Duck Boot Garden

Sustainable and Wild Foods advice

December 7, 2019
by jhtalmadge
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American Beech

American Beech

Fagus grandifolia

 

The beech tree is of such great significance to humankind that the etymological derivation of two common English words “to eat” and “book” are inexorably connected to it. Beech leaves and beechnuts (mast) were an important food source for both livestock and people alike in ancient times. The ancient Greek word for beech was phegos, which is related to the word phagein “to eat”. Phegos led to the Latin word fagus, which became the botanical genus name for beech trees because these trees are edible. The American beech is in the genus Fagus which is in the family Fagaceae.

Before the advent of paper scrolls, Germanic societies in northern Europe scratched early letters (manuscripts) on beech bark. Later, written manuscripts were preserved on thin beech tablets and bound together with beech wood boards. The Proto-Germanic word bokiz for “beech” became bok for “book”; this gave rise to the Old English (Anglo-Saxon) word boc for a written document, which in time became the modern English word book.

In several Germanic languages, the word for book and beech are still closely connected. For example, in modern German buche is beech and buch is book. The two words are even more similar in Swedish where bok is beech and bok is also the word for book.

One of the most common trees in the eastern North American forest is the American beech tree. It is an impressive tree with broad-spreading branches that sometimes reach the ground. Beech trees are slow growing and long lived. They usually take 40 years to mature enough to produce seeds and can live to 300 years or more. The beech grows to 50- to 80-feet high with a spread of 40- to 70-feet and can have 2- to 3-foot in caliper. The current champion tree is 120 feet tall.

There are 10 species of true beech trees and all grow in temperate regions in Europe, Asia, and North America. The American beech is the only beech tree native to North America.

Description

The American beech is a large deciduous tree with a dense, rounded, dome-like crown, broad-spreading habit with a tall straight trunk. The 3- to 6-inch long by 2-inch wide leaves are simple, ovate to elliptic in shape, and tapering to a pointed tip with sharply toothed margins. The glossy, dark green leaves are paler green underneath with tufts of hair along the mid-rib. The 9 to 15 pairs of veins are very distinct and run parallel to one another from mid-rib to the margin giving them a rippled appearance. Leaf buds are slender, cigar-shaped, and 1-inch long ending in a sharp pointed tip. Young stems are glossy with a reddish tint and grow in a zig-zag pattern. Older stems are smooth with a mottled gray color. The long- spreading branches grow horizontal and sometimes with their tips reaching the ground. The thin slate-gray to silver-gray bark is distinctively smooth most of its life and is ideal for carving. The male (staminate) flowers are ¾-inch to 1-inch long spiny clusters on 1 ½-inch to 2-inch stalks. The minute, reddish-green female (pistilate) flowers are ¼-inch long hairy and appear on 1-inch long stalks. Both flowers lack petals and emerge in early spring.  The fruit are small greenish orange to brown round burs covered with short spines.  When they ripen in September or October, the fruit will split open along four seams revealing 1 to 4 beechnuts inside. These yellow to reddish brown edible nuts are 1/4 to 3/8 inch long and conically shaped with winged edges. The shallow fibrous root system of the America beech has a suckering habit and will commonly send up root shoots in a colony around the parent tree.

Identifying Factors

Some common ways to identify the American beech tree are as follows: 1) the light brown leaves remain on the trees through most of the winter (marcescent), 2) the large trees have smooth light gray bark similar to an elephant’s hide, 3) the leaf buds are long and pointy, 4) it is one of the last trees to leaf out. 5) the leaves are rippled like Ruffles potato chips, and 6) the attractive fall foliage color is yellow-gold to bronze-brown.

Habitat/Range/Zone

American beech trees are found in forests, bottomlands, and ravines below 3,300 feet in altitude where there is moist rich soil. They range from central Georgia northward up the Atlantic coast to southeast Maine and Newfoundland, westward to the Great Lakes, southward to eastern Texas, and onward to the Gulf coast. It is thought by scientists that prior to the last ice age American beech trees ranged completely across the continent. There are still a few pockets of trees left in northeast Mexico. Beech trees grow best in USDA Zones 4 through 9, and there have been instances of them even surviving in zone 3.

General Culture

American beech trees grow at a slow to moderate growth rate. They prefer full sun but, are also extremely shade tolerant. American beech can be grown both farther north and farther south than their relative the European beech. They can withstand temperatures as low as -42-degrees Fahrenheit when dormant and summer temperatures as high as 105-degrees Fahrenheit. These trees will adapt to a wide range of soil from somewhat acidic to basic, but they prefer powdery limestone soils rich in organic matter with a pH from 5.0 to 6.5. They require ideally moist, well-drained soils and cannot tolerate waterlogged soils or prolonged drought. The American beech favors fertile soils with a high oxygen content that are not too heavy or compacted.

Irrigation & Fertilization

American beech always need moisture available to their roots and use twice as much water as more drought tolerant species like pines and oaks. For this reason, newly planted beech trees should be watered daily until they are well established. A moist root zone can be more easily maintained by applying 2 to 3 inches of mulch around each tree from the trunk out to the drip line at the outer edge of the canopy.

Beech trees need to be fertilized twice yearly in order to ward off infections such as beech bark disease.  For every 100 square feet of root zone, use a pound of 10-10-10 (N-P-K) granular fertilizer. The root zone extends a foot or two beyond the drip line. Spread the fertilizer evenly over the root zone then water it in thoroughly. Apply the first application in late March and the second in early August.

 

Pruning

Young beech trees must be well trained to avoid instability in strong winds as they age. While young, prune beech trees for a strong central leader. As the crown develops, remove any upright lateral branches that might compete with the leader. Do not prune away any of the lower lateral branches until the trees are 6 to 8 years old.  These lower branches will protect the tree from sunscald on the sensitive young bark. For mature trees, prune for good structure, and if in an urban setting, prune up limbs so pedestrians and vehicles can pass beneath easily. During weekly maintenance, clip away the root suckers around the trees to keep the area neat. Most structural pruning is best done in late summer or early fall.

Pollination

Beech trees are monoecious, they carry both male and female flowers on the same plant. Staminate or male flowers are drooping 1-inch catkins borne on 2-inch long stalks. Pistilate or female flowers are tiny ¼-inch inflorescences that lack petals and emerge in pairs on 1-inch long stalks. Both male and female flowers appear shortly after the new leaves come out in March or April. Wind is the primary carrier of beech pollen.

Propagation

American beech trees are extremely difficult to propagate by any form of vegetative propagation whether it is by cuttings, tissue culture, or grafting. The easiest and most popular method of propagation is by sowing seeds. First collect the seeds (nuts) in late autumn within a 50-mile radius of where you will be planting the new seedlings; this is to ensure that the seedlings will be genetically acclimated to area’s soil and climate. Choose seed pods that are dried and have already started to open naturally. Put the seeds into a bowl of water to clean the debris and check for viability. Discard any seeds that float as they will not germinate. Let the seeds dry for a day or two at 65- to 75-degrees Fahrenheit, then place them into plastic baggies of moist sand. Push the seeds down into the sand. Place the baggies of sand and seeds into a refrigerator set at 41-degrees Fahrenheit for the next 90 days. After this stratification period, remove the seeds from the baggies of sand and rinse the seeds off with water. Plant the seeds into 4-inch pots of seed starter soil mix. Sow one seed per pot. Place the pots in a room with bright indirect sunlight and a temperature of 70- to 75-degrees Fahrenheit. Mist the soil when it appears dry. Once the seeds have germinated and are showing three true leaves, water the seedlings with a mixture of ½ teaspoon of 10-10-10 (N-P-K) liquid fertilizer per gallon of water. Apply this fertilizer every two weeks. When the seedlings are 8 to 10 inches tall, transplant them into 1-gallon pots using a standard potting soil. In mid-May, when there is no threat of frost, start moving the potted seedling outdoors into an area with filtered sunshine. Let the seedlings stay outside till late fall, then move them indoors next to a sunny window for the winter. In the spring of their second year, plant the seedlings outdoors in an open location where they will get at least 6 hours of full sun per day with plenty of room to spread out.

Pests & Diseases

The long-lived American beech is rarely affected by pests and typically disease free, but there are several insects that can attack them such as giant bark aphids, beech blight aphids, wooly beech aphids, caterpillars, oak weevils, mites, leaf miners, pear thrips, gypsy moths, beech borers, beech lacebug, leafhoppers, and beech scale. Beech scale can penetrate the bark and make the tree susceptible to beech bark disease, a devastating canker disease that is infecting mature trees across the country. Some other diseases that can strike beech trees are bleeding bark canker, butt rot, leafspot, powdery mildew and root rot.

General Problems

When young, American beech trees are vulnerable to winter sunscald. They also transplant poorly due to having a long tap root. Mature trees are sensitive to early frosts. Early frosts can retard growth causing decreased nut production the next year. The trees can be damaged by strong winds, sapsuckers, and squirrels. Beech trees do not grow well in urban areas where the air is high in sulfur dioxide or carbon monoxide. The shallow root system can be easily disturbed by lawn mowers or tillers. This shallow dense root system makes it nearly impossible to grow grass or perennials underneath the trees. Fruit and husks can make messy litter on sidewalks and streets.

Harvest & Storage

Beech trees are late bloomers in the plant world, they don’t start producing nuts till around 40 years of age, but by 60 years old they are producing large crops of beechnuts. Once producing, they only produce abundant crops in cycles about every 3 years.

In late fall, just after the first frost, the forest floor under beech trees is usually covered with their spiny Velcro-like husks containing the nuts. Gather the nuts by hand and rub them between towels to remove their outer husks. Once the outer husk is removed, spread the nuts out in a single layer on newspaper or a tarp in a well-ventilated, secure area away from chipmunks and other rodents for 2 to 3 weeks to cure. For long term storage, leave the nuts with their inner shells intact after curing. They will keep for over a year in this manner. Store them in rodent-proof glass jars in a cool dark place.

If using the nuts immediately, remove their leathery inner shells with your fingernails or teeth like shelling sunflower seeds or pistachios. There is a single beechnut inside each triangular shell, which are about the size of a popcorn kernel. The beechnut has a light brown papery husk that can be removed by using friction between towels. After picking out the papery husks, you are finally left with the small white nuts. Cook them in a pan for about 3 to 5 minutes. Roasting them in this fashion will improve their flavor and neutralize toxins in any remaining husks.

Culinary Uses

In colonial times, young beech leaves were cooked as pot greens or added to fresh salads. The young leaves picked early in spring have a soft texture and a pleasant, mild, nutty flavor. The beechnuts were also used as a food. Shelled nuts were roasted then added to breads and pastries.  The kernels were also cooked and then ground into a butter or into a flour. They were also pressed into an edible cooking oil. Beechnuts are up to 50% oil. Non-alcoholic coffee-like beverages were made from boiled nuts and a liquor, like sloe gin, was made by soaking the leaves in gin for several weeks. In times of need, the inner bark of the beech tree was dried and ground into sawdust which was then added to flour as an extender. The aromatic bark and wood have been used to improve the flavor of beers, thus the term “beechwood aging”. Beechwood is also used to cure hams, sausages, and cheeses.

Nutritional Benefits & Medicinal Uses

Beechnuts are one of the three most nutrient-dense nuts. The other two, acorns (oak) and sweet chestnuts are also in the Beech family, Fagaceae. Beechnuts are a good source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. These nuts are especially high in amino acids such as tryptophan, leucine, and lysine. Beechnut oil made from the nuts contains up to 23% protein and is also rich in vitamin B6, potassium, and manganese. The leaves have also been eaten for hundreds of years and are rich in minerals, starch, and protein.

Native Americans have long known the antiseptic, disinfectant, and analgesic properties of the beech tree. Parts of the beech tree have been used for medicinal purposes by Native Americans, as well as, Europeans for centuries. Eating the leaves can help improve digestion. Poultices made from beech leaves can be used to soothe minor burns, relieve headaches, ease swelling, and to treat frostbite. A tar or creosote, made from distilled beech branches, can be applied topically to relieve wounds or inflamed areas of skin and to protect them from infections. This creosote has both analgesic and antiseptic properties. A tea brewed from dried inner bark has been used to treat tuberculosis, as a blood cleanser, and to boost the immune system with its antioxidant properties. Decoctions made from beechnuts have been used to cleanse the body of toxins by stimulating kidney function.

Native American Uses

Although many native peoples used beech nutmeats for food, no other people had as many culinary uses for them as the Iroquois did. The Iroquois made breads by mixing crushed beech nuts with cornmeal, berries, and beans. Pies were also cooked combining beech nuts and corn pudding. The Iroquois people made an oily drink by crushing and boiling the nutmeats. A gravy was made by salting and seasoning the oil from the nuts. The Iroquois also garnished mashed potato dishes and corn soup with crushed beech nuts.

The Chippewa, Tsalagi, and Potawatomi tribes carefully followed chipmunks and deer mice back to their burrows in the fall to rob their stores of beech nuts. The rodents had usually already cleaned and culled through the nuts so only the best nuts were hoarded.

Many tribes also used the wood of the beech tree as building material for lodges and as fuel. The Cherokee used the wood for lumber and to make buttons. The Micmac people utilized beech wood for snowshoe frames and the Potawatomi made beech wood bowls and other cooking utensils.

Some tribes mixed beech nut oil and bear grease to make mosquito repellant.

Ornamental Uses

The dried light-brown leaves hanging on their branches through most of the winter is thought by many to be an attractive feature of beech trees. The beech tree is best utilized as a specimen tree or shade tree in large landscape designs. It is better to limit their use in urban settings. They eventually become too large for smaller properties, but are well suited for naturalized areas on large lots, in parks, or at the edge of forests. When mature, these trees cast too much shade for any companion plants or a lawn to survive underneath them, so mulch the ground underneath them out to the edge of the drip line and routinely prune out the suckers as they appear.

Other Uses

The American beech has long been considered an important timber species. Although their wood is not very durable, it is hard, strong, and widely used for many applications. It has been used to make containers such as barrels, bowls, flooring, veneer, toys, musical instruments, furniture, buttons, pins, kitchen utensils, tool handles, and shoe stretchers. It makes an excellent firewood for heating or cooking on wood stoves because of its good burning properties and high density. In colonial times, the wood was used to make charcoal and the ashes were used to make soap. The nuts were used to make lamp oil and as a furniture polish. The leaves were used to feed livestock and the nuts were used as pig fodder. These trees are also a significant source of food for wildlife such as mice, chipmunks, racoons, foxes, deer, bears, quail, ducks, and wild turkeys. The beech tree is also a larval host for several butterfly varieties. The trees are used as windbreak hedging since they hold their dead leaves well into winter thus providing extra wind protection. A modern textile fabric, Modal, is made from reconstituted cellulose from beechwood pulp. The leaves and bark have also been used to make yellow and brown fabric dyes.

Recommended Varieties

There are currently no known commercial varieties of American beech in the green industry. Plant breeders and collectors are currently making selections of unique individual trees with unusual foliage or habit.  Briefly in the 1920s, there were two selections, ‘Abundance’ and ‘Abrams’ made in Indiana. Then, in the 1950s there was a selection made in New York called ‘Jenner’. But, none of these selections ever caught on in the commercial trade and are not available today.

