs perfectly with fatty or oily dishes and sauces.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Leaves – world-famous cullinary herb, and one of my favorites. Used fresh or dried. Typically cooked, but very young leaves can be eaten raw. It is great with fatty meats and savory dishes. Purple and Varigated varieties are typically more mild. Fresh Sage is more mild than dried; the drying process concentrates the flavor. A little Sage can go a long way, so start with a little and add to taste.
  • Edible Flowers – can be used raw as a salad garnish.
  • Tea Plant – made from the leaves, fresh or dried.
Sage Groundcover

Sage Groundcover

Secondary Uses:

  • Ornamental Plant – this has been one of its primary uses around the world due to its fragrant, attractive leaves and small, beautiful flowers.
  • Medicinal Plant – see below
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
  • Butterfly nectar plant.
  • Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that strongly attracts Hummingbirds
  • Aromatic Pest Confuser – potentially inhibits or repels garden pests. Sage is a common companion plant for cabbage and carrots.
  • Groundcover Plant – Sage is not a fast growing plant, and it may take a few years to get well established. This means you can either weed the patch for a few years or plant a mixed groundcover. Martin Crawford recommends planting with French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus) as a good partner. Place Sage plants 24 inches (60 cm) apart.
  • Drought Plant – this species can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established

Medicinal Uses:

  • Sage has been used for centuries as a medicinal herb and a cullinary herb.
  • Sage has traditionally been used to treat indigestion, oral infections (mouth and throat), hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), feeling down/depression, and a number of memory or attention/concentration issues.
  • There has not been a lot of good modern scientific studies with Sage. As I always say, that doesn’t mean this herbal medicine does not work, it just means we have no modern scientific evidence that it does.
  • There have been some interesting research that seems to support using Sage to improve memory and treat Alzheimer’s disease.
  • There have also been some pretty good research that supports using Sage to improve mood.
  • Preliminary studies show some evidence that Sage may help in the treatment of herpes lesions and menopause symptoms.
  • There is some pretty good evidence that Sage has antimicrobial properties (i.e. it doesn’t allow microscopic things like bacteria, viruses, or fungus to grow or live) and anti-inflammatory properties (i.e. reduces swelling), but exactly how this occurs and how to use Sage for these problems is not well defined.
  • There is little scientific proof that Sage works on sore throats, but it remains a very popular treatment. Hard to say where the truth lies. If it works for you, great!
  • There has been almost no research on using Sage for diarrhea or excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), but Sage is still a traditional treatment.
  • Problems with using Sage (this list is not meant to discourage the use of Sage, but to make sure you are aware):
    • Using Sage in the amounts normally found in food and tea should not be a problem.
    • Using Sage topically (it is often in creams and ointments) should be safe, although some people may develop a rash.
    • Traditionally, Sage was used as both a fertility drug and a birth control. It was also used to help slow down breast milk production (lactation) and to help with menopausal symptoms (mainly hot flashes). While there is not a lot of modern studies investigating this, most sources recommend avoiding medicinal levels of Sage during pregnancy and lactation.
    • Using Sage for more than a few weeks, at a high dose (and I can find little information that defines a “high” dose), has been shown to cause many medical problems including seizures, restlessness, tremors, dizziness, vomiting, abnormal heart rates or rhythyms, elevated blood pressure, and damage to the kidneys. Remember, if you are using a plant as a medicine, there are potential consequences…
    • My advice is to be very cautious with using Sage essential oil as concentrations/dosing can be much higher.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvest year round (remember, it’s an evergreen!), but the flowers can only be harvested when blooming (duh!). Flowering occurs in mid-late Summer.
Storage: Use within a few days fresh. Can be stored for many months if dried.

Sage

One variety of Varigated Sage

Sage

Purple Sage
Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 5-8 (some sources say Zone 4)
AHS Heat Zone: 8-5
Chill Requirement: Likely not very relevant for most uses, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Shrub (sometimes considered a “subshrub”, because it is so small, but still woody)
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of varieties available.

Pollination: Self-fertile
Flowering: Mid-late Summer to early Autumn, but this is extrememly variable depending on your local climate and conditions. I’ve had Sage bloom in April and May when living in the Azores.

Life Span: Sage will last about 3-4 years before it starts to fail. It may still be alive, but it will not thrive. Purposely sowing seeds in place may propagate the stand.

Sage

The wonderfully fragrant Sage leaves…

Sage

…covered with tiny “hairs” and “spheres” called trichomes.

Sage

Sage leaf micrograph (i.e. photo from a scanning electron microscope) showing the two types of trichomes, thin hairs and glandular hairs (which excrete oils). The stomata (mouth-like openings) are also shown which allow for gas exchange.
(click on the photo for a link!)

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 18-30 inches (45-76 cm) tall and 30-36 inches (76-91 cm) wide
Roots: Heart-shaped and rather fibrous
Growth Rate: Medium

Sage

Sage patch in flower.

Sage

Sage flowers.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to moist soils. Can tolerate pretty dry conditions once established. Does not like wet soils.
pH: 5.5-7.5

Special Considerations for Growing:
Sage can be slow to start. Planting in Spring or Summer, in a sunny spot, will give the best chance for a good established patch.

Propagation:
Can be propagated from seed. No stratification is required. Sage can sometimes have low germination rates, but I always just plant more seed to make up for this. Can be propagated via cuttings or layering pretty easily as well.

Maintenance: 
Minimal. Sage can get a bit leggy or bare/sparse as they age. Pruning them back will keep the plants compact and more lush.

Concerns:
None. 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.psmicrographs.co.uk/sage-leaf-oil-glands–salvia-officinalis-/science-image/80015446b
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0e/Salvia_officinalis.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/Starr_070906-8850_Salvia_officinalis.jpg
  • http://37.media.tumblr.com/a09bf8a7553c9e43765cb69e920b6cec/tumblr_moz37aRpFg1r68th6o1_1280.jpg
  • https://sammisherbs.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/sage-04.jpg
  • http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-v4FP9vqQcnE/T8iu3jjwf1I/AAAAAAAAAVs/LBLLoLtGoBU/s1600/Salvia+officinalis.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Salvia_officinalis_close_up_bottom.jpg
  • http://www.thienemans.com/photos/var/albums/Herbs/IMG_0389.jpg?m=1316135804
  • http://tended.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/dsc01466.jpg
  • http://onevanillabean.com/2011/06/15/charcutepalooza-june-challenge-cheddar-sage-sherry-sausages/

 

Permaculture Plants: Wintergreen

Common Names: American Wintergreen, Eastern Teaberry, Checkerberry, Boxberry, Mountain Tea
Scientific Name: Gaultheria procumbens
Family: Ericaceae (the Heath or Heather family)

Wintergreen with frost.

Wintergreen with frost.

Description:
While most famous for its classic, minty smell, this low-growing, slow-growing eastern North American native shrub is a great, evergreen groundcover for shady spots. It prefers acidic soils, and could be a great partner to blueberries, pines, or other acid-loving plants. It attracts beneficial insects, is drought-tolerant, thrives in the shade, has edible berries and leaves, and has a long history of medicinal uses. Wintergreen is a fantastic, niche-plant for the Forest Garden.

American Wintergreen

American Wintergreen Gaultheria procumbens

History:
Native to Northeastern North America, but found in most places west of the Mississippi River and south to Georgia in the United States, Wintergreen was used by natives for food and medicine. The “wintergreen” aroma and flavor from the Wintergreen leaves and fruit (and also found in Birch trees) was used for gum, candy, perfumes, hygiene products, teas and other drinks, as well as cleaning products, until scientists figured out how to synthesize it in the laboratory. Since then, Wintergreen has become a significantly less important commercial plant. However, there has been a bit of a resurgence in its popularity due to modern herbalists use and the development of ornamental varieties.

Wintergreen

Wintergreen “fruits” are actually parts of the flower!

Trivia:

  • Plants that stay green through Winter were initially known as Wintergreen, but now the term Evergreen is commonly used.
  • While dark and glossy green most of the year, the leaves will turn red or bronze in Autumn.
  • The “fruit” (0.25-0.5 inches/6.3-12 mm) is actually a dry capsule surrounding a fleshy calyx – this is part of the flower!
  • Oil of Wintergreen is made through steam distillation of the macerated leaves.
  • Most of the Oil of Wintergreen available today is synthetic.
  • Oil of Wintergreen is about 98% methyl salicylate.
  • It is believed that methyl salicylate is released from the plant when attacked by harmful insects and that it attracts beneficial insects to deal with the pests. Note: I have yet to find good research to support this, but if this is true, it is very interesting. Maybe sprinkling Oil of Wintergreen through the garden will bring on an army of beneficial insects??
  • The entire genus that Wintergreen belongs, Gaultheria, was named after Dr. Jean-Francois Gaultier, a mid-18th century French physician stationed at the colony of Quebec from 1742-1756. I love learning about naturalist doctors!
  • The species name, procumbens, means lying flat. This is an appropriate name for this low-growing shrub.

 

Fermenting the leaves and berries to make Wintergreen Tea.

Fermenting the leaves and berries to make Wintergreen Tea.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Fruit – These have a classic “wintergreen” flavor… kind of minty, but sweeter. Often rather bland. Can often have a “medicinal” taste to it. Can be eaten raw or cooked. Used in sauces, jams, pies, etc. The seeds need to be strained out.
  • Edible Leaves – only the very young leaves are worth eating raw. Really, they are just chewed. There is an initial Wintergreen flavor, and after a few minutes the leaf becomes bitter; then just spit it out.
  • Tea Plant – wintergreen-flavored fruits and leaves are used to make tea. It was common enough that the plant is also called Teaberry. But just soaking the dried leaves in hot water (like brewing ordinary black tea) does not produce a tea with the Wintergreen flavor. The key is to slightly ferment the leaves first. Here’s how to do it: Fill a sterilized jar with fresh Wintergreen leaves. If the leaves are mostly red, then the tea will be pink. Then cover it with cool, previously boiled, filtered, or distilled water. Let it sit in a warm place, not in direct sunlight, for a few days. The water will become bubbly as the fermentation takes place. Filter the tea and save the leaves. The tea can be slowly warmed until hot, but not boiling. This tea will have a great Wintergreen flavor! The tea may need to be diluted with additional water if it is too strong. Dry the saved leaves; they can be used for at least one other batch of tea, but it won’t be as strong.
  • Essential Oil – This oil can be extracted through steam distillation. It is used in perfumes and fragrances and also as a flavoring agent in candies, gum, toothpaste, alcoholic drinks, etc. This is very strong stuff! See note about toxicity in Concerns below.

Secondary Uses:

  • General nectar source (especially bees).
  • Ornamental Plant – some varieties have been developed and used mainly for ornamental value.
  • Ground Cover – tolerates only a little foot traffic. It is best when combined with another groundcover plant, as Wintergreen grows so low to the ground that many weeds are not suppressed in the early years of growth, before a mat forms. Alternatively, weeding for the first few years could be used if an unmixed groundcover is desired. Plant 10-20 inches (25-50 cm) apart.
  • Dynamic Accumulator – when the above-ground portions of this plant dies back, it releases the nutrients it has mined. Wintergreen is known to accumulate magnesium.
  • Drought-Tolerant Plant – withstands drought once established.
  • Wildlife – Autumn and Winter fruits and browse for deer, bear, ground birds (turkey, grouse, pheasant, etc.), and small mammals (fox, chipmunks, squirrels, mice, etc.)
  • Medicinal Plant – The leaves and berries contain methyl salicylate which is very similar to salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. Many native peoples used the tea (see above) as a pain and fever reliever. The same cautions for using aspirin apply to Wintergreen as a medicinal plant. See note about toxicity in Concerns below.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Fruit is harvested in Autumn-Early Winter. Frost seems to sweeten the fruit a bit. The leaves can be harvested at any time.
Storage: Berries are best used fresh. Leaves and berries can be dried.

Wintergreen makes a great, shade-tolerant groundcover.

Wintergreen makes a great, shade-tolerant groundcover.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 3-8
AHS Heat Zone: 8-1
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Prostrate (low-growing) Shrub
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Underground Layer, Herbaceous Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of cultivars available.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees.
Flowering: Summer.

Life Span: No good information available, but as the plant spreads through rhizomes and stolons, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Wintergreen flowers are quite pretty.

Wintergreen flowers are quite pretty.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 2-6 inches (5-15 cm) tall and indefinitely wide
Roots: Fibrous and shallow with stolons (stems that creep along the ground which can place new roots down) and rhizomes (underground stems that shoot up new plants).
Growth Rate: Slow to Medium

Wintergreen leaves turn red to brown in Autumn.

Wintergreen leaves turn red to brown in Autumn.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full to patial shade, but will produces more fruit in sunny openings with some shade.
Shade: Tolerates deep shade
Moisture: Dry to moist soils.
pH: 4.2-6.5 (prefers more acidic soils)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Consider pairing with other plants if using Wintergreen as a groundcover – see note in Secondary Uses above.

Propagation:
Division is easy and can be done anytime, although early Spring is probably the best. Can be propagated with seed, but requires 4-13 weeks cold-stratification. Seeds germinate in 1-2 months. Also propagated from semi-ripe cuttings.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
Toxicity: Methyl salicylate is an organic ester found in a number of plants such as Wintergreen, Birch, and Meadowsweet. It is similar in structure to salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.  Oil of Wintergreen is a highly concentrated form of methyl salicylate. It is reported that 10 milliliters is a fatal dose in a child, and 30 mL will kill an adult; however, there ahve been fatalities with as little as 4 mL (that is just over a teaspoon!). As the methyl salicylate can be absorbed through the skin, even topical use can be dangerous. With all that said, we need to be very careful about when, why, and how we use this essential oil.

Wintergreen "berries" are actually part of the flower.

Wintergreen is a great addition to the Forest Garden!

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Photo References:

  • http://wesselsgardenway.com/wp-content/uploads/Gaultheria-procumbens-frost009-11.jpg
  • http://public.dm2304.livefilestore.com/y2pXVxpiGN5saHvMH02RAJccjP7QDzruhWuFgzoe9s3DpZBUhC74JXlFxOZd2BuqmZJUaN6nIICwwMSuxh13yPGabfw3ogj6YBIzEAvam3eds4/IMGP4117%20Gaultheria%20procumbens%20-%20Golteria%20pełzająca%2c%20g.%20rozesłana.JPG?rdrts=65047548
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/FountainSpringsWintergreen.png
  • http://www.zelen.cz/images/galerie/galerie778/images/galerie/gaultheria_procumbens_08.jpg
  • http://floreduquebec.ca/medias/gaultheria_procumbens/gaultheria_procumbens_6.jpg
  • http://newfs.s3.amazonaws.com/taxon-images-1000s1000/Ericaceae/gaultheria-procumbens-le-ksearcy.jpg
  • http://lucasland.org/wildflowers/w/images/wintergreen5.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Gaultheria_procumbens_-_Köhler–s_Medizinal-Pflanzen-064.jpg
  • http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Edible_Plants_Ramer_Silver_Weizmann/Images_Edited/uses_teas_edited_300.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Bamboo

Common Name: Bamboo
Scientific Name: Bambuseae Tribe (there are 9 Subtribes, 91 Genera, and about over 1,500 species!)
Family: Poaceae (the Grass family)
Selected Species: See the table at the end of the article for Bamboo Species ideal for a Temperate Climate.

Phyllostachys dulcis

Sweetshoot Bamboo, China’s top edible Bamboo
Phyllostachys dulcis

Description:
I have put off writing an article on Bamboo for a number of years. Even though it is one of the most useful plants on Earth, there are just so many species that the thought of working through them was a bit overwhelming. Well, I finally decided to suck it up and get on with it. Interestingly, right before this article was published, Geoff Lawton released a video on growing Bamboo! Of course, this was a coincidence, but it is still fun to say, “great minds think alike!” (You can see Geoff Lawton’s video on Bamboo here)

Geoff highlighted four species (Bambusa multiplex/glaucescens ‘Alphonse Karr’, Bambusa textilis var. gracilis, Bambusa oldhamii, Bambusa multiplex ‘Fern Leaf’) in his video. All these species grow in Zones 8 or warmer. Temperate Climates do include Zone 8, but there are many other species that can withstand temperatures down to -15 F (-26 C)… that is at least Zone 5, and some species can grow in Hardiness Zone 4! The problem for me was trying to find information on these plants. The information is out there, but it is scattered all over the place. As always, when I research something, I share my findings.

Bamboo truly is the epitome of a Permaculture plant. It can be used for food, fiber, fuel, fodder, medicine, building, and more. It can stabilize and regenerate the landscape. It feeds and shelters wildlife. And it is quite beautiful as well. While best known as a tropical or subtropical plant, unless you have very, very cold Winters, there is a Bamboo plant for you. Bamboo should be growing in all Forest Gardens!

Bamboo

Phyllostachys dulcis

History:
Bamboo is native to native to every continent but Europe and Antarctica. It can be found in the hot tropics to cold, snowy mountains. They have had historic economic and cultural significance in Asia for thousands of years. In the last few decades, the rest of the world has really started to understand the relevance of this plant.