Related Species & Varieties

The American Beech is one of 10 species of Beech in the Northern Hemisphere. The most well known of these is the European Beech, Fagus sylvatica. It is a native to central Europe and has been used more as an ornamental than the American Beech because of its handsome foliage. Some of the best selections of the European Beech are:

  1. Copper Beech, F. sylvatica ‘Purpurea’ – leaves start in spring as purple pink turning to a deep purple.
  2. Pendulous Beech, F. sylvatica ‘Pendula’ – has weeping branches sometimes trailing to the ground.
  3. Tricolor Beech, F. sylvatica ‘Tricolor’ – a good container plant with white/pink edged green leaves.
  4. Cutleaf Beech, F. sylvatica ‘Laciniata’ – has narrow, deeply-serrated green leaves.

Two other related species are the Oriental Beech, Fagus orientalis, and the Japanese Beech, Fagus crenata. The Oriental Beech originate in Asia Minor, have hairy twigs and can grow to 100-feet tall. The Japanese Beech is a common forest tree in its native Japan. It can grow to 115-feet tall and has attractive dark green ovate leaves.

Hazards & Cautions

Humans can eat beechnuts just like wildlife, but it is best not to eat too many in one sitting because these nuts contain a mildly toxic, detergent-like chemical that is saponic glycoside. When beechnuts are eaten in large quantities, this toxin can cause mild, rapid-onset gastrointestinal upset. Wildlife seem to be virtually immune to this toxin. There is another toxin, fagin, in the skin of the kernel or nut. Roasting allows the skin to be rubbed off and the potency of the toxin is also diminished. Raw nuts remain high in fagin so they are best avoided.   Bark teas should not be used by pregnant or nursing women.

Summary

The American beech tree is a massive, stately, native tree of great importance in our early history.  Although these trees are still quite common in forests throughout the Southeast, today the beech is mostly forgotten as a valuable food source and as a large landscape element. We would be wise to look upon the beech with reverence and remember all its many uses.

References & Related Links

Adamant, Ashley. September 28, 2018. Foraging Beech Nuts. Practical Self Reliance| retrieved from https:// practical self reliance.com/foraging-beech-nuts/

Bender, Steve. The New Southern Living Garden Book. New York: Oxmoor House, 2015.

Brickell, Christopher and Joyce, David. Pruning and Training. New York: Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2017.

Grimm, William Carey. The Illustrated Book of Trees. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Publishing, 1983.

Hageneder, Fred. The Meaning of Trees. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.

Head, Bob H. Hutchinson’s Tree Book – A Reference Guide to Popular Trees. Taylors, SC: Hutchinson Publishing, 2006.

https://www.healthbenefitstimes.com/beech-nut. Health Benefits Times, 2017.

Kershner, Bruce; Matthews, Daniel; Nelson, Gil; Spellenberg, Richard. National Wildlife Federation: Guide to Trees of North America. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2008.

Kirkman, L. Katherine; Brown, Claude L.; Leopold, Donald J. Native Trees of the Southeast – An Identification Guide. Portland: Timber Press, 2007.

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland: Timber Press, 1998.

Nix, Steve. March 20, 2019. Essentials for Tree Seed Propagation. Thought Co. retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/essentials-for-the-seed-propagation-1343274?/

Petrides, George A. Peterson Field Guides – Eastern Trees. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.

Staughton, John. October 08, 2019. 7 Interesting Benefits of Beech. Organic Facts| retrieved from

https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/other/beech.html

Sternberg, Guy and Wilson, Jim. Native Trees for North American Landscapes. Portland: Timber Press, 2004.

Westover, Jessica. (n.d.). How to Grow Beechnut Tres From Seeds. Home Guides | SF Gate. Retrieved from http://homeguides.sfgate.com/grow-beechnut-trees-seeds-68022.html

 

 

Suppliers

  • ArcheWild Native Nurseries – Quakertown, PA.
  • Native Forest Nursery – Chatsworth, GA.
  • Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery – Orefield, PA.
  • Mid Atlantic Natives – Cobbs Creek, VA.
  • Rock Bridge Trees – Bethpage, TN.

July 27, 2019
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Eastern Black Walnut

Eastern Black Walnut

Juglans nigra

 

I wasn’t aware of the value of black walnut trees until my father and uncle sold a large black walnut tree off my grandmother’s land for thousands of dollars. Even though I was only ten at the time, I realized then how treasured black walnut trees are. The black walnut is a highly valued tree commercially today and was prized by Native Americans for its medicinal properties. It is a member of the Juglandaceae family, which includes hickory trees and pecan trees (Carya). There are 21 deciduous trees in the Juglans genus which are spread across the world from Southeast Asia to Southeast Europe and North America. The two most economically important species are Juglans nigra, the black walnut, and Juglans regia, the English walnut. The black walnut is grown primarily for its timber (saw wood and veneer), whereas, English walnuts are grown predominately for their edible nuts. Black walnuts are native to North America. Although, most old-growth walnuts have been harvested for timber, a giant specimen still survives on Sauvie Island in Oregon. It is the national champion tree and it stands 112 feet tall with a 7.4-foot diameter trunk.

A mature black walnut tree

A mature black walnut tree Photo taken by – David Moore

Description:

Black walnut trees are slow-to-moderate growing deciduous trees, which typically grow 50- to 90-feet tall with comparable spreads. Their shape is usually pyramidal with their spread getting wider with age and their somewhat open symmetrical crown being round to oval.

The enormous, pinnately-compound leaves of the black walnut have 15 to 23 leaflets and are typically 12 to 24 inches long. Each finely toothed leaflet is 2 to 5 inches long and ¾ to 2 inches wide. Leaflets are held in alternately arranged pairs often with no terminal leaflet. This lack of a leaflet at the end of their compound leaves and the aromatic scent released when the leaves are crushed are two good identifying traits of the black walnut tree. Their thick twigs are brown with light to dark brown inner pith. The black walnut’s smooth, sturdy branches are grey to reddish beige. Stems taste bitter when chewed from tannins and turn saliva yellow. The bark is thick and dark brown to greyish-black. Younger trees have smooth matte-finished bark, but trees 30 years or older have deeply fissured bark resembling braided rope forming diamond shapes. The drooping male catkins are 3- to 5-inches long and are found on last year’s growth. Small female flowers appear in clusters at the ends of the current year’s growth. The fruit is a large, globular, 1.5- to 2.5-inch, light-green nut with one-piece hulls. These unique hulls distinguish them from other walnuts and hickories which have hulls divided into segments. The dark brown shell is extremely thick with irregular ridges. The edible seed inside is light brown with a convoluted surface.

 

Illustration of the black walnut parts: leaf, male catkin, nuts with husks, nut, kernel, and female flowers. Illustration by Karen M. Johnson

Illustration of the black walnut parts: leaf, male catkin, nuts with husks, nut, kernel, and female flowers. Illustration by Karen M. Johnson

Site Selection/Range/General Culture:

Black walnuts are commonly found in well-drained bottomlands, around old homesites where they were originally planted or in open pastures. These trees range from southern Ontario, westward to eastern South Dakota, southward to eastern Texas, eastward to northern Florida, and northward to Massachusetts. Their range encompasses most of the eastern United States except for the coastal area of the Gulf states. They thrive in Zones 4 thru 9 and when dormant will survive temperatures down to     -17-degrees Fahrenheit without any serious damage. Black walnuts prefer a slightly alkaline pH of 6 to 7.2 in a deep, rich, moist, loamy soil. They will tolerate most soils, even drier less fertile soils, but in these conditions, they will grow more slowly and not produce as many nuts.

When planting a black walnut, plant them in a full sun woodland garden setting away from houses, roads, driveways, sidewalks, and patios. This is because they can pose problems from heavy falling nuts or tannins in the husks and leaves staining surfaces.

Irrigation:

Black walnuts are tough, resilient trees. Water your saplings thoroughly when planted, then water once a week during the growing season for the next two years. Each time you water allow the soil to dry around the root ball between waterings. As a rule of thumb, walnuts need 1 to 1.5 inches of rain per week, but once the young trees start to bare nuts at 5 to 7 years of age, they will need deep watering during the 5th to 7th week after blossom to maximize top-quality nut growth. A drought situation during this period will cause the nuts to not fill out their shells properly.

It was thought for years that established trees rarely need supplemental irrigation, but new research shows that nut production and tree growth are markedly complimented by regular watering during the growing season.

Fertilization:

No fertilizer is needed the first year after planting a young walnut tree. Weed suppression around the young trees is more important since the weeds will compete for nutrients already present in the soil. Starting the second year, apply 2 ounces of 15-15-15 or 20-10-10 granular fertilizer in the spring and again in the summer. Spread the fertilizer evenly around the full canopy area and especially at the drip line. Follow this procedure every year until the tree is 6-inch caliper, then increase the rate to 4 ounces of granular fertilizer in the spring and again in the summer.

Each year through your county extension service do a soil analysis to check the macronutrient levels       (N-P-K) and pH.  Also, have a foliar analysis done to check for any micronutrients that may be lacking such as calcium, zinc, boron or copper. After consulting with your local extension agent or agronomist, apply more fertilizer, pelletized lime, or foliar micronutrient sprays to adjust your levels that are out of whack.

If you prefer not to use chemical fertilizers, well-rotted manure may be spread around the root zone.

Large section of Black Walnut tree trunk

Large section of Black Walnut tree trunk Photo taken by- David Moore

Pruning & Training:

Overall, black walnuts are low-maintenance trees that only require minimal pruning each year once established.  It is important to initially train your tree to a single, dominant, central leader with no branches of less than a 45-degree angle. Prune the limb structure to be alternately spaced with no branches directly opposite one another as this will improve the strength of the tree over its lifetime. Keep in mind the simple rule of thumb when pruning nut trees that 30% to 50% of the tree should be crown or branches and the rest should be trunk. There may be some small twists or turns in the trunk, but those will normally disappear as the tree matures. Only prune black walnuts in late summer to early fall or else the pruning cuts will ooze sap profusely and weaken the tree.

Pollination:

Black walnuts are monoecious with separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Walnuts are partially self-fertile but produce better with another pollinizer as this will assist with cross-pollination and thus increase nut production. Pollen is transferred by the wind.  Late spring frosts may damage flowers causing poor nut production.

Propagation:

Named varieties of walnut trees are normally propagated by vegetative means through budding or grafting onto a rootstock. Grafted trees will usually start bearing 2 to 3 years earlier than seedlings and have better quality nuts. If you opt for the for bareroot or containerized grafted trees, try to plant them in late winter or early spring.

Commercial rootstocks and trees grown for use by home gardeners are grown from seed. When growing from seed make sure to select seeds from trees of superior quality. The nut quality, production level, nut oil content, and geographic location of the parent tree are all important factors to consider when choosing a seed source. The parent trees should not be from more than 200 miles south of the intended planting site. If seeds are chosen from trees farther south, they will be less cold hardy and thus more prone to die back. Seeds should be stratified in a cold, moist place at 41 degrees Fahrenheit or lower for 3 to 4 months for maximum germination. This can be accomplished by planting seeds in deep-cell trays filled with sand and placed in unheated hoop houses in fall or put in plastic baggies of sand then placed in a refrigerator. The seeds will usually germinate in late winter or early spring. Once germinated, transplant the seedlings into individual deep pots filled with seedling soil mix. In early summer, cull through the seedlings and pick the best ones. Then, plant these seedlings in their permanent locations. Stake the young seedlings and give them winter protection the next two winters.

Pest & Disease/Common Problems:

Black walnuts rarely have any problems when in a solitary or non-orchard setting. If proper crop maintenance such as timely fertilizing, pruning, weeding, and watering are applied with the use of disease-free stock most diseases or pest problems can be prevented.

Plant diseases which can affect walnuts are caused by bacterial, fungal, viral, or oomycete pathogens. Some of the major bacterial problems are crown gall and walnut leaf blight. Fungal diseases of walnuts are anthracnose, powdery mildew, oak root fungus, deep bark canker, shallow bark canker, walnut blotch, honey fungus, and branch wilt. The worst viral malady attacking walnuts is blackline disease, which is caused by cherry leaf roll virus, this can be prevented by growing trees on their own roots. Walnut diseases caused by oomycetes are phytophthora root and crown rot. These two diseases can be controlled by planting in well-drained soils and avoiding wetting the tree trunks when irrigating. A new walnut disease that is advancing across the country is thousand cankers disease which is spread by the walnut twig beetle.

Pests which impinge upon walnut trees are aphids, fall webworms, walnut scale, spider mites, codling moth, walnut husk fly, walnut twig beetle, and fire ants. Most of these insect problems can be controlled by spraying Spinosad or beneficial nematodes. An early spring application of horticultural oil when the buds are just starting to swell will help control scale and aphids. It is also important to keep ants off your trees by encircling the trees with sticky boards since ants will protect and farm the aphids for honeydew. Wildlife can also be a pest. Squirrels and crows are prone to eating the nuts. Deer will forage on the tender young twigs and branches.

Common problems with black walnuts are that they are hard to transplant due to their deep tap root and they produce juglone, which acts as a growth inhibitor to some other types of plants such as apples, azaleas, pines and tomatoes. Walnuts are also untidy trees that drop leaves, stems, and nuts through the year which must be raked up to maintain pest and disease control.

Consult your local county extension agent for guidance on controlling any of these problems should they arise.

 

Leaves & Nuts

Leaves & Nuts Photo taken by – David Moore

Harvest & Storage:

Walnuts begin to ripen in late summer, but most won’t fall from the tree until after the first frost. The large green billiard ball-sized walnuts are ready to harvest once they are soft enough to make a small impression on the husks with your thumb. You can wait till the nuts fall to the ground then pick them up or use a long stick and ladder to knock them down. Always wear rubber gloves when harvesting because the tannins in the husks can stain your hands brown for weeks.

The husks usually remain attached after the nuts fall from the tree. The nuts will spoil if the husks are not promptly removed. This difficult task can be accomplished by several different methods: removing the husks by hand, grinding them under your boots on a paved surface, or even driving your vehicle over them repeatedly. Don’t gather any nuts that have mostly black husks because these may be diseased, but ones with a few black spots are fine.

After all the husks are removed, spread the nuts out in a single layer on a screen or concrete surface in a cool dry place for three weeks to let them cure. At the end of three weeks, sample some of the nuts. The nutmeat should be crunchy, not soft or mushy. Also, test the nuts by dropping them into a bucket of water. Discard the ones that float because they may not be fully filled out.

Black walnuts have a high fat content and thus go rancid quickly. For the best long-term storage, store the unshelled nuts in a cool dark location. They will keep for up to a year or more once dried in their shells. Cracking the nuts can be much more difficult than shelling English walnuts. For this tedious project, use a hammer and towel or a vise to remove the shells. There is also a specialized black walnut cracker on the market. The nutmeat can be kept for up to a week if refrigerated in plastic baggies or frozen in baggies they will last up to six months.

Culinary Uses:

The taste of black walnuts is stronger and fruitier than English walnuts. It may be wise to mix them with milder nuts because of their intense flavor. The kernels can be eaten out of hand or used as a topping to add richness to many dishes such as salads or ice creams.  The delicious nuts can be used to make a myriad of baked goods such as breads, pastries, cakes, candies, and baklava. Unripe nuts can be pickled in vinegar or be used to make liqueurs. Nuts can be pressed for their oil which is used in salad dressings and in general cooking applications. The nuts can be finely ground into a meal, which then can be used in baking. The nut shells can be ground and used as a spice. The leaves can be dried and used to brew tea. Black walnut trees can be tapped like sugar maples in the spring. The sweet sap can be consumed raw, dried to make sugar, or concentrated by cooking to make syrup.