Trivia:

  • Bamboo does not go to flower very often. Depending on the species, this can be once every 20-130 years! Interestingly, all Bamboo of the same species will go to flower at the same time, regardless of where in the world they are. Scientists still do not know how or why this happens!
  • Once a Bamboo plant is done flowering, it will die.
  • Bamboo shoots can grow surprisingly fast. In fact, it hold the Guinness World Record as the fast growing plant on Earth. One plant had shoots that were recorded as growing 35 inches (91 cm) in 24 hours!
  • Bamboo shoots typically grow for 4-6 weeks (in Spring or Summer) before they stop getting taller.
  • Bamboo shoots will get taller and wider each year until the stand of Bamboo reach maturity.
  • New shoots are roughly the same diameter as the mature cane.
  • Bamboo plants may produce double the number of shoots each year – this is why they are notorious for spreading.
  • Bamboo grows up (from shoots) pretty fast, but they can also grow out (from their roots/rhizomes) as well.
  • Bamboo is typically classified as either running or clumping.
  • Running types of Bamboo have rhizomes (underground stems, leptomorph type) that can put up new shoots a few feet or yards (meters) away from the mother plant. They can spread up to 15 feet per year, but 3-5 feet in more typical.
  • Clumping Bamboo still has rhizomes, but they are a different type (pachymorph type), and they expand very slowly – too slowly to be considered running, they grow in clumps.
  • Many people harvest the shoots or cut them down to prevent running Bamboo from spreading.
  • Some people will install a rhizome barrier which blockes the expansion of the underground stems.
  • For the most part, all Bamboo species in colder Temperate Climates are running types. Almost all species that can tolerate hot and humid Summers and cool to cold Winters (like the southeastern United States) are running types as well. The clumping species of Bamboo that can handle the cold tend to be smaller, but these species are less tolerant of heat and humidity. This is why almost all the species listed in the table below are running types.
Phyllostachys vivax

Smooth-Sheathed/Chinese Timber Bamboo grows up to 5 inches (12.7 cm) in diameter
Phyllostachys vivax

USING THIS PLANT

Uses
I typically divide this section in to Primary and Secondary uses, but Bamboo has so many incredible uses, that it is almost impossible to say which is “primary” and which is “secondary”.

  • Edible Shoots – While all Bamboo shoots are considered edible, some are better than others, and only about 100 are used for food. Typically, the larger species are used more often, since the smaller shoots are not considered worthwhile to harvest. Many species produce significant levels of toxins (precursors to cyanide), but these toxins are quickly destroyed and rendered harmless at high temperatures. Cooking (boiling is most common) the shoots not only makes them safe to eat, but makes them more tender.
  • General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant; however, Bamboo does not flower frequently enough to be major benefit
  • Shelter Plant for Beneficial Insects – especially solitary bees and wasps
  • Wildlife Shelter – especially birds and small mammals
  • Animal Fodder – Bamboo is a grass, and livestock like to eat grass
  • Ornamental Plant – this has been one of its primary uses around the world
  • Timber – used to create particle board, fiberboard, strand board, flooring, molding, beams, etc.
  • Wood Products – used for cutting boards, crafts, baskets, tools, veneers, laminates, musical instruments, weapons, etc.
  • Structures – bridges, walls, roofing, water pipes, water wheels, etc.
  • Poles/Stakes – common in garden and other agricultural uses, fishing poles, etc.
  • Paper – newspaper, bond paper, toilet tissue, cardboard, coffee filters, etc.
  • Fuel – firewood, charcoal, etc.
  • Textiles – clothing, blankets, towels, pillows, mattresses, diapers, bullet proof vests, etc.
  • Windbreak Species – typically fast growing and very tolerant of wind
  • Hedge Species – fantastic privacy screen, and in warmer climates, Bamboo is used as a much needed shade producing plant
  • Erosion Control Species – the extensive root system helps stabilize soils prone to erosion.
  • Dam/Pond Wall Stabilization – Bamboo’s extensive, fibrous, and shallow root system is great for stabelizing and protecting a pond or dam wall.
  • Bioremediation Species – Bamboo can be used as a fast-growing plant to help clean and detoxify environments

 

Bamboo shoot breaking through the soil.

Bamboo shoot breaking through the soil.

Harvesting a Bamboo shoot with a sharp, narrow shovel.

Harvesting a Bamboo shoot with a sharp, narrow shovel.

Bamboo shoots for sale in a market.

Bamboo shoots for sale in a market.

Bamboo shoot being split and hard outer layers peeling off.

Bamboo shoot being split and hard outer layers peeling off.

Another split Bamboo shoot.

Another split Bamboo shoot.

Cleaned Bamboo shoots ready to cook!

Cleaned Bamboo shoots ready to cook!

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: “Winter” shoots are harvested in late Winter. These are harvested before the shoots erupt through the soil; they are small and very tender. “Spring” shoots are harvested in the Spring, of course. These are harvested before they reach 10-12 inches (25-30 cm). Then there are the “Summer” shoots. These are harvested from Bamboo species that produce shoots in the Summer. Harvest shoots that are short and wide, solid and heavy for their size. Shoots are typically cut at soil level with a sharp-bladed shovel. The hard, tough husk is peeled off, sometimes a few layers at a time, until the pale, edible core is released. The fibrous base is cut back. Sometimes the tip also needs to be removed. The shoots are cut to relatively uniform size for even cooking. They can be boiled, steamed, grilled, etc. If boiling, use salted water, and boil for about 20 minutes. Many species of Bamboo shoots need a few fresh water changes, a second boiling, and/or a slow simmer to make them tender and not bitter. Other species can be trimmed and placed on the grill, ready to eat after cooked for a few minutes.
Storage: Harvested shoots that are unpeeled can be stored in a refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. They should be wrapped in wet paper towels, but not plastic; they need to breathe. They should also be kept out of the sun, this will increase their bitterness. Peeled shoots can only be stored for a few days. Cooked shoots can be stored for a few weeks if kept in the refrigerator in an airtight container.

Bamboo's fibrous roots and rhizomes.

Bamboo’s fibrous roots and rhizomes.

Rhizome barriers are one way to keep Bamboo rhizome's within bounds.

Rhizome barriers are one way to keep Bamboo rhizome’s within bounds.

Rhizome pruning once or twice a year is another way to keep Bamboo within bounds.

Rhizome pruning once or twice a year is another way to keep Bamboo within bounds.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zones 4 and warmer (see table below).
AHS Heat Zone: Variable.
Chill Requirement: Not likely, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Bamboo.
Leaf Type: Evergreen.
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Subcanopy Layer, Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are hundreds of species and varieties from which to choose.

Pollination: Pollinated by the wind. Flowers have both male and female parts.
Flowering: Bamboo does not go to flower very often (see Trivia section above).

Life Span: Individual canes can live for up to 10 years. Considering that the plants spread so easily from their rhizomes, an individual’s life span is likely irrelevant.

Black Bamboo is a beautiful plant. Phyllostachys nigra

Black Bamboo is a beautiful plant.
Phyllostachys nigra

Walking Stick Bamboo is another unique species  Qiongzhuea tumidissinoda

Walking Stick Bamboo is another unique species
Qiongzhuea tumidissinoda

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: see table below
Roots: Shallow and fibrous with rhizomes (spreading underground stem that can put up a new shoot/plant several feet from the parent)
Growth Rate: Fast to Very Fast

Phyllostachys_bambusoides

Giant Timber Bamboo or Madake grows to an impressive 70 feet tall and 6 inches thick!
Phyllostachys bambusoides

Canebreak Bamboo is a U.S. native Arundinaria gigantea

River Cane or Canebreak Bamboo is a U.S. native
Arundinaria gigantea

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Some species tolerate medium to full shade
Moisture: Moist to wet soils. Some species can tolerate very wet to flooded soils if allowed to dry out.
pH: 5.1-8.5 (varies on the species)

Special Considerations for Growing:
Only place Bamboo in an area where it can spread or where you will be able to maintain its spread (i.e. keep it from spreading). See Maintenance section below.

Propagation:
Can be propagated from seed, but many species of Bamboo do not go to seed very often. Seed may take up to 6 months to germinate. Division in late Winter/early Spring is most common – just be careful of the emerging small new shoots. Can be propagated from cuttings of 1-2 year plants in Spring.

Maintenance:

  • If growing a running type or a clumping type that spreads, it is important to keep the shoots in check if you do not want it to spread.
  • A rhizome barrier (approximately 30 inch/76 cm tall plastic or metal barrier encircling the Bamboo stand) is a common way to keep Bamboo from spreading. It still needs to be checked at least once a year to make sure no rhizomes are trying to “jump” over it. Some cheap plastic barriers are not strong enough to hold back the rhizomes, so I think the metal or even concrete barriers are best.
  • Harvesting new shoots will keep the Bamboo from spreading outside of your desired area.
  • Root pruning once or twice a year will also keep the rhizomes in check. This can be done with a rototiller or a sharp spade. Rhizomes are typically very shallow rooted (2-5 inches/5-13 cm deep), and can easily be found. Just dig a trench around the Bamboo grove, and pull out any wayward rhizomes. The root pruning is done at least 2 feet/60 cm from the parent plant. If root pruning is done too close to the parent plant, then the Bamboo cannot produce healthy shoots the following growing season.

Concerns:

  • Spreading – running, and even some clumping, bamboo can rapidly spread to surrounding areas (see note in Maintenance and in Trivia above)

 

Bamboo Species for a Temperate Climate

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SCIENTIFIC NAME COMMON NAME ZONE

HEIGHT

DIAMETER

TYPE

SHOOTS NOTES
Arundinaria gigantea River Cane or Canebreak Bamboo

6-10

15-20 feet

S

R

Native to U.S.
Bashania fargesii Windbreak Bamboo

7-10

25 feet

S-M

R

FS, EC, WT
Borinda papyrifera Unnamed

8-9

15-25 feet

S-M

C

PHH
Fargesia nitida Blue Fountain

5-9

10-15 feet

S

C

PHH, ST
Fargesia murielae Umbrella Bamboo

5-9

10-15 feet

S

C

PHH, ST
Fargesia robusta Unnamed

7-9

10-15 feet

S

C

PHH, ST
Phyllostachys acuta Unnamed

6-10

25-30 feet

L

R

L Sp
Phyllostachys angusta Stone Bamboo

6-10

20-25 feet

S

R

L Sp, NB
Phyllostachys atrovaginata Incense Bamboo

5-10

35-40 feet

L

R

M Sp Waxy, fragrant shoot coating
Phyllostachys aurea Fishpole or Golden Bamboo

7-10

15-30 feet

S-M

R

E Au, NB, G
Phyllostachys aureosulcata Yellow-Grove Bamboo

5-10

30 feet

S-M

R

L Sp, NB
Phyllostachys bambusoides Giant Timber Bamboo, Madake

7-10

50-70 feet

VL

(4-6 inches!)

R

Su
Phyllostachys bissetii Bisset Bamboo

5-10

20-30 feet

S

R

Phyllostachys decora Beautiful Bamboo

6-10

30-35 feet

L

R

Phyllostachys dulcis Sweetshoot Bamboo

6-10

20-40 feet

L

R

E Sp, NB, VG Major Chinese Edible Bamboo
Phyllostachys edulis Moso Bamboo

7-10

40-50 feet

VL

(4-7 inches!)

R

L Sp, NB, VG Major Japanese Edible Bamboo
Phyllostachys flexuosa Chinese Weeping Bamboo

6-9

20-25 feet

S

R

L Sp One variety grows zig-zag
Phyllostachys glauca Yunzhu Bamboo

6-10

35 feet

M

R

L Sp
Phylostachys herteroclada Water Bamboo

6-10

30 feet

S-M

R

WS
Phyllostachys iridescens Iridescent Bamboo

6-10

40+ feet

L

R

Phyllostachys makinoi Makinoi’s Bamboo, Kei-Chiku

6-10

35-40 feet

M-L

R

Phyllostachys meyeri Meyer Bamboo

7-10

30 feet

S-M

R

Phyllostachys nidularia Big Node Bamboo

7-10

25-35 feet

S

R

E Sp, G WS
Phyllostachys nigra Black Bamboo

7-10

20-35 feet

M

R

Sp, Su, G
Phyllostachys nuda Nude Sheath Bamboo

5-10

20-35 feet

S-M

R

Sp
Phyllostachys parvifolia Unnamed

6-10

40+ feet

L

R

Sp, G
Phyllostachys platyglossa Unnamed

6-10

20-25 feet

S

R

VG
Phyllostachys praecox Unnamed

7-9

20 feet

M

R

Sp, G ST
Phyllostachys propinqua Unnamed

5-10

10-30 feet

S

R

Sp, G ST
Phyllostachys rubromarginata Red Margin Bamboo

6-10

40-60 feet

M

R

Su, NB, G WT
Phyllostachys stimulosa Unnamed

6-10

20-25 feet

S

R

G
Phyllostachys sulphurea f. viridis Green Sulphur Bamboo

7-10

20-40 feet

S

R

L Sp
Phyllostachys violascens Violet Bamboo

6-10

25-30 feet

S-M

R

L Sp
Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens Greenwax Golden Bamboo 

7-10

20-35 feet

S

R

E Su, NB, G
Phyllostachys vivax Smooth-Sheathed or Chinese Timber Bamboo

6-10

40-70 feet

M-VL

(up to 5 inches)

R

E Au, G
Pleioblastus hindsii Unnamed

7-11

6-15 feet

S

R

G ST, flutes
Pleioblastus simonii Simon Bamboo

7-10

10-20 feet

S

R

Su, E Au Edible Seeds
Pseudosasa japonica Arrow Bamboo or Yadake

7-10

15-18 feet

S

R

Su, E Au, NB, G WT, MT
Qiongzhuea tumidissinoda Walking Stick Bamboo

7-10

15-18 feet

S (large nodes)

R

G Popular for walking sticks
Semiarundinaria fastuosa Narihira or Temple Bamboo

6-10

25-35 feet

S

R

E Au ST
Thamnocalamus tessellatus Unnamed

7-10

12-16 feet

S

C

PHH, MT
Yushania anceps Anceps Bamboo

7-9

10-15 feet

S

C/R

Su, E Au, NB, G PHH, EC, ST
Yushania anceps ‘Pitt White’ Pitt White Bamboo

7-9

15-20 feet

S

C/R

Su, NB, G PHH, EC, ST
Yushania maculata Maculata Bamboo

7-9

10-12

S

C

Su, E Au, NB, G PHH, EC
Yushania maling Maling Bamboo

7-9

10-25 feet

S-M

C

PHH, EC
DIAMETER:  

S = Small (0.4-2 inches/1-5 cm)

M= Medium (2-2.75 inches/5-7 cm)

L = Large (2.75-4 inches/7-10 cm)

VL = Very Large (4+ inches/10+ cm) 

TYPE:  

C = Clumping

R = Running

C/R = some Bamboo can have either Clumping or Running forms

SHOOTS:  

Sp = Spring

E Sp = Early Spring

M Sp = Mid Spring

L Sp = Late Spring

Su = Summer

E Au = Early Autumn

G = Good tasting

VG = Very Good tasting

NOTES:  

FS = Fast Spreading

EC = known for Erosion Control

WT = known for being very Wind Tolerant

PHH = does Poorly in high Heat and high Humid conditions (like the southeast U.S.)

ST = known for being Shade Tolerant

WS = can grow in very Wet Soils and can stand occasional flooding

MT = Maritime Tolerant

 

'Pitt White' Bamboo is a popular clumping ornamental. Yushania anceps 'Pitt White'

‘Pitt White’ Bamboo is a popular clumping ornamental.
Yushania anceps ‘Pitt White’

 

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Photo References:

  • http://www.bambooweb.info/resize_image3.php?photowidth=600&image=http://i832.photobucket.com/albums/zz246/stevelau1911/Daves%20garden/DSC02565.jpg?t=1356023427
  • http://www.bamboogarden.com/Wolfgang%20Moso.JPG
  • http://www.bambooweb.info/resize_image3.php?photowidth=600&image=http://i832.photobucket.com/albums/zz246/stevelau1911/Daves%20garden/DSC02780.jpg?t=1356026458
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Phyllostachys_bambusoides_%27Violascens%27_-_Bambus.JPG
  • http://www.whyy.org/91FM/ybyg/images/vivax_culm.jpg
  • http://www.shweeashbamboo.com/Q.-tumidissinoda7s.jpg
  • http://www.bamboogarden.com/images/Y.brevi.11-05.jpg
  • http://www.shweeashbamboo.com/P.nigra6s.jpg
  • http://www.shweeashbamboo.com/F.robusta.rootmass4s.jpg
  • http://www.bamboogarden.com/Barrier-installation5.jpg
  • http://tokyobling.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/bamboo_shoot_wild.jpg
  • http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3413/3518596075_382c8be704_o.jpg
  • http://www.bonzabamboo.com.au/images/shoot_harvest/shoot1.jpg
  • http://illmakeitmyself.brianhuneke.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/img_12292.jpg
  • http://www.bamboogarden.com/shoot-harvest2.jpg
  • http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-B7oh9GhKshQ/UZKpZFJlekI/AAAAAAAAFAo/BqN2juwrTcM/s1600/IMG_9772.jpg
  • http://www.bamboogarden.com/pruning-trench2.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Rosemary

Common Name: Rosemary
Scientific Name: Rosmarinus officinalis
Family: Lamiaceae (the Mint family)

Rosemary almost needs no description, because it is so well known.

Rosemary almost needs no description, because it is so well known.

Description:
This plant probably needs no introduction. Rosemary is a small shrub with evergreen leaves that are most commonly used as a culinary herb. As an evergreen shrub, it is a year round ornamental plant, but it also attracts beneficial insects and hummingbirds, is drought tolerant, and is an aromatic pest confuser. Almost every herb garden and vegetable garden has at least one Rosemary bush, and it is easy to grow. Considering how useful, and tasty, it is, we should consider placing them throughout our property and Forest Gardens as well.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) Illustration from Köhler's Medicinal Plants - 1887

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Illustration from Köhler’s Medicinal Plants – 1887

History:
Native to the Mediterranean, Rosemary has spread around the world with the spread of European civilization.

Trivia:

  • It is said that that the Virgin Mary (Jesus Christ’s mother) spread her cloak over a white-flowered bush when she was resting. The flowers changed from white to blue to match her cloak, and the plant was called “Rose of Mary” ever since.
  • Rosemary flowers can be white, pink, purple, or blue deep purple or blue-violet.
  • The genus Rosmarinus is Latin for “dew of the sea” – in reference to its refreshing smell and its natural habitat along the Mediterranean coast
  • Rosemary garlands were used by Greek students to increase their memory; this is where “Rosemary for remembrance” originated
  • A sprig of Rosemary was placed under a pillow to repel nightmares.
  • A sprig of Rosemary was placed outside the home to repel witches.
  • Rosemary was the favorite scent of Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • Rosemary contains salicylic acid… this is the chemical aspirin is derived from, and it has the ability to ease aches and pains and reduce fevers.
Rosemary is one of the most well known culinary herbs.