Nutritional Benefits:

We have all heard about the benefits of eating walnuts for brain and heart health, but there are many other nutritional benefits to consuming black walnuts, which are packed with micro-nutrients, vitamins and other helpful compounds. Black walnuts are loaded with the minerals including manganese, copper, phosphorus, and magnesium. The nuts are also high in zinc and selenium. From a vitamin standpoint, walnuts are an outstanding source of vitamins such as vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, and folate. The nuts are also especially high in vitamin B5 and vitamin B6. The husks can also be used to extract Vitamin C.

Black walnuts are also rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, and melatonin. The quinone compound present in black walnuts, plumbagin, has been found to have antimalarial, neuroprotective, and anticancer properties in scientific studies. Plumbagin has been shown to inhibit the growth of prostate, lung, and, breast cancer cells in Chinese medical studies. An omega-3 fatty acid known as ALA or alpha-linolenic acid in black walnuts protects against coronary heart disease. Diets including walnuts have been found to lessen LDL cholesterol thus reducing blood pressure and the risk of heart attack. The astringent properties of tannins in leaves and husks of black walnuts are helpful in treating skin maladies like acne, eczema, and poison ivy rashes.

Juglone, the compound present in most parts of the plant is toxic to parasitic worms and can be used to expel them from the digestive system. This same compound also has antifungal properties. The juice of green husks was used in folk medicine for ages to treat the fungal infection ringworm. Preparations sold today use ground walnut husks to treat other fungal infections such as candida. Juglone has also exhibited strong antibacterial activity in studies and shows promise in treating Staphylococcus infections.

Native American Uses:

Native peoples had many uses for the black walnut tree. The Comanche and Delaware used the juice of ground leaves and husks to treat areas affected by ringworm fungus. Both the Iroquois and Cherokee used the ground bark as an analgesic. The Iroquois made a poultice of bark for headaches and the Cherokee chewed black walnut bark for toothaches. The bark is somewhat poisonous so caution is recommended in its use. An infusion of the root bark was used by the Rappahannock as an antidiarrheal to ward off dysentery. The Houma and Oklahoma tribes made concoctions from sap and pulverized husks to cure skin inflammations. The Houma also made a decoction from crushed leaves to remedy high blood pressure. Several tribes including the Kiowa used a decoction of root bark to kill parasitic worms.

Many tribes used walnuts as a food source. Crushed nuts were used to make soups, hot beverages, breads or eaten raw mixed with honey. Crushed nutmeats were also added to corn pudding or mixed with mashed potatoes. The Chippewa and Cherokee made brown and black dyes from the husks or roots. The green husks were used by some tribes as a poison in lakes to stun and catch fish. The Delaware and Iroquois used crushed leaves mixed with nutmeat oil and bear grease as an insecticide to deter mosquitos and fleas. The Cherokee fashioned the attractive wood into furniture, gunstocks and ornately carved decorations.

Ornamental Uses:

Black Walnut trees make an attractive, stately addition to any landscape, but one must consider their placement near other plantings due to their production of the toxic compound, juglone. This problem with juglone can be solved by building raised beds for your other plants or using plants that are immune to it.

Plant black walnuts clear of any structures, driveways, sidewalks or parking lots because they have tannins in their leaves and husks which will stain these surfaces. The possibility of large nuts dropping on roofs and cars must also be taken into consideration. These trees can make excellent shade trees but are rarely chosen by landscape architects because they are some of the last trees to leaf out in spring and the first to drop leaves in the fall.

Other Uses:

Black walnut wood is highly prized for its rich dark color, durability, and ease of working. It is traditionally used for cabinets, gunstocks, coffins, flooring, furniture, and many other wood products. Walnut wood   is used as a thin veneer or as solid wood. Walnut bark has been used in tanning hides for leathercraft and as a tooth cleaner. Dried walnut leaves can be mixed with straw to make an insect repellant.

Walnut husks are full of tannins and have been boiled down to make dark brown hair dye or textile dye for years. Husks can also be used to make a rich brown ink when mixed with gum arabic, alcohol and water. The nut shells can be finely ground and used as an adulterant or extender in different types of grain. The ground up nut shells have also been used for an abrasive in sand blasting and to de-frag engine parts after manufacturing. The ground shells have also been used as an anti-skid agent on icy walkways and roads.

Black walnut kernels can be pressed to make an oil for paints, stains, paint thinners, and furniture polishes. Ground kernels can be used as a protein supplement feed for cattle or be used as an additive to general livestock feeds.

Commercial English walnut growers use high-grafted black walnut rootstocks for their nut crop trees. So, once the English walnut scion starts to wain in nut production, they can harvest the valuable black walnut log for lumber or veneer.

Black Walnut Leaves

Black Walnut Leaves Photo taken by – David Moore

Recommended Varieties/Related Varieties:

Black Walnuts have been bred for better nut production, lumber, and even as an ornamental.  ‘Thomas Black’, ‘Victoria’, and ‘Norris’ are varieties bred for superior nut production in the southeast. ‘Lambs Curly’ is a variety that has unique curly grained wood. Whereas, ‘Lacinata’ was selected for landscape use because of its attractive finely dissected foliage.

Black walnut is a native of eastern North America but there are five other walnut varieties found elsewhere in North America. Butternut or white walnut (Juglans cinerea) grows from Georgia northward through Minnesota and on into Canada. It is very cold hardy and was highly valued for its flavor by Native Americans. The Little walnut or nogalito (Juglans microcarpa) is found in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. It is used as an ornamental landscape tree for smaller landscapes since it grows as a large shrub or small tree. The Arizona walnut (Juglans major) is native to Arizona, western New Mexico, and northern Mexico. Arizona walnuts grow in rocky canyons and along rivers. The southern California walnut (Juglans californica) is one of two walnut varieties found in California. The southern California walnut is used as an ornamental tree and for erosion control. The northern California walnut (Juglans hindsii) is planted as a street tree and grown as rootstock for English walnuts which are extensively cultivated in California.

There are 14 other walnut species scattered around the world. The most well-known walnut is the English or Persian walnut (Juglans regia), which is native to western Asia. It was originally introduced into the Mediterranean region around the first century B.C. and has become popular worldwide. The English walnut is the walnut you usually see in baked goods and at Christmas. It is the most widely commercially grown variety for nut production in the walnut family. The English walnut is easier to crack open than the black walnut and has a milder flavor. The Carpathian walnut strain (Juglans regia ‘Carpathian’) originated in the mountainous regions of Poland. It is like the English walnut, but is more cold hardy. Carpathian walnut trees will survive temperatures as low as 30 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Heartnut (Juglans ailantifolia var. cordiformis) is a native Japanese tree with a 1” heart- shaped nut. Its unusually shaped nut is quite sweet and easy to crack open.

Hickories and pecans are both in the same Juglandaceae family as walnuts.

Single Black Walnut leaf close-up

Single Black Walnut leaf close-up Photo taken  by – David Moore

Hazards & Cautions:

The roots and leaves of black walnuts produce a substance called juglone which has an allelopathic or growth-inhibiting effect on many other plants, especially tomatoes, potatoes, apple trees, and pines, so they are not a good companion plant. Horses can have an allergic reaction to black walnut wood chips if used for bedding. The bark of black walnuts is poisonous if eaten by humans although it can be used in small amounts as medicine.  Wear thick rubber gloves, old clothes, and an apron when harvesting or husking black walnuts. The tannins in the husks can stain your hands or clothes brownish-yellow. The staining can last for weeks on your skin and permanently stain your clothing. Also, because of the potential damage or injury from falling nuts and staining, do not plant walnut trees near houses, sidewalks, or parking lots. Some people are allergic to wind blown pollen of the black walnut tree.

References & Related Links:

  • Bennett, Chris. Southeast Foraging. Portland: Timber Press, 2015.
  • Biggs, Matthew; McVicar, Jekka; and Flowerdew, Bob. Vegetables, Herbs & Fruit: An Illustrated Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books, 2013
  • Creasy, Rosalind. Edible Landscaping. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2010.
  • Fern, Ken and Fern, Abby. Edible Trees: A Practical and Inspirational Guide from Plants for a Middletown, DE: Pemberton Creative, 2013.
  • Hageneder, Fred. The Meaning of Trees. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.
  • Kirkman, L. Katherine; Brown, Claud L. and Leopold, Donald J. Native Tress of the Southeast- An Identification Guide. Portland: Timber Press, 2007.
  • Kershner, Bruce; Mathews, Daniel; Nelson, Gil; Spellenberg, Richard. National Wildlife Federation- Field Guide to Trees of North America. New York: Sterling Publishing, 2008.
  • Logsdon, Gene. Organic Orcharding: A Grove of Trees to Live In. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Press, 1981.
  • McCausland, Jim. Sunset – Western Garden Book of Edibles. Menlo Park, CA: Sunset Publishing, 2010.
  • Moerman, David E. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland: Timber Press, 1998.
  • Pollock, Michael. Fruit & Vegetable Gardening: The Definitive Guide to Successful Growing. New York: Doling Kimbersley Limited, 2012.
  • Russell, Tony. Smithsonian Nature Guide: Trees. New York: DK Publishing, 2012.
  • Sternberg, Guy and Wilson, Jim. Native Trees for North American Landscapes. Portland: Timber Press, 2004.
  • Zachos, Ellen. Backyard Foraging. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2013.

 

 

 

 

December 11, 2018
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Sassafras

Sassafras

Sassafras albidum

 

One of my earliest memories is drinking iced sassafras tea with my grandmother on a hot summer’s day. She made the amber beverage and kept it in mason jars in the refrigerator. I enjoyed the flavor but never developed much of a fondness for the sweeter effervescent root beer which can also be made from sassafras. The chilled tea was a satisfying drink in the summer, but it wasn’t near as good as the peach brandy she also made.

Sassafras is in the Lauraceae family and is the northernmost example of this family of tropical trees that includes cinnamon, avocado, and bay leaf laurel. It has been called by many common names such as cinnamon wood, ague tree, and saloop. It is one of the great treasures of the New World. Native Americans taught the settlers to use the root bark to make a tea that came to be used as a cure-all tonic on both sides of the Atlantic. The dried sassafras leaves and roots were one of the first items shipped back to Europe from the colonies. At one time in the 17th century, sassafras leaves were a more important cash-crop than tobacco.

Description

Sassafras is a moderately growing, long-lived, small- to medium-sized deciduous tree. In the Southeast, this plant is usually observed as a scraggly member of a small colony or thicket. It usually grows to a 20-foot height when it grows as an undisturbed thicket or it can reach 40 feet to 90 feet with a spread of up to 25 feet when it grows in a tree form. The current champion tree is in Owensboro, Kentucky and is 78 feet tall with a 69-foot spread. Trunks tend to be straight, reddish, and smooth. Leaves are untoothed, 3” to 9” long, and 3” to 4” wide with three distinct leaf shapes growing on the same tree. There is a simple ovate shape, a 2-lobed mitten shape, and a three-lobed trident shaped leaf form. These multiple leaf shapes are one of the best ways to identify this tree. Only mulberries and figs have 3 leaf types like sassafras. The leaves are shiny light grass-green on top and glaucous blue-green underneath. Leaves are distinctively aromatic, like most parts of this plant and have a slightly gummy, mucilaginous taste. The leaves are held in an alternate fashion and can be covered in a velvety down or completely hairless. Twigs are green, limber, less than an inch long, and hairy when viewed under magnification. Branches are zig-zag and form horizontal layers like a dogwood. The flowers are light greenish-yellow and appear in late spring just as the leaves are forming. These tiny inconspicuous flowers have 5 petals and are held in 2-inch clusters at the ends of twigs. The fragrant flower clusters are much heavier on female trees. The fruit are ½-inch, one-seeded, fleshy, dark blue, egg-shaped drupes. They are held on long red stalks or pedicels with cup-shaped ends. The fruit ripens in September and is quickly eaten by birds. The bark is dark green on young trees and deeply fissured, reddish-brown with irregular horizontal cracks on older trees. The trunks of mature sassafras trees are usually straight and no more than 8- to 12-inches in diameter. Sassafras trees have large tap roots and spread by root suckers. The root bark is highly aromatic and holds the greatest concentration of sassafras oils.

An illustration of the Sassafras’ leaf forms, flowers, and fruit

An illustration of the Sassafras’ leaf forms, flowers, and fruit (illustrated by Karen M. Johnson)

These are the three leaf forms of the Sassafras (from left to right): mitten shaped or two lobed, simple, and three lobed or trident shaped

These are the three leaf forms of the Sassafras (from left to right): mitten shaped or two lobed, simple, and three lobed or trident shaped

Sassafras trees are normally spotted along roadsides, at the edges of forests, in open fields, or beside fence rows. They are seldom found as understory trees. They range from central Florida, northward to southwestern Maine, westward to Ontario, southward to eastern Texas, and on into the mountains of southern Mexico. Sassafras live in USDA zones 5 thru 9.

Sassafras trees are low maintenance and easy to grow. Soils that are moist, well-drained, loamy, and slightly acidic with a pH of less than 6.8 are favored by the sassafras. Although, they will tolerate heavy waterlogged soil for short periods and are somewhat drought-tolerant, they won’t endure times of prolonged drought. These trees are shade tolerant but prefer locations with full sun at least half the day.

After planting a seedling or young tree, water once a day for the first week and then once a week for the next month. When your sassafras tree is well established, it won’t need any supplemental watering unless there is a long-term drought and it won’t need any fertilizer.

Pruning & Training

Sassafras trees must be trained into a tree form otherwise they will revert into low-growing, multi-stemmed shrubs forming a dense thicket. If a tree form is preferred, select a primary trunk and then prune away the other trunks and lower branches. As the tree ages, prune away any dead wood and keep the root suckers under control.

Pollination

Sassafras are dioecious trees meaning male and female flowers are held on separate trees. Only female trees with pollinated flowers will produce fruit. Pollination is accomplished by insects when trees are blooming in late spring. A small percentage of the fruit will produce viable seed. You must plant both male and female trees in order to produce fruit.

Propagation

The easiest method of sassafras propagation is by digging up small root suckers at the base of parent trees or at the edges of a thickets in early spring before the plants leaf out. Dig down to the bottom of the long tap root of each sucker then gently extract the plantlet. Pot them up immediately into stretched 5- or 6-gallon pots like those used for pecan or pine trees. These special pots will accommodate their long tap roots. Sassafras can also be multiplied by root cuttings taken in early spring while the plants are still dormant. Propagation by seed, although unreliable, can be accomplished by harvesting the dark blue fruit when fully filled out. Clean the seeds and air dry them for a day or two. Store the seeds refrigerated in sealed containers. Plant the seeds outdoors in fall or stratify them at 41- degrees Fahrenheit for 30 to 60 days and sow them the next spring.

Harvest & Storage

Roots can be gathered year-round, but the best time to harvest roots is on an early spring morning after the sap with all the sugars begins to rise. Leaves and twigs can be collected from spring till fall. Leaves are usually dried and ground up for storage. Roots are dried and kept in paper bags or boxes until used for teas or other decoctions.

 

 

Pest & Disease/General Problems

Being a native tree, Sassafras trees are as tough as nails. They are nearly pest and disease free. Although sassafras can be susceptible to borers, Japanese beetles, scale insects, Promethea moths, and weevils, these pests normally cause minimal damage. There is no need to spray pesticides to control them. Fungal leaf spot diseases can also affect the trees, but rarely are a big enough problem to make it necessary to spray fungicides.  Leaf spots can be controlled by raking up the leaves in fall and avoiding fertilizing or overwatering. Verticillium wilt, a fungal disease for which there is no cure, can occasionally infect sassafras trees. So, if you notice limbs turning yellow starting at the base of the tree and progressing towards the top of the tree, remove it from your yard.

A problem can be caused when planted in high pH (alkaline) soils. Sassafras can exhibit yellow leaves with green veins (iron chlorosis), which can be remedied by applying a pH adjusting compound such as aluminum sulphate to the soil to make it more acidic.  Mature sassafras trees are difficult to transplant due to their deep tap root and tend to produce many root suckers, especially when the roots have been disturbed by cultivation. Like hickory trees, sassafras trees are allelopathic and emit compounds that discourage the growth of other plants near them.

 

Culinary Uses

Since scientists with the USDA determined in 1960 that safrole, a phenolic ester of the plant, caused cancer in rats when they consumed extremely large quantities of a synthetic version of safrole. It is no longer considered to be a safe edible plant. This is controversial because humans and rats process safrole in different ways. Rats convert safrole into a carcinogen, whereas, humans do not. Please make you own determination before consuming parts of this plant or recipes made with it.

All parts of the sassafras plant can be eaten raw. The winter buds and young leaves are especially delicious when added to a salad. Leaves and twigs can be gathered from spring till fall whereas the roots can be dug year-round. But, the roots are best when gathered on early spring mornings after the sap has begun to rise. This will insure a higher sugar content in the roots. The twigs and leaf stalks have an agreeable, but somewhat spicy, mucilaginous taste.

Any part of the sassafras plant can be used to make a tasty tea, but the inner bark of the roots is the best. Simmer the cleaned roots in a large covered pot for 20 minutes until the water turns a reddish-brown. The same roots can be used two or three times to extract tea. Add just a sweetener to enjoy it as a tea or add seltzer water and sweetener to make an authentic root beer. Jelly can be made by adding pectin, sweetener, and lemon juice to this same tea. Native Americans taught the settlers to make a thickener and seasoning for soups and stews by grinding dried young leaves into a fine powder. The powder was then run through a sieve to remove any larger irregular pieces. The powdered seasoning was later incorporated into Creole cooking and called gumbo file’. Gumbo file’ is still legally sold as a seasoning since the dried leaves do not contain safrole. The inner bark can be scraped off the roots, dried, processed through a spice grinder or blender and used as a spice to replace cinnamon. A condiment can also be made by boiling the roots down into a thick paste.

Nutritional Benefits

Even with negative news and bans on its use, sassafras tea and sassafras oil continue to be popular. Numerous classical uses are still being employed. Sassafras oil can be applied topically to joints to relieve pain and decrease inflammation caused by gout and arthritis. It can be used to treat skin-related problems such as rashes, eczema, acne blemishes, and boils. Because of its antimicrobial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, it has been used as an antiseptic in dental surgery, to treat tooth decay, speed the healing of wounds, and to improve the overall immune system. The use of this plant to reduce high fevers is one of its oldest classic applications. The diuretic properties of sassafras enable it to purge the body of toxins by increasing urination thus flushing out fats, salts, toxins and water. Sassafras tea can also aid in reducing inflammation in the digestive tract and help to regulate bowel movements.

Native American Uses

Native Americans had numerous medicinal uses for sassafras which were spread across many different tribes, but they had many of the same uses. The most prevalent use was as a decoction to treat colds, pneumonia, and other pulmonary issues. Decoctions were also used as a febrifuge to lower fevers and mitigate chills. The pith of sassafras branches was used in a decoction to wash burns. The leaves were used as a dermatological aid in the form of a poultice for cuts, burns, bruises, and bee stings. A root decoction was made to treat urinary problems such as frequent or blocked urination and general bladder pain.

Other Uses

Sassafras trees attract butterflies and are utilized as a larval host for some butterfly varieties. Birds such as brown thrashers, robins, pileated woodpeckers, and catbirds are drawn to the aromatic dark blue fruit of the plant for food and as mast. Wildlife like bears, beavers and deer enjoy eating the fruit, twigs, foliage, wood, and bark.

The aromatic oils are used as a fragrance for scented soaps and perfumes. From the time of the colonists to the early 20th century, the oils of the sassafras were used as an insect repellant. The aromatic wood has been used to make furniture. Early settlers mixed beans with the sassafras flowers to make a fertilizer for crops. The bark was also used to make an orange dye.

The tree trunk of a mature tree form Sassafras tree

The tree trunk of a mature tree form Sassafras tree

Ornamental Uses

The sassafras tree can be used as a stand-alone specimen or as a mass planting in the landscape. With their interesting layered branching, fragrant spring flowers, glossy green foliage through the summer, and striking bright yellow to red-orange autumn foliage, they make an excellent addition to any backyard seating area or outdoor room.

A mature Sassafras tree at the beginning of Fall

A mature Sassafras tree at the beginning of Fall

Hazards & Cautions

The FDA banned many former uses of the plant since safrole, the principle toxic constituent, was determined to be a mild carcinogen in 1960. If you do decide to use sassafras tea knowing the possible dangers, herbalists advise that it should only be consumed at the rate of one to two cups a day for no longer than a month. Extreme consumption of the tea can cause nausea, vomiting and stupor. The use of sassafras tea or safrole also poses a health risk to pregnant women because it can cause miscarriages. Breastfeeding women and children are also warned to avoid sassafras tea since it can cause severe side effects in small children. Consuming as little as 5 ml of concentrated essential sassafras oil can cause serious side effects such as elevated blood pressure, hallucinations and even liver damage. So, use the sassafras oil and tea in moderation. A legal notice has been issued to businesses by the DEA warning that sassafras oil or safrole can be used in the manufacture of MDMA.

Related Varieties

There is one other recognized cultivar, the silky sassafras or variety molle, which has downy branches when young and the underside of the mature leaf is also pubescent.  Sassafras trees were never widely cultivated probably due to them being difficult to transplant. But, with all the many landscape uses of a small to medium size tree, it has great potential for a hybridizing program.

Conclusion

The history of sassafras has been filled with many of ups and downs. There have been many controversies, sometimes shameful, sometimes dangerous, sometimes illicit, but it has always come back to being recognized as a useful plant. After being used for food and as a medicinal for hundreds, if not thousands, of years by native peoples, sassafras came to be used by many Europeans and colonists in the 17th century as a cure-all tonic, especially for syphilis and gonorrhea. People then began to shun the use of sassafras tea because it came to be associated with those having venereal diseases, although it continued to be used for decades for rheumatism and as a cold remedy. Nineteenth-century children were given concoctions of sassafras and opium to keep them calm and well-behaved. In the early 1960s, sassafras was unjustly restricted by the USDA due to the compound, safrole, being found to cause cancer in lab rats. So, people could no longer legally have their root beer and sassafras tea. Artificial alternatives had to be formulated. Then in the 1970s, it was discovered that two illicit recreational drugs, MDA and MDMA, could be made from safrole. One of which, MDMA or Ecstasy became hugely popular with rave music fans in the 1990s. Now, in the 21st century, MDMA is being used as an effective treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder patients and Tamiflu, a flu medication, is made from safrole. We have come full circle back to an understanding of the immense usefulness of this plant.

 

References & External Links

  • Angier, Bradford. Edible Wild Plants. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2008.
  • Antol, Marie Nadine. Healing Teas: Boost Your Health with Nature’s Medicine. New York: Penquin Group, 1996.
  • http://www.eattheweeds.com?s=sassafras. Deane, Green. Sassafras: Root Beer Rat Killer. Eat the Weeds, 2007.
  • Halfacre, R. Gordon and Shawcroft, Anne R. Landscape Plants of the Southeast. Raleigh, NC: Sparks Press, 1989.
  • https://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/mdmaassisted-therapy-fot-ptsd-edges-closer-to-fda-approval-after-largestever-trial. Kovner, Aliyah. MDMA-assisted Therapy for PTSD Edges Closer to FDA Approval After Largest-ever Trial. IFL Science, October 30, 2018.
  • Kirkman, L. Katherine and Brown, Claud L. and Leopold, Donald J. Native Trees of the Southeast: An Identification Guide. Portland: Timber Press, 2007.
  • Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland: Timber Press, 1998.
  • Peterson, Lee Allen. Edible Wild Plants: Eastern /Central North America. New York: Houghts Mifflin Harcourt, 1977.
  • Russell, Tony and Cutler, Catherine. Trees: An Illustrated Identifier and Encyclopedia. London: Anness Publishing, 2004.
  • Sternburg, Guy and Wilson, Jim. Native Trees for North American Landscapes. Portland: Timber Press, 2004.
  • Wasowski, Sally and Wasowski, Andy. Gardening with Native Plants of the South. Lanham, MD: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2010.

 

Suppliers

ArcheWilde Native Nurseries – Quakertown, PA

Campbell Family Nursery – Harmony, NC

Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery – Orefield, PA

Native Forest Nursery – Chatsworth, GA

Yellow Springs Farm Native Plant Nursery – Chester Springs, PA

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 9, 2018
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Eastern Redbud Tree

Eastern Redbud

Cercis canadensis var. canadensis

 

While traveling one March day in Tennessee between Knoxville and Maryville, I was amazed by the dozens of redbuds in bloom along both sides of Hwy 140. They formed a tunnel of gossamer lavender-pink blooms encasing the roadway. For years, I had thought redbuds were just another one of the first trees to bloom in early spring like dogwood or serviceberry, I didn’t realize that it was such an important tree to Native Americans and settlers who considered it an integral source of food and medicinals.

IMG_0575 (002)

Redbuds along the HWY 140 near Maryville, TN

Description

Although it does not fix nitrogen in the soil, it is a legume and in the Fabaceae family with peanuts and beans. The eastern redbud is a small- to medium-size native, deciduous tree usually growing 20- to 30- feet tall with a 25- to 30-foot spread, but they can grow larger. The current champion tree is 40 feet in height with a 3-foot caliper trunk. Redbuds start out as wispy saplings and become vase shaped with many having divided trunks as they age.  Mature trees normally have rounded or flat-topped crowns.

The leaves are glossy, dark green and heart shaped (cordate) with pointed tips and smooth edges. Usually 2- to 6-inches long and 3- to 5-inches wide with radial veins running across a smooth texture on top. The leaves are sometimes slightly hairy underneath. The simple leaves are held in an alternate pattern. They are reddish purple when first emerging in spring and then turning an attractive shiny dark green when fully expanded. In autumn, they turn a rather dull yellow. Leaf petioles are commonly 1 ½-to 2 ½-inches long.

Twigs and branches are slender with pointed tips and form a spreading zig-zag pattern. On mature trees, the limbs usually don’t start till 6 feet up the tree. The small ¼- to ½-inch pea-shaped flowers are fragrant and purplish pink. They appear in clusters in late winter or early spring before the leaves appear. They form on branches of the previous or earlier years growth and even on the mature tree trunk. The rough brown trunk usually has character and looks older than it is. The trunks on most redbuds are single and are less than 12” in diameter. Redbuds develop a course root system with a deep taproot which make them difficult to transplant when established.

The fruit of the redbud is a flattened pink-green true pod which appears in early summer, turns green during summer, and then brown in the fall. The brown seed pods will sometime persist till the next spring. The pods look like butterbean pods and are 2 to 3 inches in length by ¼ to ½ inch wide. The redbud pods mature in late summer and contain 4 to 10, hard, brown to black seeds.

Illustration of a Redbud  (illustrated by Karen M. Johnson)

Illustration of a Redbud (illustrated by Karen M. Johnson)

Eastern Redbud - blooms seed pods (002)

Last year’s seed pods and this spring’s flowers in full bloom

Site Selection/Range/General Culture

Redbuds can be found along roadsides, at the edges of forests, in ravines, on riversides, in bottomlands, and on the sunny edges of fields. They will grow just about anywhere there is full sun to dappled shade in Zone 4 to 9. They range widely from northern Florida northward to New Jersey, westward to southern Wisconsin, and southward to Texas and northern Mexico. This medium to fast growing tree will adapt to a wide range of soil types and pH levels from very acid to very alkaline.  But, it prefers well-drained, deep, sandy loam with a pH of 7.5 or above. It dislikes constantly wet soils, especially compacted clay soils. But, it can tolerate short-term flooding. At the other end of the spectrum, it dislikes coarse sandy soils and drought conditions. An ideal location for a redbud would be on a sunny south-facing slope at the edge of a wooded area. Redbuds will bloom more profusely in sunny locations.

Eastern Redbud - branch with blooms (002)

An Eastern Redbud limb with flowers in several stages of bloom

Irrigation

It is best to plant a redbud during the cooler rainy spring months to lessen transplant shock. After planting, water your redbud tree weekly for the first month and then reduce watering to every other week. Once the tree is established, it will only need watering during the dry periods of summer. They do not like extended periods of drought or wet feet.

Fertilization

Fertilize your trees at six-week intervals starting from mid-March to June with a good complete analysis shrub fertilizer such as a 10-10-10. Spread one application of a slow-release fertilizer such as 24-8-10 around the tree 10” from the trunk out to the drip line in early March.

Pruning & Training

A uniform rounded crown and a strong structure can be maintained with judicious pruning. Redbuds are prone to throwing a few dead limbs that will become apparent each spring. Prune out any dead or diseased branches and dispose of the cuttings. Redbuds are low-branched and have limbs that tend to droop so, pruning may be necessary for pedestrian or vehicular clearance. These trees want to grow with split trunks but can be trained to grow with a single trunk for a stronger structure.

Pollination

The flowers of the redbud are hermaphrodite meaning they contain the reproductive parts of both sexes so they are self-pollinating. Redbuds are most commonly pollinated by bees.

Propagation

Redbuds can be propagated by seed, softwood cuttings, or by simply relocating self-seeded seedlings. When propagating by seed, it is best to sow the seeds as soon as they are ripe in fall. First, to breakdown the hard seed coat, pre-soak the seeds in warm water for 24 hours. Then, scarify the seeds in boiling water or concentrated sulfuric acid for 30 minutes. Next, stratify them in a cold sand bed kept at 41- degrees Fahrenheit for 2 to 3 months. This will meet their cold requirements and get the seeds ready to germinate. Sow the seeds in a greenhouse the next spring in seed trays. Pop out the seedlings as soon as they are large enough and place them in individual 5-inch pots. The young seedlings can be planted outdoors in early fall or held over in an unheated greenhouse till the next spring depending on your zone. Another propagation method is to take softwood cuttings in mid to late summer. Use a rooting hormone and plant them in a light soil medium with plenty of perlite. Once well rooted, transfer them to individual 1-gallon pots.

 

 

Pests, Diseases, and Other Problems

Redbuds can be damaged by a few pests such as caterpillars, scales, leaf hoppers, Japanese weevil, and wood borers. But, for the most part redbuds are unaffected by pests.