Rosemary is one of the most well known culinary herbs.

Recipe: Rosemary Roasted Chicken with Roasted Grapes

Rosemary Oil is a flavorful addition to many meals.

Rosemary Oil (infused… not the essential oil) is a flavorful addition to many meals.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Cullinary Herb – Raw or cooked. Fresh or dried. Young shoots/stems (before turning woody) and leaves. One of the best known cullinary herbs. Infused oil can be made as well.
  • Tea Plant – the leaves and/or flowers can be steeped in hot water to make a tea
  • Edible Flowers – the small flowers have a soft “rosemary” taste, more gentle than the leaves; they are a pleasant addition to salads or an edible garnish.
  • Essential Oil – used as a fragrant component in skin and hair products, cleaning products, incense, perfumes, and many other products

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar and pollen plant
  • Ornamental Plant – as an evergreen, it is commonly used in gardens as a functional, but attractive, plant
  • Groundcover – while not a classic groundcover plant, Rosemary can
  • Drought Tolerant Plant – once established. I have killed many a Rosemary plant by letting one get too dried out before its root system was deeply established
  • Maritime Tolerant Plant – this plant can tolerate salt air of a marine environment
  • Aromatic Pest Confuser – potentially inhibit or repel garden pests
  • Hummingbird Plant – this plant has nectar that attracts Hummingbirds
  • Lacewings prefer to lay eggs on this plant
  • Medicinal – Rosemary has a long history of medicinal uses (see note in Trivia above)

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Leaves can be harvested year-round as this is an evergreen and one of the reasons it is so popular. Flowers can be harvested whenever they are in bloom.
Storage: Ideally, Rosemary is used immediately after harvest; this is how I like to do it. But it is still good if used within a few days fresh. It can be kept in a small glass of water, like cut flowers, for over a week. Can be stored for many months if dried.

The upright, or classic, form of Rosemary.

The upright, or classic, form of Rosemary.

Rosemary also has a low-growing, creeping form.

Rosemary also has a low-growing, creeping form.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 6-11
AHS Heat Zone: Zone 12-6
Chill Requirement: Possible, but not likely; no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Small Shrub
Leaf Type: Evergreen
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer, Groundcover Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a number of cultivars available.

Pollination: Self-fertile. Pollinated by bees.
Flowering: Spring to early Autumn (April-October), but can flower all year long in mild climates.

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: No good information available, but there are many reports of Rosemary bushes living 15-20 years.
Rosemary flowers are beautiful and edible.

Rosemary flowers are beautiful and edible.

Purple to blue is most common, but Rosemary also has pink and white flowers.

Purple to blue is most common, but Rosemary also has pink and white flowers.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 3-4 feet (90-120 cm) tall and wide (prostrate/creeping forms are significantly shorter)
Roots: Fibrous, not very deep
Growth Rate: Slow to medium

Rosemary is fantastic fresh...

Rosemary is fantastic fresh…

...but is easily dried as well.

…but is easily dried as well.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Dry to moist soils. Can tolerate drought once established.
pH: 5.5-7.5

Special Considerations for Growing:
None.

Propagation:
Typically from seed – not dormant. May take a while to germinate. May be propagated via cuttings or layering in Summer. May also be propagated via division.

Maintenance:
Minimal.

Concerns:
None

 

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Photo References:

  • http://jonnsaromatherapy.com/images/plant_images/Rosemary_il.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/78/Rosmarinus_officinalis_’Tuscan_Blue’1.jpg
  • http://contentzza.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/rosmarinus-officinalis_lg.jpg
  • http://foragersyear.files.wordpress.com/2012/12/rosemary2.jpg
  • http://www.freedomisgreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Rosemary_white_bg.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-fzuaKSz-txU/T-taWCpE5AI/AAAAAAAAAbY/snTfokOFcxI/s1600/Starr_080117-2176_Rosmarinus_officinalis.jpg
  • http://www.onlineplantguide.com/Image%20Library/R/7205.jpg
  • http://www.secretsofculinaryherbs.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Rosmarinus_officinalis133095382.jpg
  • http://www.teacher-chef.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/7-19-drying-rosemary.jpg
  • http://www.loverslanenursery.com/images/Tree%20and%20Plant%20Images/rosemary2.jpg
  • http://thinkgum.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/rosemary.jpg
  • http://gourmandistan.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/rosemary.jpg
  • http://blog.balancedskintherapy.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/rosemary.jpg

 

 

 

Permaculture Plants: Osage Orange

Common Name: Osage Orange, Hedge Apple, Horse Apple, Monkey Ball, Bodark, Bodock, Bowwood, and many more!
Scientific Name: Maclura pomifera
Family: Moraceae (the Mulberry or Fig family)

Most people see Osage Orange as a tree with heavy fruit drop that makes a mess.

Most people see Osage Orange as a tree with heavy fruit drop that makes a mess.

Description:
I love to read about plants that most people think are useless. Osage Orange is on the list of trees that many people see no need to have around. They have thorns, inedible fruit, and wood too hard to nail. But these thorny trees make a great livestock hedge, and the wood is perfect for fence posts and has the highest BTUs of any fuel wood in North America. The fruit has little to offer, but some swear it is a natural insect repellant and will keep a “hedge apple” under each bed in the house and in the basement. Osage Orange trees are fantastic windbreaks, are drought and flood tolerant, and provide shelter for nesting birds. This is probably not a tree for a small forest garden, but it is an ideal tree for a larger location especially if you want livestock hedgerows and a great fuel wood. I’ll keep this useless tree, thank you very much!

Maclura pomifera

Maclura pomifera

History:
Native to the Red River drainage of Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas in the United States, Osage Orange was widely spread through the United States and Canada in the 1930-40’s as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Great Plains Shelterbelt” project to combat the erosion and drought resulting in the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. It can now be found in all 48 states on the contiguous United States.

Osage Orange was a traditional, and very effective, living hedge for livestock.

Osage Orange was a traditional, and very effective, living hedge for livestock.

Trivia:

  • Osage Orange are not related to oranges, but the fruit does have a citrus-like fragrance.
  • The word “Osage” is in reference to the Osage Nation, a Native American tribe that originated in the Ohio River Valley but migrated west to the northern border of this tree’s natural range (Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma). It was told to Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis and Clark fame) that the people of the Osage Nation “so much … esteem the wood of this tree for the purpose of making their bows, that they travel many hundreds of miles in quest of it.”
  • Another name for the Osage Orange is bois d’arc which is French for “wood of the bow”.
  • The other names for Osage Orange are Bodark and Bodock, which are likely corruptions of the French name.
  • Osage Orange wood rivals yew for the top bow wood in the world. At one point, a good Osage Orange bow was equal in value to a horse and a blanket.
  • Osage Orange wood is very hard and dense – great for tool handles, crafts, furniture, etc. It needs to be pre-drilled before screwed. Nailing is almost impossible.
  • Osage Orange resists rotting and insects – similar to cedar and black locust. An ideal wood for posts.
  • The new stems on young trees have notable thorns. Osage Orange was used as living hedges before the invention of barbed wire. When grown closely together and pruned, these hedges were considered “bull strong, hog tight, and horse high”.
  • Osage Orange is dioecious (have male and female plants), but the female plant (pistillate) will still produce fruit without pollination… it just lacks seeds! The trees take about 10 years to mature, and it is not really possible to determine gender of the tree before then (i.e. before flowering and fruiting).
  • It is odd that such a large fruit is not a regular food source for animals. The seeds are extracted by rodents, but not much else. It is believed that the fruit of Osage Orange was a food source, maybe a prime food source, for giant sloths and mammoths of the Pleistocene (which ended about 12,000 years ago).
  • The fruit is considered an aggregate fruit (like its relative the mulberry) composed of many one-seeded drupes.
  • It is said that the fruit has a natural pest-repelling ability, but the proof of this is hard to verify. It is most commonly reported to repel cockroaches. I have a strong dislike of cockroaches, even if I see their role in the environment, so my home will have Osage Orange fruits for sure!
Osage Orange wood may be the best wood in North America for fuel.

Osage Orange wood may be the best wood in North America for fuel.

Osage Orange bows rival yew as the best in the world.

Osage Orange bows rival yew as the best in the world.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Windbreak – historically, this was its claim to fame, and its reason for spread over the continent
  • Edible Seeds – reportedly tasts like raw sunflower seeds. Can be eated raw or roasted. They are difficult to obtain. The fruit is not edible.