Just get used to 2 or 3 dead limbs appearing each spring on a mature redbud. It is the nature of the beast. These diseased limbs are caused by the most common problem of the redbud, canker. No chemical preventive has been found. Usually, canker on the branches will not kill the tree. So, prune out the few dead branches in late spring each year and go on with life. Verticillium wilt is another disease that can be troublesome for redbuds as well as many other plant species. During rainy periods, anthracnose leaf spot and coral spot fungus can be difficult, but rarely becomes serious. Also, during wet conditions, root rot can be a problem for young redbuds.

There are a few other minor problems that also affect redbuds. They are sensitive to Glyphosate and other herbicides being sprayed around their roots. They don’t like to have their roots disturbed once established and the amount of volunteer seedling coming near a mature tree can become a maintenance nightmare. But all in all, redbuds are hardy resilient trees that require little maintenance.

Harvest & Storage

The flowers should be harvested in the early morning or late afternoon for the best flavor and shelf life. Hand pick the flowers off the stems or cut off entire branches to pull the flowers from later. Store the blooms refrigerated in a plastic baggie with a wet paper towel for moisture or freeze the flower buds in ice trays. The young tender seed pods should also be carefully hand-picked. The older pods are too tough and stringy to be eaten. Store the unwashed young seed pods frozen or refrigerated in plastic baggies.

Culinary Uses

The flowers, young leaves, young seed pods, and seeds are all edible. The roots and inner bark can also be used to make herbal tinctures and infusions. The flowers have a sharp, acidic, green peanut flavor before they open and then are blander once fully opened. Flower buds can be pickled and used as a caper substitute. The crunchy raw opened flowers can be added to salads and pasta dishes or used as a garnish. The flowers can also be mixed with pancake batter to make fritters or added into bread dough. The blossoms can also be floated in drinks as decoration. Native American children would eat the blossoms as an early spring treat.

The young seed pods can be eaten raw or sautéed for 10 to 15 minutes and eaten like snow peas. The seed pods can also be added to other vegetable dishes as an acidic counter point to the other vegetables. Native Americans spread the seed pods in the hot ashes of their campfires and ate the roasted seed.

Medicinal Uses and Nutritional Benefits

Several Native American tribes and settlers used the inner bark and roots of the redbud to make a cold infusion to quell fevers or to reduce respiratory congestion. An astringent cold drink was also made from the roots and bark to stop vomiting and dysentery. A hot tea was made by boiling the inner bark to treat whooping cough in children and coughs in adults. The redbud flowers are rich in vitamin C and contain anthocyanin which is an antioxidant.

 

Other Native American Uses

Native Americans held the redbud in high regard because they had so many uses for the tree. The wood was used for tool handles, bows, and as a building material. The outer bark of the tree was used for basket weaving and the inner bark for sewing thread or cordage. Small stems were used as a fire starter in winter. The dried leaves of the tree were used as an incense in ceremonies. The blooms were used as a seasonal indicator harkening the beginning of spring.

 

Eastern Redbud - in bloom (002)

A mature Eastern Redbud in full bloom

Ornamental Uses

With their striking pink-lavender blooms in spring and their handsome heart-shaped summer foliage, redbuds are an excellent choice as a specimen tree, mass planting in a background or as a filler in any landscape. Redbuds also have attractive yellow fall foliage. It is adaptable to partial shade or full sun, is relatively low maintenance, and rarely troubled by pest or disease problems.

 

Recommended Varieties/Related Varieties

There are two species of redbuds native to North America. The Western Redbud (Cercis occidentalis) is found in Arizona, Nevada, and California. It is smaller with a mature height of 18 feet and tends to be more drought tolerant. The Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) has three botanical varieties; var. canadensis (the common form), var. texensis (Texas redbud – a compact tree with smaller glossy leaves), var. mexicana (Mexican redbud – a smaller shrubby form with a rounded leaf).

There are many selected cultivars of Cercis canadensis var. canadensis. Some have pink blooms, some have white blooms, some have darker flowers, some have burgundy foliage, some are weeping forms, and others have variegated foliage.

‘Pinkbud’ – true pink flowers.

‘Pink Charm’ – pinkish flowers.

‘Royal White’ – larger white flowers & a compact form.

‘Alba’ – white flowers.

‘Appalachian Red’ – dark reddish-pink flowers.

‘Forest Pansy’ – purple foliage & darker pink-magenta flowers.

‘Purple Leaf’ – purple foliage when young.

‘Covey’ – a green-leafed weeping redbud with a 6-foot mature height.

‘Ruby Falls’ – a purple-leafed weeping redbud with a 6-foot mature height.

‘Silver Cloud’ – variegated foliage with white variegation.

‘Carolina Sweetheart’ – pink, purple and white variegated foliage.

Cercis chinensis ‘Don Egolf’ – dwarf form.

Cercis reniformis ‘Oklahoma’ – Oklahoma redbud

Cercis chinensis – Chinese redbud.

Cercis siliquastrum – European species.

 

Hazards & Cautions

People with peanut allergies should avoid eating redbud flower buds and bean pods since redbuds and peanuts are close relatives in the legume family.

Conclusion

The Eastern Redbud is a readily available tree for foraging and an exceptional ornamental landscape plant. These trees are low maintenance and easy to grow. The redbud would make an outstanding addition to any home landscape.

References & External Links

Bennett, Chris. Southeast Foraging. Portland: Timber Press, 2015.

Brakie, Melinda. Plant Fact Sheet: Eastern Redbud. August 2010. USDA. https://plants.usda.gov/factsheet/pdf/fs_ceca4.pdf. Accessed 1 June 2018.

Brill, Steve. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004.

Christensen, Julie. What Time of Year to Plant a Redbud Tree. SF Gate. 1-12-18. homeguides.sfgate.com/time-year-plant=redbud-tree-71483.html. Accessed 1 June 2018.

Dirr, Michael A. Manuel of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses. pp. 661-662. Champaign, IL. Stipes Publishing, 1990.

Gilman, Edward F. and Watson, Dennis G. Cercis reniformis ‘Oklahoma’ Oklahoma Redbud. November 1993. USDA. Hort.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/tree_fact_sheets/cerrena.pdf. Accessed 1 June 2018.

Halfacre, R. Gordon and Shawcroft, Anne R. Landscape Plants of the Southeast. Raleigh, NC: Sparks Press, 1989.

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany. pp. 148-149. Portland: Timber Press, 2016.

Peterson, Lee Allen. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 1977.

Plants for a Future: Edible Trees. Middletown, DE: Pemberton Creative, 2013.

Sternberg, Guy & Wilson, Jim. Native Trees for North American Landscapes. Portland: Timber Press, 2004

Wasowski, Sally & Wasowski, Andy. Gardening with Native Plants of the South. New York: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2010.

 

March 6, 2018
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Eastern Mayhaw

Eastern Mayhaw

Crataegus aestivalis

 

I was not aware of the mayhaw’s existence until I started working for a nursery in Louisiana about 20 years ago. After a dinner party, a co-worker’s wife gave me my first mason jar of delicious mayhaw jelly and I’ve been a fan ever since. The people of Louisiana are so serious about their love of mayhaw jelly that they made it the state jelly by proclamation. They have also set up a special organization, the Louisiana Mayhaw Association, just to promote the production and consumption of mayhaw berries. There are even festivals celebrating the time of year when mayhaws are fruiting, and isn’t that just like the good people of Louisiana, they never turn down any reason to celebrate.

Description

The mayhaw is a member of the Hawthorn family. It grows as a medium-sized deciduous tree or large shrub. It can reach 25 to 30 feet in height and spread after 20 years. Hawthorns are relatively long lived with some specimens living over 400 years. The mayhaw can have a productive fruiting life of over 50 years.

The leaves are 2 inches in length with a coarse texture. Leaves are deeply toothed and ovate or elliptical in shape. They are narrower at the tip and broader towards the base. Foliage turns bright yellow in the fall. Both the leaves and branches are held alternately. Branches can have 1- to 3-inch thorns. The pinkish-white, cup-shaped flowers appear in late February to March and have 5 petals with 15 to 20 pink stamens. They are held in flat bottomed clusters 2- to 3-inches wide. Younger flowers have a fresh sweet scent, while older blooms smell like rotten fish to some people. The fruit are small, ½- to 1-inch pomes. Pome fruit are structured like pears and apples with a group of seeds in the center. Mayhaw berries are juicy and quite tart. The fruit look like small crabapples but taste more like a cranberry. Fruit are glossy red to yellow with white to yellow flesh and ripen in May thus the name, May hawthorn or mayhaw.

credit Karen M. Johnson

(illustrated by Karen M. Johnson)

Site Selection/Range/General Culture

Mayhaws grow along bodies of water, swamps, lowlands, in flood plains, and uplands. They range in zones 6 to 11 from Texas all the way around the Deep South up through the Carolinas and on into Virginia. Mayhaws are regularly cold hardy down to 15-degrees Fahrenheit and have survived temperatures down to -25-degrees Fahrenheit. They prefer 8 hours per day of full sun, but will tolerate moderate shade, although this can limit their fruit production. If the soil is well drained, mayhaws can tolerate soils too moist for most other fruit trees. They can adapt to a wide variety of soil pH levels and soil profiles but prefer a slightly acid, loamy, moisture-retentive soil with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5.

Irrigation

Mayhaw trees are low maintenance plants, but water them weekly during dry periods their first year while getting established. They will be somewhat drought tolerant in ensuing years. But, it is best to avoid drought stress since this can affect their growth rate and fruit yields, as well as making them more susceptible to diseases and insects.

Fertilization

When first planting seedling mayhaws, it is good to apply a root stimulator and a teaspoon of 20-20-20 slow-release fertilizer in with each plant. The next year, your trees should be given ½ pound of 5-10-10 slow- release fertilizer in late February, ¼ pound of 5-10-10 in late March and another ¼ pound application in May. Established 2- to 3-year old trees should get 1 pound of 5-10-10 slow-release fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter in early March and receive a repeat application in late August. To protect the roots from burning, don’t apply the late summer application if there are drought conditions. Beginning the fourth year, give your trees a well-balanced fertilizer like 10-10-10 every other year. Apply each application of fertilizer evenly around the tree while taking special care not to broadcast any fertilizer within 10 inches of the trunk.

Pruning & Training

In a home orchard setting, mayhaws need little training other than initially pruning them up into a single trunk and removing the branches lower than 4 or 5 feet for easier access when harvesting. In ensuing years, simple prune them annually in late winter to open the canopy to ensure better fruit production. Also, periodically trim the suckers that pop up at the base of the trunks and clean up weeds, as well as debris underneath your trees. Space your trees 15 to 20 feet apart in rows with 18 to 20 feet between rows when planning an orchard.

Pollination

Plant at least two trees for maximum fruit production since cross-pollination is necessary. Flies and midges are drawn to the extremely sweet scent of the blooms and are responsible for pollination of most mayhaws.

Propagation

These trees can be propagated by seed, softwood cuttings, hardwood cuttings, and root cuttings. Unlike most other fruit trees, mayhaws usually grow true to variety from seed. So, seed are the most common choice of commercial growers. Since 12 to 18 weeks of cold treatment (stratification) are needed for germination, seeds should be planted in refrigerated moist sand or direct field planted in the fall.

The next best form of propagating mayhaws is softwood stem cuttings.  With an application of rooting hormone, softwood cuttings can easily be rooted under mist or in a sweat tent. Although, hardwood and root cuttings can be done, they are not preferred because they are slow to root-out. Cleft or whip grafts are employed when propagating newer cultivars or larger trees. Mayhaws can be used as a rootstock for any other hawthorn, especially when planting in a wet location.

Pests & Diseases/ General Problems

Native mayhaws naturally have superior disease resistance, but when stressed by drought, fire, or other stressors they can fall prey to diseases such as cedar-apple rust, fire blight, powdery mildew, and leaf spot. Also, pests such as scale, apple borers, plum curculio, hawthorn lace bug, whiteflies, tent caterpillars, mealy bugs, Japanese beetles, and aphids can pose a threat to young mayhaw trees.

Use an all-purpose fruit tree spray containing fungicide, insecticide, and miticide in early spring once insects and diseases become active. If using your trees solely for fruit production, then use natural pesticides like insecticidal soap and pyrethrins. Spray a streptomycin product if fire blight becomes a problem in late spring or early summer. If the fire blight symptoms continue, prune out any infected limbs and burn them. During the winter, spray a light horticultural oil to control scale and other insects. Don’t spray horticultural oil during the growing season after the leaf and flower buds have started to swell otherwise you can do damage to your tree.

 Harvest & Storage

Mayhaws ripen in late April or May and should be allowed to ripen fully on the tree before harvesting. The mayhaws can be harvested by hand. But, the easiest method is to wait until at least 80% of the fruit are ripe, and then place a tarp, an old sheet, or a parachute under the tree and vigorously shake the tree. Gather the cloth from under the tree and roll the fruit into a basket or bowl. Since the rainy late spring is harvest time, boats or canoes may be necessary to harvest fruit grown in flood plains or near rivers. The fruit can be skimmed off the water’s surface with a pool net if this is the case. The fruit is not considered to be good for fresh eating, but is usually processed soon after harvest into jelly or juices. If there isn’t time to process the fruit immediately after harvest, the fruit can be stored refrigerated in an air-tight container, dried, frozen, or kept as a juice for months. Yields can vary widely depending on the variety, age, and size of the tree. A 20-year old tree can yield as much as 15 to 30 gallons of fruit per year.

Culinary Uses

The mayhaw is best known for its jelly, a southern delicacy, which is said to be the best in the world. Although, not exceedingly popular for fresh eating because of their bland to tart flavor. There are many other ways that mayhaws can be utilized such as flavoring alcoholic beverages like wines, beers, brandies and, that southern favorite, moonshine. They can also be baked in pastries or made into sauces, vinegars, mayhaw butter, fruit leather, syrups, and juices. The Native Americans dried and pressed them into small cakes with other berries like juneberries.

Nutritional Benefits

Hawthorn berries and mayhaws have long been recognized for their ability to regulate blood pressure by dilating blood vessels, reduce angina pains, improve circulation, and prevent atherosclerosis by reducing plaques caused by the build-up of cholesterol. They are a good source for the vitamins C, B-complex, choline, inositol, PABA, vitexin, catechins, flavonoids, bioflavonoids, and saponins. They are also rich in various anthocyanins which can act as antioxidants to ward-off the damage from free radicals. These berries can also be used to treat intestinal infections, improve the immune system in general, and increases stamina. A tea can be made with the berries. Drinking the tea twice a day is said to promote heart health.

Other Uses

The mayhaw is not only a much-loved, native fruit tree, it can also be used as an ornamental, an erosion control plant, a butterfly attractor, a wildlife habitat, and as a windbreak. They make exceptional landscape ornamentals or edible landscape plants with their striking flowers, attractive foliage, and colorful fruit. They are good erosion control plants because their fibrous root systems can assist in stabilizing hillsides and river banks. Bees and butterflies are both attracted by the strong fragrance of their flowers. The mayhaw is a good shelter and food source for birds, as well as other wildlife. Hawthorns have been used as windbreaks for hundreds of years because of their dense branching and foliage. Native Americans and settlers used their long thorns as wooden needles to sew and make repairs to nets. Thorns were scorched, scrapped clean and then covered with beeswax to protect them. Once processed, these needles were strong enough to go through the thickest leather or even a metal can. This species strong, heavy wood makes durable handles for hammers and other hand tools. These trees can flourish in areas where other trees can’t live since they are flood tolerant, pollution tolerant and when well established, drought tolerant. Seedling mayhaws make an excellent rootstock for any other hawthorn variety.

Recommended Varieties/Related Varieties

There are upwards of 800 hawthorn varieties spread across the Northern Hemisphere. All hawthorns fruit in the fall except for the mayhaw which fruits in May. There are three mayhaw species in the continental United States. These are the western mayhaw (Crataegus opaca), the central mayhaw (Crataegus rufula), and the eastern mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis). The eastern mayhaw is the species with which we are the most familiar with here in the Southeast. Eastern mayhaws have numerous hybridized varieties such as the following:

  • ‘Lori’: elongated, red skinned fruit.
  • ‘Red Champ’: Nearly 1-inch, dark red fruit. Very productive and fire blight resistant.
  • ‘Spectacular’: 4/5- to 1-inch fruit, needs a pollinator, variably productive, and fire blight resistant.
  • ‘Texas Star’: Large, red 4/5-inch fruit with yellow pulp. Good form, but susceptible to fire blight.
  • ‘Royal Star’: 3/4-inch fruit, very productive, thornless, and susceptible to fire blight.
  • ‘Maxine’: 4/5-inch, red fruit. good form, heavy producer, and very resistant to fire blight.
  • ‘Saline’: Large, red-skinned fruit. Late-blooming cultivar, good quality fruit.
  • Several western mayhaws hybrids have also been breed:
  • ‘Big Red’: Named after its characteristic large red fruit of good quality, late-blooming cultivar.
  • ‘T.O. Super Berry’: Named after the famous southern wild-fruit expert, T.O. Warren.

Hazards & Cautions

It is likely that the seeds and leaves are toxic if consumed in large quantities, both contain amygdalin, a precursor to hydrogen cyanide. It can cause side effects such as dizziness, shortness of breath, nausea, and arrhythmia. Also, avoid the 1- to 3-inch long needle-like thorns on the branches.

Summary

A lot of progress has been made since people started bringing mayhaws up out of the swamps and put into cultivation about 30 years ago. Over the last few decades, great improvements in breeding for fruit size, fruit quality, cold-tolerance, yield, disease resistance, and harvest time have been made. Although named cultivars are still hard to find anywhere other than in commercial orchards, native mayhaws are starting to be carried in garden centers across the Southeast. With a boost from mayhaw-centric organizations like the Louisiana Mayhaw Association and the popular interest in edible native plants, the mayhaw may well become the only hawthorn species to ever become commercially successful.

References & External Links

  • https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut/fact-sheets/mayhaw. Baker, Marty & McEachern, George R. Fruit & Nut Resource: Mayhaw. 1997.
  • Barney, Danny. Storey’s Guide to Growing Organic Orchard Fruits. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, 2012.
  • Bennett, Chris. Southern Foraging. Portland. Timber Press. 2015.
  • eattheweeds.com/?s=hawthorn. Dean, Green. The Crataegus Clan: Food & Poison. 2012.
  • sfgate.com/grow-mayhaw-70963.html. How to Grow Mayhaw. 2013.
  • purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1990/v1-317.html. Payne, Jerry A. & Krewer, Gerald W. 1990.
  • Kitsteiner, John. “Permaculture Plants: Mayhaw.” Temperate Climate Permaculture. Number 10. 10/20/13. Pp 23-27. 2013.
  • com/topics/lawn_garden/home_gardening/fruits_nuts/mayhaw-growers-innovative-expandindustry. Graham, Charles; Chaney, John & Pyzner, John R. 10/4/04.
  • com/nr/rdonlyres/1605BA84-EE88-4482-B9E6-4516372D5922/2175/pub2484mayhaw2.pdf. Patrick, Ruth. 2014.
  • mayhaw.org/theforgottenmayh.html. The Forgotten Mayhaw. 2000.
  • pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Crateagus+aestivalis. Gray, A. & Walter, T. Plants for a Future: Mayhaw. 2012.
  • themayhawman.com/popular-selections-growing-tips.html. The Mayhaw Man – Popular Selections. 2004.

January 1, 2018
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

American Wild Plum

American Wild Plum

Prunus americana

I ruined many white t-shirts harvesting wild plums when I was a boy. I would roll up the front of my         t-shirt forming a bowl-shaped container like a kangaroo’s pouch to carry the small plums home. This would both irritate and thrill my grandmother. She loved to make her delicious wild plum jelly, but not the stain removal involved later. In late summer, my friends and I would find a large thicket of wild plum trees. We would pick and eat until we had our fill. Then after getting numerous chigger bites, we would carry shirt-loads of fruit back to my house. My grandmother would then start pitting the plums, cooking them, steaming the canning jars, and filling them with jelly.

(illustrated by Karen M. Johnson)

(illustrated by Karen M. Johnson)

Description

This large native shrub or small tree is a short-lived member of the Rosacea family like peaches and cherries. It is commonly known as the wild plum, American plum, goose plum, august plum, hog plum, hedge plum, and Marshall’s large yellow sweet plum. Wild plums are deciduous multi-stemmed shrubs or small single-trunk trees with a low, broad, spreading crown. These plum trees typically grow 15 to 25 feet in height with a 15- to 25-feet spread. The national champion in Fairfax County, Virginia, is 18-feet tall with an 18-foot spread and the trunk is 3.8 feet in diameter. Their finely serrated leaves are alternately arranged, oval to oblong, and 2 to 4 inches long by 1 to 2 inches wide. The leaves have a wrinkled, dark green appearance on top and are smooth with pale green coloration underneath. Their leaves have pointed tips and narrow bases. Leaves turn pale yellow to electric red in the fall. Their slender twigs are orange-brown to dark reddish-brown in color and are marked with tiny raised dots or lenticels. Some twigs are modified into large thorns up to 3 inches in length. The thin spreading branches are covered in a rough reddish-brown bark. The bark on the trunk starts out a smooth, shiny reddish-brown then turns grey to greyish-black with a scaly, rough texture as it ages.

The small, white five-petaled flowers of the wild plum appear in mid-spring before the leaves emerge. The showy, 1-inch flowers have a strong sweet fragrance that some people find offensive. Their flowers are arranged in clusters of 2 to 5 flowers called umbels. The small, round, 1-inch edible fruit appears in late summer to early fall. Technically, the fruit are drupes or stone fruits like peaches and mangos. When ripe, the reddish-yellow to purple fruit are covered in a powdery white bloom or yeast. They have a tough skin and a bright yellow tart-flavored pulp. Each plum has a large slightly flattened stone or pit with two ridges along each side. Inside each pit is a solitary seed.

The roots are shallow and widely spread beyond the drip line of each tree. Suckers are continually sent up from the roots forming dense thickets or colonies of trees if left undisturbed.

Site Selection/Range/General Culture

These native trees have adapted to a wide variety of habitats and soil types. But, they prefer full sun to partial shade and moist, well-drained, course to medium soils with a pH of 5.5 to 7.5. They range widely from zone 3 in central Canada to Arkansas, on southward to zone 8 in the panhandle of Florida, eastward to South Carolina and back northward to eastern Canada. Wild plums can be found growing along roadsides, by railways, alongside fencerows, in swamps, on rocky hillsides, in the moist edges of forests, and in abandoned fields.

Wild plums require little maintenance other than removing the numerous suckers that appear around the trees. They will grow up 2 feet per year when given the right conditions. They don’t like wet feet, fine soils, drought, forest fires, or too much shade. They produce more fruit when given at least 12 hours of bright sun but will tolerate as little as 30% shade. These fast-growing trees need lots of lateral space so plant them 8 to 10 feet from other plants in the landscape or on 18-foot centers when grown in an orchard.

Irrigation

Wild plums are drought tolerant and seldom need extra watering. They perform the best when kept on the dry side. When watering wild plum trees, water thoroughly and then wait until the top 2 inches of the soil is dry before watering again. At the other end of the spectrum, they will tolerate up to 3 days of flooding but if left wet they will get root rot.

Fertilization

Fertilization needs can vary with soil type and age of the tree. Plum trees are moderate feeders. Give young non-bearing or newly planted trees an application of 10-10-10 dry chemical fertilizer in early spring before their leaves appear. Spread 1 cup of 10-10-10 evenly in a 3-feet diameter area around the tree, but be careful not to place any fertilizer near the trunk of the tree. Make a second fertilizer application in mid-May through mid-July. This time using ½ cup of ammonium nitrate (33-0-0) broadcast evenly in a 3-feet diameter area around the tree.

The second year after the tree is established, fertilize the tree once in March and again in early August. The first application should be 1 cup of 10-10-10 per year of the tree’s age up to 12 cups for mature trees. The second application should be made no later than the second week of August otherwise you risk compromising the tree’s cold hardiness during the winter. This second application should be 1 cup of ammonium nitrate (33-0-0) per tree per year of the tree’s age up to 5 cups for mature trees. A rule of thumb is if an established tree has dark green leaves and it is producing 12 to 15 inches of shoot growth per year then it is receiving adequate fertilization. But, yearly soil tests are still recommended to monitor the fertilization level.

Pruning & Training

Wild American plums bear fruit all along their branches and will withstand heavy pruning. For the best fruit production, prune your trees to a short single trunk form. Let the trees go without much pruning for the first three years after planting, only do some light shaping. After 3 years of getting established, rejuvenate your trees by pruning out a few older branches every other year. Try to finish any pruning by the end of July so as not to disturb flower or fruit bud production for the next year. It will also be necessary to pull or dig up the many suckers or root sprouts these plants produce each year. In an orchard situation, wild plum trees are top-sheared to keep them short enough to be conveniently picked thus limiting labor costs.

 

 

 

Pollination

Wild plums depend on cross-pollination from other wild plums and honeybees are the primary pollinators. Wild plums are also good pollinizers for hybrid plum trees that bloom about the same time. Most wild plum trees do not form viable seeds until their 4th or 5th year.

Propagation

If large numbers of plants are needed, then seeds should be your choice of propagation. The downside of propagating by seed is the irregular variation of fruit quality and other characteristics. Whereas, using softwood cuttings or root sprouts, produces a truer duplication of the parent plant. When propagating by seed, harvest fully ripe fruit in late August from trees with the best tasting fruit and remove the pulp from around the pits. Air-dry the pits for several days. Then, use a pair of vise-grips to crack the pits and remove the seeds. As a viability test, place the seeds in a glass of water. The seeds that sink to the bottom are the good viable seeds. Evenly space the viable seeds on a moist paper towel or on toilet paper. Loosely roll up the paper and put the roll in a plastic baggie. Refrigerate the roll of seeds for about 2 to 3 months and then check for germination. Plant the germinated seeds individually into small plastic cups, 4-inch pots or 36-cell plug flats. Seedlings will attain suitable size to plant-up into 3-gallon pots or in the field or the landscape in 1 to 2 years. It will be another 2 to 3 years before you will harvest any fruit from your young trees. Another less effective method is to sow the seeds directly in the field in early fall thus the seeds can have 3 to 6 months of cold stratification to break dormancy. The seedlings produced by either method will not necessarily have the same fruit quality or growth characteristics of the parent plants.

Softwood cuttings are another form of wild plum propagation and should be taken in early summer when there is the most active growth. Cuttings 6- to 12-inches long with at least 2 nodes will make the best clones of the selected plant. Strip off the lower leaves and dip the cuttings in rooting hormone. Then, plant the cuttings about 1- to 2-inches deep in rooting trays of sand or rooting mix. Place the trays in a greenhouse with 60% shade. Mist the cuttings several times a day until new leaves and 1-inch roots begin to appear. Then, shift the rooted cuttings into quart or one-gallon containers of standard soil mix and reduce watering.

Root sprouts or suckers are the easiest method by which to propagate wild plums. Root sprouts about 8- to 12-inches tall can be easily dug up by cutting them from the main root and leaving 3 to 4 inches of fibrous roots attached. These young plantlets can be directly potted up into quart or 1-gallon pots of standard potting mix. Once established, they can be transplanted into a larger pot or planted in the field.

Pests, Diseases, and Other Problems

Although significantly resistant to most pest and diseases, wild plums can succumb to pests such as aphids, scale, beetle borers, American plum borers, tent caterpillars, spider mites, and plum curculios. Diseases that can attack wild plums are black knot, sooty mold, verticillium, canker, brown rot on fruit, mildew, stem decay, fire blight, and leaf spot. Wild plums can even be an over-wintering host to plum curculio and brown rot. Thus, posing a threat to local commercial peach or plum growers by possibly causing spring infestations. Birds are not usually a problem due to the large size of the fruit, but deer, foxes and coyotes love them. The profuse suckering of this tree can make it undesirable for commercial landscaping because of the excessive maintenance problem involved.

 

Harvest & Storage

When foraging for wild plums in the wild, keep in mind that fruit quality can vary from tree to tree. So, sample the fruit first before fully harvesting from a selected tree. Picking the fruit by hand is preferable to shaking the fruit onto a tarp because plums can be easily bruised or split. Fruit will turn from green to yellow to red with a light whitish bloom as they are ripening. When fully ripe, the plums will simply come off in your hand without pulling. The best way to store your harvest is to freeze the plums in small batches as you pick them from August through October. Once the harvest season is complete, partially thaw the plums, this will make them much less difficult to pit. Use a cherry pitter to remove the pits as they are about the same size as those of cherries. After pitting, press the plums through a food mill to remove the bitter skins. The resulting puree can be used in many cooked goods or frozen again for long term storage or dried into fruit leather.

Culinary Uses

The tart flavorsome fruit can be eaten fresh or processed into jams, jellies, wines, syrups, and sauces. If making jelly or jam, you will need to add pectin, since they don’t contain much of their own pectin. These plums can be baked in pies, tarts, breads, cakes, cobblers, crumbles, and muffins. They can also be made into vinegars or pickled. Although their flesh can be tart with a tannic after-taste, many chefs are discovering that their flavor can offer a balance to other rich foods. Wild plums can be substituted for blueberries in some recipes, but keep in mind less liquid will be needed since plums are juicier than blueberries.

Nutritional Benefits

An extensive array of health benefits is attributed to wild plums. Their fruit are an amazing mix of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and phytonutrients. They contain vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin E, and the B-complex vitamins. They also have anti-oxidants like beta-carotene and flavonoids. Many minerals are also present in the fruit such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, and copper. Whether the fruit are eaten fresh or dried (prunes), they are both high in dietary fiber.

Because of their abundant nutrients, wild plums can help strengthen the immune system, treat infections, and promote both nerve and skin health. Research has proven that regular consumption of plums is helpful in the normal formation of blood cells, blood clotting, and overall maintenance of cardiovascular health. Eating plum fruit effectively protects against cognitive impairment due to old age and assists in elevating good cholesterol (HDL) levels, as well as, decreasing bad cholesterol (LDL). But, the most well-known health benefit of dried plums and prune juice is in acting as a laxative relieving constipation.

 

 

 Other Uses

Wild plums have been used for erosion control because they have extensive suckering root systems. Their root systems can also aid in stabilizing roadsides, banks of rivers, and drainage ditches. These small thicket-forming trees have also been used as windbreaks to shield homesteads and pastures from high winds. Because of their showy white blooms, short stature, and despite the extra maintenance needed to prune root sprouts, the wild plum has been used as an ornamental plant in residential landscapes.