Secondary Uses:

  • Hedge – can be grown closely together to make a living hedge impenetrable by livestock (see Trivia above). When grown as a hedge, plant them no more than 4-5 feet apart. They can always be thinned later if needed. When grown this close together, the trees will grow more like tall shrubs, typically not growing taller than 20 feet (6 meters).
  • Wildlife Shelter – cover and nesting sites for small mammals and birds.
  • Wildlife Food Source – squirrels love the seeds! Not many other animals eat this fruit.
  • Drought tolerant once established
  • Maritime tolerant – can tolerate conditions near oceans or large salt-water bodies
  • Flood tolerant – this tree can withstand occasional flooding (this makes sense as it originates in the floodplain of the Red River floodpains.
  • Wood – posts, crafts, furniture, tool handles, archery bows (Osage Orange is not typically harvested for lumber considering that it can be small, knotty, and crooked).
  • Fuel – Osage Orange is fast growing and its wood has the highest BTU content of any North American wood (wood that is commonly available, that is). It is very dense, so it burns long and hot – like anthacite coal. It weighs 4,700-4,800+ lbs (2,130-2,175 kg) per cord and produces 30-32+ million BTU (British Thermal Units) per cord. Amazing! Note that it does spark (like Black Locust) and needs to be in a closed stove or enclosed fireplace if used indoors. It also does not light easily, and works best on a fire that has an established bed of coals.
  • Coppice Plant – at least one good source states that Osage Orange “sprouts vigorously from the stump”.
  • Pollution tolerant – Osage Orange can tolerate poor quality air, soil, and water in urban areas.
  • Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land
  • Ornamental Plant – there are a number of thornless male cultivars sold as an ornamental

Yield: Not applicable.
Harvesting: Not applicable.
Storage: Not applicable.

Typical form of Osage Orange.

Typical form of Osage Orange.

...but Osage Orange can grow into a lot of crooked shapes.

…but Osage Orange can grow into a lot of crooked shapes.

...and can sometimes be fairly tall.

…and can sometimes be fairly tall.

Osage Orange will turn yellow in Autumn, but not always this vibrant.

Osage Orange will turn yellow in Autumn, but not always this vibrant.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: Zone 4-10
AHS Heat Zone: Zone 10-1
Chill Requirement: Possible, but no reliable information is available, and as this is not a typical food plant, this is not as important.

Plant Type: Large Shrub to Small/Medium-Sized Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Sub-Canopy Layer, Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a few cultivars that have been developed, mainly for ornamental use.

Pollination: Osage Orange is dioecious – meaning that there are male and female plants. Typically, one pale will pollinate up to eight females for fruit production (if that is desired). Pollinated by the wind.
Flowering: Late Spring to early Summer.

Life Span:
No good information available, but there are a number of trees in North America that are between 200-300 years old.

Osage Orange flowers: male on top and female on bottom (from two different trees!)

Osage Orange flowers: male on top and female on bottom (from two different trees!)

Very hard and sharp thorns grow on young wood.

Very hard and sharp thorns grow on young wood.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 40-60 feet (12-18 meters) feet tall and up to 40 feet (12 meters) wide, 1-2 feet (30-60 centimeter) trunk diameter
Roots: Taproot is most typical. One specimen had roots more than 27 feet (8.2 meters) deep! If grown in shallow soils, the roots can spread laterally. The lateral roots can grow at or above the soil surface. There are multiple sources that state Osage Orange can be transplanted easily, and to me this implies that the taproot establishes itself a bit later as most trees with taproots do not tolerate transplanting well.
Growth Rate: Medium-Fast

The fruit contains edible, but not very good, seeds.

The fruit contains edible, but not very good, seeds.

The fruit is actually a congregate fruit containing many druplets.

The fruit is actually an aggregate fruit composed of many one-seeded drupes.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates little shade
Moisture: Dry to wet soils.
pH: 4.5-??? (tolerates a very wide range of soil conditions)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Osage Orange prefers moist soils, but it will grow in just about any condition.
  • It is likely that Osage Orange is tolerant of juglone (a natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its relatives), so consider growing Osage Orange as a buffer between your Black Walnut and other plantings.

Propagation:
Fairly easy from seed… if you can get the seed! Most people soak the whole fruit in a bucket of water until it gets mushy. The seeds can be separated out of the fruit much easier then. The seeds can be sown immediately or stored for up to 3 years. Pre-soaking stored seeds for 48 hours in warm water and 6-8 weeks of cold stratification may help germination – this mimics the natural wet and cold Winter. Can also be propagated via cuttings of new growth in Summer and old growth or roots in Winter (when dormant). Osage Orange can be propagated via layering as well.

Maintenance:
Minimal. Regular pruning if desired, but Osage Orange is virtually pest and disease free.

Concerns:

  • The large fruit which are not consumed by most animals can make a large mess
  • While many people have claimed that Osage Orange fruits are poisonous and have killed their livestock, numerous studies have shown this to be false. However, there have been a number of cases where cattle or horses have choked to death on the large fruit.
  • This plant has thorns! This can be used to our advantage, but this needs to be kept in mind when planting this tree.
  • There have been a few reports of people having allergic-type skin reactions to the milky sap in the stems and fruit.
  • Dispursive – Osage Orange can grow well from seed and can spread easily.

 

 

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Photo References:

  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Osage_orange_1.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/72/Lasdon_Arboretum_-_Maclura_pomifera_-_IMG_1420.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/73/Frutto_sconosciuto_forse_Maclura_pomifera_1.JPG
  • http://newfs.s3.amazonaws.com/taxon-images-1000s1000/Moraceae/maclura-pomifera-fr-sbaskauf-c.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Nantes_GrandBlottereau_Maclura_pomifera.jpg
  • http://botanicalillustrations.org/ILLUSTRATIONS_thumbnails/63583.jpg
  • http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/Uploads/asset_files/000/012/719/winterthur_horse_jumps.JPG
  • http://www.cirrusimage.com/Trees/Moraceae/Cudrania_tricuspidata_3.jpg
  • http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/biohires/m/hmapo–flmale-female22385.jpg
  • http://hedgerowselfbows.webs.com/osagebows.jpg
  • http://redhawk55.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/bxplo-tools-2-5-2013.jpg
  • http://www.winburn.com/Images/OsageOrangeLogs.jpg
  • http://www.baltimorebrew.com/content/uploads/2012/11/sandy-osage-druid-monument.jpg
  • http://simplestylenyc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/DSC00822.jpg
  • http://pbio209.pbworks.com/f/1205107623/crown.jpg

 

Permaculture Plants: Willow

Common Name: Willows, Sallows, Osiers
Scientific Name: Salix species
Family: Salicaceae (the Willow family)

Selected Species (there are over 400 species!):

  • White Willow (Salix alba)
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)
  • Beaked Willow (Salix bebbiana)
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea)
  • Coastal Plain or Carolina Willow (Salix caroliniana)
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)
  • Gray Willow (Salix glauca)
  • Western Black or Goodding’s Willow (Salix gooddingii)
  • Pacific Willow (Salix lucida)
  • Yellow Willow (Salix lutea)
  • Chinese Willow (includes Corkscrew Willow) (Salix matsudana)
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra)
  • Laurel or Bay Willow (Salix pentandra)
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea)
  • Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis)
Willows can be shrubs or trees.

Willows can be shrubs or trees.
Salix nigra

Description:
There are over 400 species in the Salix genus that are commonly known as Willow or Osier. These are beautiful shrubs and trees that can be used to make baskets, crafts, fences, houses, tools, paper, string, charcoal, and medicine. It can be used to bioremediate soil and wetlands, control erosion, block the wind, and Willows can be coppiced over and over again. Willows are some of the most beneficial plants that can be used in Forest Gardening and Permaculture designs.

Willow04

Goat Willow (Salix caprea) on left & Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis) on right

History:
The Willows are native to temperate and cold climates around the northern hemisphere and have been used for thousands of years for medicine, crafts, and building materials. Willows have been introduced all over the world and continues to be important plants.

Trivia:

  • Willow has been used for treating fever and pain from at least 2,000 BC as referenced on Egyptian paparyi. Likely it was used far earlier than that. Hippocrates referenced it in 400 BC. It was not until 1897 that Bayer first started producing Aspirin based on an extraction technique developed by the French chemist Charles Gerhardt.
  • There are a number of dwarf or creeping Willows species found around the world. Many of these plants are very low growing and capable of living in very cold climates… including artctic!
  • Cricket bats are traditionally made from a special variety of White Willow (Salix alba) called ‘Caerulea’.
  • Willow Water – There has been a lot written on using Willow stems/twigs to help root cuttings from other plants. There is some truth to this, but it is not a magic bullet. The reason for this is that Willow contains both salicylic acid and auxins. Salycylic acid reportedly prevents pathogen growth – meaning it will stop fungus and other microorganisms from attacking the cutting. Auxins are a family of plant hormones that stimualte root growth. The research shows that the most success is seen when using 50-100 six-inch new Willow stems or new Willow shoots and soaking them in 1 gallon (3.75 liters) of water for 4-6 weeks. The water is strained and used to soak cuttings from other plants to induce/speed rooting. Cuttings of other plants are placed in a container with the Willow water (like flowers in a vase).
Basketry and crafts are a common use for Willow

Basketry and crafts are a common use for Willow

Harvesting Willow for production.

Harvesting Willow for production.

Here is a great photoessay on Willow from The Guardian.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Branches – Willow branches can be woven for baskets, wicker, wattle, etc.
  • Wood – Willow wood can be used for boxes, brooms, furniture, crafts, tools, etc.
  • Fiber – a fiber from the wood can be used to make paper, string, rope, etc.
  • Ornamental Plant – many species (and varieties) are used around the world as ornamental plants
Willows are commonly used as ornamentals... it is easy to see why.