Native Americans not only used wild plums as a food source, but also to make three different dyes. A green dye was made from the leaves, a dark grey dye was made from the fruit, and a red dye was obtained from the roots. Native Americans produced a decoction from the inner bark which they used to treat oral sores, skin abrasions, digestive problems, and throat infections. The blooms were used to treat sore gums, loose teeth, and mouth ulcers. Brooms for sweeping were also created by native peoples by binding wild plum twigs together.

Wild plums are an excellent habitat for wildlife. Birds such as quail and wild turkeys use them for breeding cover, roosting, nesting, and as a food source. Squirrels, foxes, coyotes, white-tailed deer, and black bears eat plums, as well as, the twigs and leaves. The wild plum is also a nectar plant. They attract moths, bees, and butterflies.

Wild plums make excellent rootstock for other hybrid plum varieties. Plum wood is prized for its heavy, strong, close-grained structure.

Recommended & Related Varieties

Over 260 varieties have been developed from the American wild plum and it has been extensively hybridized with commercial plum varieties. Many Prunus species have been crossed with the wild plum for some of its desirable characteristics and to introduce cold hardiness.  For example, ‘Robusto’ plum has wild plum in its breeding for disease resistance. The three American native plums closely-related to the American Wild Plum (Prunus americana) are the Beach Plum (Prunus maritima), the Chickasaw Plum (Prunus angustifolia), and the Canada Plum (Prunus nigra). Prunus x orthosepala is a product of a natural cross between Chickasaw Plum and American Wild Plum. Some examples of commercially cultivated wild plum varieties are ‘Toka’, ‘Tecumseh’, ‘Pipestone’, ‘Fairlane ‘, ‘Underwood’, ‘Blackhawk’, ‘Desoto’, ‘Hawkeye’, ‘Klondike’, and ‘Waneta’

Hazards & Cautions

Wild plums have toxic substances in all parts of the plant except the fruit’s skin and flesh like many other Prunus species such as cherries and peaches. They contain a precursor to cyanide called hydrocyanic acid which can breakdown into cyanide once consumed.

Children are cautioned to avoid the large thorns on the terminal branches of some trees. Consuming large quantities of fresh plums can cause gastric upset and diarrhea.

 

 

 

Summary

In conclusion, these indigenous fruit trees with their ease of care, their many nutritional benefits, their productivity, and their attractive ornamental appearance, need to be utilized more as ornamental landscape plants, commercial orchard plants and at least be recognized as accessible foraging food sources.

 

Suppliers

  • Arche Wild Native Nurseries – Quakertown, PA – archewild.com
  • Flora Exotica – Montreal, Quebec – floraexotica.ca
  • Native Forest Nursery – Chatsworth, GA – nativeforestnursery.com
  • One Green World – Portland, OR – onegreenworld.com

References & External Links

  • Boning, Charles. Florida’s Best Fruiting Plants. Sarasota: Pineapple Press, 2006.
  • Brill, Steve. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild Places. New York: Harper, 1994.
  • Creasy, Rosalind. Edible Landscaping. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2010.
  • fed.us/database/feis/plants/shrub/pruame/all.html.
  • healthbenefitstimes.com/plums
  • us/docs/other/HenryKaiser2000-wildplumplantingguide.pdf. Wild Plum, December 12, 2000.
  • org/user/Plant.aspex?LatinName=Prunus+Americana. Marshall. Prunus Americana, July 17, 2011.
  • Reich, Lee. Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden. Hong Kong: Timber Press, 2004.
  • Otto, Stella. The Backyard Orchardist. Empire, MI: Chelsea Greene Publishing, 2016.
  • http:// www.wildflower.org/plants/results.php?id_plant=PRAM. Prunus americana. March 27, 2014.

 

October 4, 2017
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Wild Black Cherry Tree

Wild Black Cherry Tree

Prunus serotina

 

Commonly known as mountain black cherry, rum cherry, cabinet cherry and most often as the wild black cherry. Wild black cherry trees, I always thought were just nuisance trash trees and should be the first trees to be cut down when clearing land. But, I learned recently that these trees have been prized since colonial times for their beautiful wood and the cough syrup made from their inner bark as well as the many delicious items that can be prepared from the fruit.

Description

Black cherry is a medium-sized deciduous tree that regularly grows to 20- to 30-foot high by 15- to 20-foot spread. But, can reach 80- to 100-foot high when conditions are ideal with the current national record being 134 feet tall. Black cherry trees usually grow as single trunk trees with mature trunks averaging 1.5 feet to 3 feet in diameter. They have a pyramidal to conical shape when young becoming roughly oval-shaped when older. The crown becomes dense with draping lower branches and upright upper branches. Bark on young trees is shiny smooth with lateral lines of lenticels and colored reddish brown to olive brown. As the tree ages, the bark changes to a grey-black, irregularly cracked texture like burned potato chips.  Branches are slender with smooth pale green bark when young. The bark turns from bright red to dark reddish-brown as the branches age. The shiny dark-green leaves are 2- to 6 inches long by 1- to 1.5- inches wide. The alternate, oblong, lance-shaped leaves have finely-toothed leaf margins with tiny, rust-colored hairs underneath at their midrib and two small glands at the base of the blade. Twigs are seldom more than an inch long and smell of bitter almond when crushed. The wild black cherry’s white blooms appear as elongated clusters called racemes in April through May and produce fruit in June through July. The round fruit are about the size of an English pea and turn from red to almost black when ripe. Each cherry has a single peppercorn-sized pit or seed. Fall foliage ranges from yellow-green to yellow, red, and orange. Their roots are shallow and fibrous.

Wild Cherry pic 7617

General Culture / Site Selection / Range

The relatively fast growing wild black cherry will grow in a wide assortment of soil types but, prefers deep, slightly moist, well-drained, fertile, loose soils with a pH of 6.8 to 7.2. They like full sun but, will tolerate light shade. Wild black cherry trees are both highly drought tolerant and moderately salt tolerant. Given ideal conditions, these trees will grow like weeds. They are pioneer trees which means that they are one of the first woody trees to grow in an open field or cleared area. These trees are normally found at the edges of fields, in hedge rows, in open mixed hardwood forests, along bottom lands, and near riverbanks. They cover 4/5 of the US from Zone 3b to Zone 9a growing from central Florida, west to central Texas, north to North Dakota, and east to New England.

Irrigation

As with most young trees, apply one inch of water per week during the first year while they are getting established. Irrigate the tree’s full root zone area when watering. This area extends out twice as wide as the tree’s canopy. Once the black cherry trees are established, they will become drought-tolerant and only require supplemental irrigation when there are periods of extreme drought.

Fertilization

Fertilize young black cherry trees the first year after planting with ¼ pound of 10-10-10 in March and again in June. Once the trees are established, apply 1 pound of 10-10-10 per inch of trunk diameter in early spring and re-apply in June if the leaves begin to yellow. Up to 5 pounds of fertilizer can be broadcast per tree at maturity. Spread the fertilizer evenly away from the trunk to avoid burning it and continue all the way out to the tree’s drip line. Then, gently rake the fertilizer into the soil being careful not to shred the shallow roots.

Pruning & Training

Black cherries usually grow as a tall, straight, single trunk tree and require less pruning than most fruit trees. The only pruning necessary for the tree’s first six to eight years is removing crossed, broken, or dead branches. Also, the drooping lower branches may have to be trimmed to permit better access around the tree and limit the snow load on the tree. Later in the tree’s life, start thinning out older limbs to allow more sunlight to enter the crown and increase fruit production.

Wild Cherry pic 7612 “The bark of the Wild Cherry Tree with lateral lines of lenticels.”

Pollination

The white flowers open after the leaves are well on their way to expanding unlike the fruiting sweet cherry (Prunus avium) which blooms before the leaves appear. Flies, bees, and flower beetles are responsible for pollinating the flowers naturally. Cross-pollination is necessary to produce viable seeds.

Propagation

Black cherry is typically reproduced by seed and sprouts from clear-cut trees. Birds, rodents, and other wildlife disperse some seeds across the forest floor while most of the seeds fall in the shadow of the parent tree. A cold treatment can happen naturally through the course of the winter and seed germination will occur in the loose soil and leaf litter. Or a simulated cold treatment called stratification can be given to the seed to simulate winter conditions to break the seed’s dormancy so that germination can take place. This is usually accomplished by wrapping the seed in a wet paper towel and refrigerating them for three months. In a commercial setting, black cherry trees are usually propagated by cuttings or grafts.

Pest & Diseases

Black cherry trees are subject to defoliation from fall webworms, eastern tent caterpillars, cherry scallop shell moths, ugly-nest caterpillars, leaf-miner fly larvae and other chewing insects. These trees are also prone to verticillium wilt, cherry leaf-spot, and the fungal disease, black knot which causes elongated black swellings on branches and trunks. Black cherry trees can be easily damaged by fire. Even light fire damage can cause these trees to be more susceptible to fungal diseases. Animals can also attack black cherries. Porcupines can damage bark and offer an entry point for wood-rotting fungi. Rabbits and deer commonly forage on young seedlings.

Harvest & Storage

In June or July, harvest the many small ripe cherries by spreading a large tarp or sheet on the ground under the tree and then aggressively shaking the tree. Or handpick the fruit when they are dark purple to black. Once the fruit is harvested, store them refrigerated in an airtight glass or plastic container.

Culinary Uses

Native Americans dried wild black cherries and added them to pemmican, which was a winter survival food. The Appalachian settlers used the bitter-sweet fruit to flavor punch, make wine, distill a liqueur called cherry bounce, and flavor their rum. Thus, the common name, rum cherry. Over the years, the cherries have been used to make many different baked goods such as pies, pancakes, and muffins. They can be cooked down to make sauces for meat and fish. The juice can be strained, and cooked with sugar to make syrup. Apples or pectin can be added to make jelly. Since cooking destroys the poisonous compounds in the fruit, the fruit can be cooked without the tedious job of removing the seeds first. The wood can be used to smoke meats and fish. The wood, branches, and twigs give a strong smoked cherry aroma to the meat.

Wild Cherry pic 7610“The small ripening fruit of the Wild Cherry Tree”

 

Nutritional Benefits

Native Americans made a traditional medicine from the wild black cherry’s inner bark that sedated the nerves which cause the cough reflex. This decoction was so popular for the treatment of coughs and sore throats that it was an ingredient in the first commercially made cough syrups. The flavor and red tint, although artificial, is still used in cough preparations even today. A tea made from the powdered inner bark was used as a tonic for headaches, fevers, congested lungs, diarrhea, and sore throats. This tea has a disinfectant quality and once filtered was used as a skin or eye wash.  Poultices of dried, chopped bark were used by several Native American tribes. These poultices were quickly cooked in water and mashed up to a pulp then applied directly to burns, sores, and wounds as an external disinfectant.

The inner bark is best when harvested in the spring and fall when the sugar content in the bark is the highest. Cut the bark into long strips from large side branches to preserve the health of the tree trunk. A strong potion can be prepared by simmering a strip of bark approximately 1 foot in length to 20 parts of water for 2 to 5 hours. This decoction can be turned into to a tincture by adding alcohol or into a syrup by adding sugar.

The fruit of wild black cherry is slightly tart but, is packed with antioxidants such as vitamin C, flavonoids, and carotenoids. These antioxidants can counteract free radicals and repair the damage done by them. The juice is used to treat arthritis, gout, as a sleep aid, for kidney health, and to reduce inflammation in general.

Other Uses

Black cherry is revered for its beautiful wood that rarely splits or warps and can be polished to a high luster. The close-grained wood is used in woodwork for fine furniture, cabinetry, moulding, and as an inexpensive veneer. The wood is also used for making caskets, handles for scientific instruments, and on musical instruments like organs and pianos. Black cherry trees are planted as ornamental landscape plants and as land reclamation plants. These trees are a food source and a mast for many bird species, too.

Recommended Varieties

The weeping ‘Spring Sparkle’ is the only selected cultivar of the wild black cherry but there are four natural geographical variants found in the United States and Canada. Prunus serotina var. serotina, the eastern black cherry is the largest and most prevalent subspecies in eastern North America. The other subspecies are distributed as follows: Alabama black cherry (var. alabamensis) is found in eastern Georgia, west to northeastern Alabama and south to northwestern Florida; escarpment cherry (var. eximia) grows in the Edwards Plateau region of central Texas, and southwestern black cherry (var. rufula) is spread from the mountains of western Texas to central Arizona.

Hazards & Cautions

The wilted leaves of wild black cherries pose a poisoning hazard to grazing livestock, especially cattle. Consuming as little as one pound of wilted leaves can kill a large cow. Wilted leaves contain higher levels of amygdalin, a cyanogenic glycoside, which when acted on by enzymes becomes cyanide. It is advisable to remove black cherry trees from pastures land.

The seeds and fruit also carry trace amounts of the cyanide precursor, amygdalin. So, people should limit the quantity of raw berries they eat. Cooking destroys the cyanide so the threat of poisoning is eliminated when the cherries are cooked. Black cherry trees should not be planted near walkways, driveways, and around parking lots. Because of the amount of messy leaf litter, they produce. The cherries can also stain concrete, car exteriors, and roofing. Smashed fruit can also be tracked inside staining carpets and flooring. The small, dried, ball bearing-like pits can pose a slipping hazard. These trees can be an invasive nuisance in the landscape due to their aggressive weedy nature with seedlings coming up here and there in beds.

Summary

Although commercially significant as a source of fine wood, these trees are under appreciated as a readily available fruit tree and source of home remedies. Many of the other members of the genus Prunus are well-known fruit trees like peaches, apricots, nectarines and plums. Also, there are so many medicinal uses, as well as, nutritional benefits of this tree that go unrecognized. It is time for the wild black cherry to take its place as an important tree just like its close relative, the sweet cherry, Prunus avium.

 

References & External Links

  • Angier, Bradford. Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants. pp. 192-193. Mechanicsburg, PA. Stackpole Books, 2008.
  • Bennett, Chris. Southeast Foraging. Portland, Oregon, Timber Press. 2015.
  • Brill, Steve. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants. pp. 119-123. New York. Harper Collins, 1994.
  • Dirr, Michael. Manuel of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification Ornamental Characteristics, Culture, Propagation and Uses. pp. 661-662. Champaign, IL. Stipes Publishing, 1990.
  • Gilman, E.F. and Watson, D.G. University of Florida: IFAS Extension. December 2006. Prunus serotina: Black Cherry. edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/ST/ST51600.pdf.
  • Hill, Lewis. Fruits and Berries for the Home Garden. pp.157-162, North Adams, MA. Storey Publishing. 1992
  • na.fs.fed.us/spfo/pubs/silvics_manual/volume_2/prunus/serotine.htm. Black Cherry. Marquis, D.A. 2010
  • Peterson, L.A. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants- Eastern and Central North America. pp. 218-219. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Company. 1977.
  • http://www.uky.edu/hort/Black-Cherry. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture – Department of Horticulture, July 17, 2017.

Warning: Always consult a foraging or plant identification expert before consuming wild plants.