Willows are commonly used as ornamentals… it is easy to see why.

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
  • Coppice Plant – Willows can be coppiced often (as frequently as every 2-5 years). The frequency of coppicing will depend on the size of branch desired and the speed of growth.
  • Charcoal Plant – Willow is used for cooking and art charcoal
  • Erosion Control Species – the extensive root system helps stabilize soils prone to erosion
  • Pioneer Plant – helps reestablish overused or damaged land
  • Windbreak Species – this plant can be used to block, or break the path, of wind. Martin Crawford recommends using Willow as a windbreak on the eastern side of the property, because it leafs out early in the Spring and loses leaves early in Autumn.
  • Hedgerow Species
  • Bioremediation/Phytoremediation Plant – Willow is used as part of biological filtration systems to clean and purify contaminated water, often as part of a constructed wetland. This can be part of a home gray water system as well.
  • Biomass Plant – very fast growing plant can produce large amounts of organic matter in a short time. This has been used on a commercial level for energy production in Sweden and the U.K.
  • Wildlife Shelter – mainly birds and small mammals
  • Medicinal Plant – Willow has a long history of of medicinal uses, and is the origin of one of the first “modern” medicines, Aspirin
  • Food Plant – the inner bark can be dried, ground into a powder, and mixed with other flours. It is reportedly bitter with a poor flavor and is considered a famine food… but it is food. Young shoots can also be eaten… also a famine food.

Yield: Variable.
Harvesting: Willow branches are typically harvested when the plant is dormant and the leaves have fallen.

Willow has a long history of being coppiced.

Willow has a long history of being coppiced.

This coppiced hedge of Willow is a windbreak as well.

This coppiced hedge of Willow is a windbreak as well.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone:

  • White Willow (Salix alba): Zone 2-9
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica): Zone 5-9
  • Beaked Willow (Salix bebbiana): Zone 3
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea): Zone 5-9
  • Coastal Plain or Carolina Willow (Salix caroliniana): Zone 7
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor): Zone 4-8
  • Gray Willow (Salix glauca): Zone – Cool to cold climates
  • Western Black or Goodding’s Willow (Salix gooddingii): Zone 7
  • Pacific Willow (Salix lucida): Zone 2
  • Chinese Willow (includes Corkscrew Willow) (Salix matsudana): Zone 4-9
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra): Zone 4
  • Laurel or Bay Willow (Salix pentandra): Zone 5
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea): Zone 4-7
  • Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis): Zone 4

AHS Heat Zone:

  • White Willow (Salix alba): Zone 9-1
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica): Zone 9-1
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea): Zone 9-5
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor): Zone 8-2
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra): Zone 9-4 (maybe colder)
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea): Zone 7-1

Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but as this is not really a food plant, so this is not that important for us… and yes, I know that this can be a famine food.

Plant Type: Small Shrub to Large Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer, Sub-Canopy Layer, Shrub Layer, Aquatic/Wetland Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There are a large number of species and varieties available.

Pollination: Dioecious (there are male and female plants). Pollinated primarily by bees.
Flowering: April-May (as early as January in some climates!)

Life Span:

  • Years of Useful Life: 40-75 years on average. Coppicing will greatly increase the life span. If you have a large planting of Willow, an individual tree’s life span is not that important, because it easily sends up suckers.
Willow 09

Willow has male and female plants, each with their own flower.

Weeping W

Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica) on left and Black Willow ((Salix nigra) on right

Willow bark

Willow bark

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size:

  • White Willow (Salix alba): 82-100 feet (25-30 meters) tall and 32 feet (10 meters) wide
  • Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica): 39 feet (12 meters) tall and wide
  • Beaked Willow (Salix bebbiana): 23 feet (7 meters) tall
  • Goat Willow (Salix caprea): 32 feet (10 meters) tall and 26 feet (8 meters) wide
  • Coastal Plain or Carolina Willow (Salix caroliniana): 32 feet (10 meters) tall
  • American or Pussy Willow (Salix discolor): 20 feet (6 meters) tall and 15 feet (4 meters) wide
  • Gray Willow (Salix glauca): 4-20 feet (1.2-6 meters) tall
  • Western Black or Goodding’s Willow (Salix gooddingii): 32 feet (10 meters) tall
  • Pacific Willow (Salix lucida): 26 feet (8 meters) tall
  • Yellow Willow (Salix lutea): 82 feet (25 meters) tall and 32 feet (10 meters) wide
  • Chinese Willow (includes Corkscrew Willow) (Salix matsudana): 60 feet (18 meters) tall
  • Black Willow (Salix nigra): 39 feet (12 meters) tall
  • Laurel or Bay Willow (Salix pentandra): 32 feet (10 meters) tall
  • Purple Osier or Purple Willow (Salix purpurea): 16 feet (5 meters) tall and wide
  • Common Osier or Basket Willow (Salix viminalis): 19 feet (6 meters) tall and 13 feet (4 meters) wide

Roots: Fibrous, extensive on the surface and running deep. Readily sends up suckers.  UPDATE: While I have found a few sources that state Willow roots run deep, this information is in conflict with the “in the field” experience of reputable Permaculturists (like Geoff Lawton) who routinely recommend Willow and Bamboo for planting on dam/pond walls due to these plants having fibrous, stabilizing root systems that do NOT run deep. As you can see in the comments below, I think I will side with Geoff Lawton’s opinion on this.
Growth Rate: Fast

Willow loves the water's edge Black Willow (Salix nigra)

Willow loves the water’s edge and can tolerate periodic flooding with no problem.
Black Willow (Salix nigra)

Willow is one of the first trees to leaf out and flower in the Spring, making one of the main early food sources for bees.

Willow is one of the first trees to leaf out and flower in the Spring, making one of the main early food sources for bees.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates moderate shade
Moisture: Moist to very wet soils. Can tolerate intermitent standing water (flooding) and wetland areas.
pH: 4-7 (tolerates a wide range of soil conditions, but does not really like alkaline soils)

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Willow is fast growing and relatively short-lived.
  • It is recommended to avoid planting Willow too close to a building as the roots may spread and disturb the foundation.
  • Most species have relatively weak wood that is can break in strong winds, although because it is fast growing and forms a lot of branches and leaves quickly, it is still a good windbreak plant.

Propagation:
Most easily grown from cuttings taken at anytime of the year – just stick it in the ground! Very easy. Willow can also be propagated from seed. Willow seed has a short viability life.

Maintenance:
Cutting back suckers to prevent spread is occasionally needed. Browsing animals (deer, goats, etc.) will eat these suckers if allowed.

Concerns:

  • Some people consider Willow invasive due to the suckers it puts up and the ease of producing a new tree from just a single twig that has been buried. This is also what makes it so good for site rehabilitation as a pioneer species.
  • The extensive root system can undermine foundations or underground lines/pipes, so only plant Willow in places that this is not going to be a problem.
A beautiful Willow in Autumn

A beautiful Willow in Autumn

 

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Photo References:

  • http://akoeneny.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/weeping_willow_by_vivastock.jpg
  • http://www.yvts.com/images/willow%201.jpg
  • http://essitolling.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/willow-tree.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Illustration_Salix_caprea0.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a2/Cleaned-Illustration_Salix_viminalis.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/-_Willow’s_Bark_01_-.jpg
  • http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/biohires/s/hsani–brlarge13585.jpg
  • http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/biohires/s/hsaca5-lf33828.jpg
  • http://www.cas.vanderbilt.edu/bioimages/biohires/s/hsaba2-lf29624.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/28/Salix_caprea_Male.jpg
  • http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3626/3381880447_271529e0fa_o.jpg
  • http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090316w1.jpg
  • http://www.backyardnature.net/n/09/090316w2.jpg
  • http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_8OH0U312vu4/TDNj3EHNnrI/AAAAAAAAB5s/qlyG6cjNqF0/s1600/2010_06_20.jpg
  • http://greghumphries.files.wordpress.com/2010/12/dscf0004.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8a/Bourgoyen_knotted_willow_and_woodpile.jpg
  • http://www.friedmanphoto.com/data/photos/57_1glowing_autumn_willows_1800.jpg

 

 

 

 

Permaculture Plants: Yellowhorn

Common Name: Yellowhorn, Goldenhorn, Chinese Flowering Chestnut, Wen Guan Guo
Scientific Name: Xanthoceras sorbifolium
Family: Sapindaceae (the Soapberry, Maple, and Lychee family)

Yellowhorn07

The edible seeds are about the size of a pea 0.6 inches (1.5 cm) and are high in oils.

Description:
I was asked by a reader to write an article about Yellowhorn since they were having some trouble growing this plant. I had heard of this plant before, but other than a name, I couldn’t have told you much more. I love to research plants that I don’t know much about, and Yellowhorn is just that. As it turns out, there doesn’t seem to be anyone (that I can easily find) that knows a lot about Yellowhorn either. I know that there are probably some brilliant Chinese, Korean, and Russian botanists who could tell me all I ever wanted to know about this interesting plant, but they don’t seem to be the type that publish their work online. So I dug as deep as I could into my library, the botanical literature, and online gardening, forestry, permaculture, and even stock market message boards to try and develop as complete an article as I could on Xanthoceras sorbifolium, also known as Yellowhorn, or Wen Guan Guo in China.

This deciduous shrub or small tree is slow-growing, but once established it will produce edible, dark green leaves that turn bright yellow in Autumn. It has beautiful, fragrant flowers that are also edible, and seeds that are used for food and cooking oil. The oil is also being evaluated for biodiesel. This ornamental plant is also fairly drought tolerant and may also be a food source for beneficial insects. It is almost unknown outside of Asia, but this plant seems to be growing in popularity. While Yellowhorn will make an interesting and useful addition to a Forest Garden, I think there is a lot of potential for this as a major crop.

Yellowhorn11

Xanthoceras sorbifolium Bunge
Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, vol. 113 [ser. 3, vol. 43]: t. 6923 (1887) [M. Smith]

History:
Native to northern and northeastern China. It has also been growing in Korea for so long, we may not know if it is a native or was imported there. Yellowhorn was cultivated in Russia since the 1920’s and was introduced to France in 1866 via a French missionary who visited China. It has only recently become more available outside of Asia, and it is being sold mainly as an ornamental. It seems that there was some work with this plant in China on the Loess Plateau (this rehabilitation story is told in the amazing documentary Hope in a Changing Climate by John Liu).

Here is one of the earliest accounts I can find of this plant:

I first saw a plant of Xanthoceras at Baden-Baden on the grounds of Herr Max Leichtlin about the year 1884. I admired it, and Herr Leichtlin spoke of it as a new plant of great promise, which he felt sure would be an acquisition to horticulture. I secured two plants, and have been cultivating them now for eight or ten years. They are six feet high, and grow in rich warm loam. They have no protection whatever, and yet they have never lost a branch in winter, and they endure our dry summers perfectly. They are not strong-growing shrubs, but they bear flowers in great profusion, and are more beautiful when in bloom than at any other season. They ripen seeds every year, and I would be glad to furnish some of them to any one who cares to test the plant.
– Paul Dana, Dosoris Park, Long Island (1893)

Trivia:

  • The genus name, “Xanthoceras” means “yellow horn”. This is in reference to the orange-yellow, horn/claw-like appendages between the petals.
  • Yellowhorn fruit is green, round to pear-shaped, and up to 2.5 (6 cm) long.
  • The fruit splits into three sections to release the seeds.
  • There are 6-18 seeds per fruit, and each seed is about the size of a pea 0.6 inches (1.5 cm). The seeds are brown to purplish in color.
  • The flowers are white, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter, and the yellow center will change to red/maroon when older (once source states that the color change occurs after pollination).
  • One source stated that the fruit is 40% oil, and the seed alone is 72% oil (60% of which is Omega 6).
The young leaves are edible and the fruit can be round or pear-shaped.

The young leaves are edible and the fruit can be round or pear-shaped.

USING THIS PLANT

Primary Uses:

  • Edible Nut (Seed) – reports on flavor vary from a Sweet Chestnut to a Brazil nut or a Macadamia nut. Can be roasted, boiled, or dried and ground into a flour. One soure states that the nuts taste fine raw.
  • Edible Leaves – young leaves can be cooked, traditionally boiled. Leaves quickly become fibrous.
  • Edible Flowers – cooked, traditionally boiled
  • Flour – dried nut can be ground into a flour and then cooked
  • Oil – edible oil can be pressed from the seeds (one source stated it was being evaluated for biodiesel).

Secondary Uses:

  • General insect (especially bees) nectar plant – this statement was only made by one source
  • Ornamental Plant – long lasting, deep green leaves; large masses of pretty, fragrant flowers
  • Drought Plant – this species can tolerate prolonged dry conditions once established

Yield: A single source stated that fruit (nut?) yield can reach 8 tons (7260 kg) per acre, and oil yield can be 850 gallons (3200 liters) per acre.
Harvesting: Early to Mid-Autumn (September-October). Harvest when the fruits dry out, but before the fruit splits.
Storage: Seeds need to be dried for storage.

The beautiful flowers can cover the plant.

The beautiful flowers can cover the plant.

The flowers are fragrant.

And the flowers' center starts off yellow and will fade to red.

The center of the flower starts off yellow and will fade to red.

DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT

USDA Hardiness Zone: 4-7
AHS Heat Zone: No reliable information is available, although it does seem to like long, hot Summers.
Chill Requirement: Likely considering where this plant originates, but no reliable information is available.

Plant Type: Large Shrub or Small Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Sub-Canopy Layer, Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: Yes… however, there is very little information on them.

Pollination: Some sources state that Yellowhorn is self-fertile and some say that it requires cross-pollination. Likely, it is partially self-pollinating but will produce significantly more fruit if allowed to cross-pollinate. It is reported that there are both male flowers and bisexual (hermaphroditic) flowers found on the same plant, but not the same inflorescence.
Flowering: Mid-Late Spring to Early Summer (April-June)

Life Span:

  • Years to Begin Fruiting: No reliable information can be found, but a few sources stated that Yellowhorn will bloom at an early age. A single source stated that flowering will begin during the second year, most sources say year three.
  • Years to Maximum Height: 10-20 years
  • Years to Maximum Fruiting: A single source stated that maximum yield will start at around 5 years of age.
  • Years of Useful Life: No reliable information can be found, but one source stated that Yellowhorn can live for over 200 years of age.
The fruit will dry on the tree and release its seed if allowed.

The fruit will dry on the tree and release its seed if allowed.

The fruit can be harvested while the fruit is still green.

The fruit can be harvested while the fruit is still green.

But it seems that most will wait until the fruit starts to turn brown to begin harvest.

Most growers will wait until the fruit starts to turn brown to begin harvest.

The seeds are edible and are used to make a cooking oil.

The seeds are edible and are also pressed to make a cooking oil.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT

Size: 6-24 feet (2-7.3 meters) tall and wide
Roots: No reliable information is available, but one source states that Yellowhorn puts down a “very large root”… this could mean that Yellowhorn has a taproot. Another sources states Yellowhorn has “long, fleshy roots with fibrous developments mostly at the end.” I think we can assume that this plant has deep growing roots, either single or few in number.
Growth Rate: Slow

Yellowhorn will turn a brilliant yellow in Autumn.

Yellowhorn will turn a brilliant yellow in Autumn.

Yellowhorn (right) is edible and closely related to the Horse Chestnut (left) which is poisonous.

Yellowhorn (right) is edible and closely related to the Horse Chestnut (left) which is toxic to humans and many animals.

GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT

Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade
Moisture: Prefers medium moisture soils, but tolerates dry soils once established
pH: 5.5-8.5

Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Yellowhorn does best in climates that have hot and dry Summers, and should be protected from cold winds.
  • If this plant does have a taproot (information on root structure is scarce), then it should be planted in place as soon as possible. The numerous reports of growers having little growth with this plant and then it took off after it was planted in its permanent location, and plants doing poorly when kept in pots, supports the idea of it having a taproot(s).

Propagation:
Various sources give different information… some say that seeds are not dormant and germinate well without any special treatment and others state that they need at least 3 months of cold stratification. Likely, both are accurate, and this plant can grow without stratification, but germination rates are probably higher with some exposure to cold for a few months as would occur in its natural setting. Can also be propagated via root cuttings and division of suckers when dormant. Yellowhorn can take quite a while to become established.

Maintenance:
Minimal. Removal of suckers if desired.

Concerns:
None.

 

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Photo References:

http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/trees/msg1212170322566.html

http://www.arthurleej.com/p-o-m-Oct09.html

http://arnoldia.arboretum.harvard.edu/pdf/articles/2000-60-3-new-or-little-known-plants-xanthoceras-sorbifolia-1893.pdf

http://ideas.repec.org/a/ags/asagre/133111.html

 

 

  • http://www.visoflora.com/images/original/xanthoceras-sorbifolium-visoflora-52217.jpg
  • http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_OJ8Kdji1q94/Sh81soXhXhI/AAAAAAAACCc/kdclGAFbALI/s1600-h/Yellowhorn.jpg
  • http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Xanthoceras_sorbifolium_02.JPG
  • http://www.plantarium.ru/dat/plants/8/816/144816_eef20092.jpg
  • http://farm6.staticflickr.com/5149/5661758317_04b33b816b_o.jpg
  • http://www.botanische-spaziergaenge.at/Bilder/Lumix_6/P1550017.JPG
  • http://www.perennialsolutions.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/IMG_9647.jpg
  • http://www.plantarium.ru/dat/plants/3/385/100385_4be30813.jpg
  • http://www.botanische-spaziergaenge.at/Bilder/Lumix_7/P1610547.JPG
  • http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v624/starterdude/seeds-1.jpg
  • http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v624/starterdude/seeds-2.jpg
  • http://www.plantillustrations.org/illustration.php?id_illustration=4465
  • http://www.botanicalgarden.ubc.ca/potd/aesculus_xanthoceras.jpg
  • http://www.arthurleej.com/images/Xanthoceras.jpg