 

 

July 16, 2017
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Juneberry

Juneberry

Amelanchier arborea

With more than 25 different species and a myriad of common names, these deciduous native small trees or large shrubs of the Rosacea family are spread across most of the United States and Canada. The Allegheny serviceberry (A. laevis), shadblow (A. canadensis), Saskatoon serviceberry (A. alnifolia), and downy serviceberry (A. arborea) are the 4 Amelanchier species that inhabit most of the eastern United States. But the downy serviceberry is the most common species in the Southeast. The downy serviceberry grows along river banks and as an under-canopy tree. It typically grows 15 to 30 feet tall, but under ideal circumstances, it can reach 70 feet in height. These trees are usually short lived and rarely live longer than 50 years.

Description

The downy serviceberry forms a large, multi-stemmed shrub when left unpruned or a small tree with rounded crown and spreading branches. The small trunks are normally ½ to 1 1/2 inches in diameter with thin, smooth, grey bark. Bark on the older trees has shallow grooves that appear as long dark-grey stripes. They are named downy serviceberry because the underside of the silver-grey leaves is fuzzy when the leaves first emerge in spring. The 1- to 3-inch, simple, alternate leaves are finely toothed and elliptic to obovate with pointy tips when mature. Leafstalks are brown to grey. Leaves turn from dark green in the summer to yellow, orange, and red in fall.

The showy small, slightly fragrant, white flowers appear in 2- to 4-inch long pendulous racemes before the leaves unfurl. They bloom in late March before dogwoods bloom. The fruit of the downy serviceberry is not a berry but is a pome like an apple, to which it is related. The fruit vary in size from ¼ to 1/3 inch. The round fruit start off green, then turn purple-black when ripe. The sweet, juicy fruit ripen in June, thus, the name juneberry. The fruit are similar to blueberries and have a five-pointed, frilled crown on the distal end away from the fruit stalk. The crown is a sign when foraging that the fruit are non-toxic, since no poisonous berries have this crown. Fruit are borne on long stalks in clusters like the flowers, and the sweet cranberry-blueberry flavored pulp surrounds a group of 3 to 10 soft, red, tear-shaped, almond-flavored seeds.

(illustrated by Karen M. Johnson)

(illustrated by Karen M. Johnson)

General Culture & Site Selection

These native trees range from the Florida panhandle, northward to eastern Canada, on westward to Nebraska, and southward to Texas. Downy serviceberries can be found near bodies of fresh water, on exposed hillsides, and in open woodlands. They are hardy in USDA zones 4 through 8.

Juneberries are easily cultivated and maintained when planted in the ground. Choose a location where there is good air flow to avoid late spring frosts that may damage the flower buds, thus reducing the berry crop. They prefer moist, well-drained, semi-acidic soils with a pH of 5.5 to 7.  They will tolerate many soil types, especially when kept well-drained.  It is particularly important to provide weed control the first 3 years so the young trees can get established without any competition. Once established, they will tolerate weeds, seasonal flooding, and will be moderately drought tolerant. But they will always be intolerant to soil compaction and pollution. A serviceberry does best in full sun but will tolerate partial shade.

 

Several examples of Amelanchier arborea leaves

Several examples of Amelanchier arborea leaves

Irrigation & Fertilization

During the first year, while the young trees are getting established, give them 1 inch of water per week, but no nitrogen fertilizer is needed. Once established, the trees will only need supplemental irrigation during times of severe drought, and fertilizer isn’t necessary unless a soil test exhibits a need. When planted in good soil, yearly applications of compost should be sufficient fertilization. But if need arises, apply a low-analysis nitrogen fertilizer such as fish emulsion, alfalfa meal, or blood meal in early spring.

Pruning & Training

Amelanchier arborea typically grow as an 18- to 25-foot multi-trunk shrub or small tree that commonly produces many root suckers. But by repeatedly removing these suckers and low branches, the plants can be trained to grow as a single trunk tree. The standard form is the preferred one used by orchards and nurseries since a single trunk provides the plant with a stronger structure. It is also best to maintain a height of 6 to 9 feet for easier harvesting and application of protective bird netting. Other than pruning the root suckers and trimming for a more desirable height, thinning for a more open center is recommended. This is done to allow more sunlight and air circulation to the center of the plant to prevent fungal and bacterial diseases. Remedial pruning to remove crossed, diseased, damaged, or weak branches is also necessary. Pruning is best done in early spring after the threat of freezing weather has passed and before the plants are actively growing. Generally, once the size and form of the tree is set, these plants require little or no pruning.

Pollination

Downy serviceberry is partially self-fertile and does not require a pollinizer for fruit set, but will produce a far larger berry crop if supplemental pollination is provided by a different clone with an overlapping bloom time. Co-pollinating plants need to be within 50 to 75 feet of one another for desirable cross-pollination to occur. Bees, bumble bees, and other foraging insects are responsible pollinators.

Propagation

There are several methods of propagation that can be used to multiply these plants including dividing root suckers, softwood cuttings, tissue culture, seed propagation, and root divisions. Root suckers can be easily separated from the parent plants during the dormant season and transplanted into pots or rooting beds of loamy soil. Another simple method of propagation is taking softwood cuttings 3 to 6 inches long in late spring or early summer. Dip these cuttings in a rooting hormone, and stick them in a rooting media that is bottom heated and under mist. The limitation of softwood cuttings is the large number of stock plants required to produce a considerable amount of rooted cuttings. In tissue culture, only one bud or shoot tip is needed to create large numbers of new plantlets. But tissue culture is an expensive form of propagation due to all the specialized equipment and expertise necessary. Where as seeds are easy to harvest from the fruit, and it only takes a few stock plants to produce many new seedlings. The drawback to seed propagation is genetic variability, meaning the progeny’s characteristics can vary widely, and undesirable characteristics may not become apparent for years. Harvesting suckers or rooted divisions from the parent plants is probably the easiest and best way to preserve the genetic characteristics of the parent plants.

Pests & Diseases

Juneberries are exceptionally resistant to many pests and diseases when well kept. But like their relative, apples, juneberries can be susceptible to numerous pests and diseases when not well-fed or grown in appropriate conditions. Rusts such as cedar-apple rust can cause defoliation and fruit drop. So it is best to reduce the number of alternate rust hosts like junipers and cypresses nearby. The bacterium that causes fire blight can also affect juneberries, as well as many other members of the Rose family. Fire blight can be kept in check by pruning out the diseased branches and then spraying with an agricultural-grade streptomycin.  Other diseases that can attack juneberries are powdery mildew, witches broom, leaf spot, and black sooty mold. The pests troubling juneberries are borers, leaf miners, cambium miners, Japanese beetles, aphids, red spider mites, thrips, pear leaf blister mites, pear slug sawflies, and willow scruffy scale. But birds can be the most damaging to a crop of juneberries.

 

Harvest & Storage

It usually takes 3 to 4 years before an Amelanchier starts to produce fruit and 7 to 8 years before producing large crops. Depending on the plant’s age and that year’s weather, yields can go up to over 17 pounds per year per tree. The juneberries ripen in late spring over the course of several weeks. Picking juneberries can be done by hand, or just like when harvesting mulberries, you can lay down an old sheet or tarp, then shake the tree gently. Because of their short shelf life, the fruit should be cleaned, sorted, and cooled as quickly as possible. When fully ripe, juneberries are fragile and easily damaged. So, use a shallow box or basket to harvest the berries, and don’t layer them too deeply. Like other berries, the fruit can be preserved frozen, dried, or pickled in vinegar.

Culinary Uses

Juneberries are commonly eaten fresh since they have an irresistible juicy, sweet cranberry-blueberry flavor. The seeds also have mild nutty, almond-like flavor. The fruit also lend themselves well to making jams and jellies due to their high pectin content. Juneberries are also ideal baked in pies, tarts, muffins, and breads or cooked in pancakes and puddings. They are especially good when combined with strawberries. The juice can be used to make wines and syrups. They are delicious when dried like raisins. Juneberries also make great ice cream and sorbet.

Native Americans used dried juneberries mixed with fat and powdered meats to make their winter food staple, pemmican. Small cakes were made from cornmeal and added to stews. A juneberry tea was also made to aid digestion and to rid children of parasitic intestinal worms.

Nutritional Benefits

These nutrient-dense, berry-like pomes with only 94 calories per cup are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, calcium, and protein. They are higher in antioxidants than the plant pigments anthocyanin and quercetin, and contain more vitamin C than wild blueberries. They are also rich in fiber, with one cup containing 16% of the daily requirement. In addition, juneberries have trace amounts of many of the B vitamins like folate, biotin (B7), thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), pantothenic acid (B5), as well as resveratrol. All of these nutrients work in concert to help reduce inflammation in joints, slow aging, prevent memory loss, and protect eyesight.

Other Uses

Other than as a food source, the Native Americans used serviceberry tree twigs to make cordage for basket weaving and as straight wood for arrow shafts. Also, because of its strong close-grain wood, it was used for tool handles, combs, fire drills, and digging sticks. The wildlife value of the downy serviceberry is as a nectar source for bees and butterflies. Birds and other wildlife also love to forage on the berries. But the greatest value of these plants is as an ornamental landscape plant with their early lacey white blooms, attractive purple-blue berries, and outstanding fall foliage. Because of their small size, they can be used as a medium-height hedge underneath power lines, along residential streets, or in parking lots. They can also be used as a specimen plant or in containers. The Amelanchier arborea is also commonly used as a rootstock for other pome fruits such as apples and pears.

Recommended Varieties

There are not currently any named cultivars of Amelanchier arborea. But there are numerous selected varieties of other Amelanchier species. The following are some of the most popular varieties:

  1. lavevis ‘Cumulus’ – small, low-maintenance tree, 25’ height by 8’ spread
  2. laevis ‘Prince Charles’ – upright form with good-tasting fruit, orange to brick-red fall color.
  3. laevis ‘Snow Cloud’- upright, oval-shaped, good as an ornamental street tree, purplish blue fruit, scarlet fall color.
  4. canadensis ‘Rainbow Pillar’ or ‘Glenn Form’ – has a dense, upright symmetrical habit, white flowers, purplish-black fruit, unaffected by powdery mildew, patented in 1995.
  5. canadensis ‘Prince William’- a multi-stemmed shrub with an upright, spreading habit, usually used as an ornamental, sweet black fruit, tomato-orange fall foliage.
  6. alnifolia ‘Northline’ – very cold hardy, large shrub with a height of up to 10’ and 7’ spread, a good fruit producer.
  7. alnifolia ‘Regent’- dwarf shrub type with a rounded crown, extra sweet fruit.
  8. alnifolia ‘Smokey’- sweet, flavorful blue-black fruit, very productive, usually grown as a multi-stemmed bush.

The cultivars below are hybrids of Amelanchier arborea and Amelanchier laevis:

  1. x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’- preferred by many nurserymen for its large white flowers, brilliant orange-red fall foliage, outstanding in a single trunk form, good disease resistance.
  2. x grandiflora ‘Princess Diana’- one of the most desired ornamental varieties, yellow flower buds, white flowers, deep purple fruit, red fall foliage on a wide canopy, patented in 1987.
  3. x grandiflora ‘Robin Hill’ – pink flower buds and an upright habit.
An example of a 15 gallon Serviceberry 'Autumn Brilliance'

An example of a 15 gallon Serviceberry ‘Autumn Brilliance’

Hazards & Cautions

Amelanchier leaves, flower buds and twigs contain prunasin, a precursor to hydrogen cyanide. If these plants parts are consumed in large enough quantities, it has the potential to be fatal to cattle. So, it is recommended to clear pasture areas of any Amelanchiers. But there are no other poisonous look-alike plants to worry about when foraging for berries.

Summary / Conclusion

There is considerable potential for the commercial production of juneberries, Amelanchier arborea, in the Southeast. Saskatoon berries, Amelanchier alnifolia, have been commercially grown for decades in both the Pacific Northwest and Canada. The time is right for juneberries to also be successfully produced in the Southeast with the current demand for this unique fruit among professional chefs and home cooks alike.

Plant Sources

There are a limited number of retail nurseries carrying juneberry starter plants:

  • Raintree Nursery (Morton, WA)
  • One Green World (Portland, OR)
  • Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery (Orefield, PA)
  • ArcheWild Native Nursery (Quakertown, PA)

References & External Links 

  • Bennett, Chris. Southeast Foraging. Timber Press, 2015.
  • Biggs, Matthew and J. McVicar and B. Flowerdew. Vegetables, Herbs and Fruit: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. p. 520. Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2002.
  • Bowling, Barbara. The Berry Grower’s Companion. pp. 245-248. Portland: Timber Press, 2008.
  • Brill, Steve. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild Places. Pp. 123-124. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1994.
  • Browning, S. “Summer Berries – Serviceberry”. University of Nebraska-Lincoln in Lancaster County. 2014. http://Lancaster.unl.edu/hort/articles/2014/Serviceberry.shtml.
  • Davidson, C. G. and G. Mazza. “Saskatoon Berry: A Fruit Crop for the Prairies”. Purdue University. 1993. https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1993/V2-516.html.
  • Dickert, George M. “Serviceberry”. Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service. 2010. www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/trees/hgic 1026.htm.
  • Dirr, Michael A. Manual of Woody Landscape Plants: Their Identification, Ornamental Characteristics, Propagation and Uses. Pp. 101-107. Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing, 1998.
  • Gilman, E. & Watson, D. “Downy Serviceberry – Amelanchier arborea”. University of Florida – IFAS Extension. 1993. edis.ifas.ufl.edu/st073.
  • Hansen, W. W. “Amelanchier alnifolia – Western Serviceberry”. The Wild Garden – Hansen’s NW Native Plans Database. 2016. www.nwplants.com/business/catalog/ame_aln.html.
  • Hill, Lewis and L. Perry. The Fruit Gardener’s Bible: A Complete Guide to Growing Fruits and Nuts in the Home Garden. Storey Publishing, 2011.
  • Johnson, Arthur Lee. “Serviceberry Trees”. Arthurleej.com/a-serviceberries.html.
  • Ochterski, J. “Selecting a Site for Juneberry/ Saskatoon Planting and Cultivation”. Cornell University Cooperative Extension. 2011. Cceontario.org/cce-site-documents/juneberry/selecting-site-for-juneberry-planting.pdf.
  • St-Pierre, Richard G. ”Growing the Saskatoon – A Prairie Heritage”. The Cider Press. 2015.   Prairie-elements.ca/saskatoons.html.
  • Strang, John. Juneberry. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. 2012. Uky.edu/Ag/CCD/infosheet/juneberry.pdf.

 

 

 

December 4, 2016
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

American Persimmon

IMG_0295

An American persimmon full of nearly ripe fruit.


American Persimmon

Diospyros virginiana

The American persimmon, Diospyros virginiana, is a slow growing, deciduous tree that ranges from Florida north to Connecticut, west to Iowa, and south to Texas. It is part of the Ebenaceae which is the tropical hardwood Ebony family. American persimmons have very hard, dense wood like its relatives. It is a relatively long-lived tree living 50 to 75 years. Native persimmons usually grow solitarily, but sometimes in thickets at the edges of fields, rivers, roadsides, in dry forests, on rocky hillsides, and in rich floodplains.

Description

These medium-sized trees usually grow to 15-20-feet tall, but can reach 80 feet. Bark is grey to nearly black, and on mature trees it is deeply furrowed forming 1 ½-inch rectangular blocks like a tile mosaic. The stiff, smooth-edged leaves are an elongated oval and are pointed at each end. The 2- to 6-inch leaves are lustrous, dark-green on top and light-colored underneath. Fall color is clear yellow to faded crimson. Leaves appear alternately in different sizes along the branches. Twigs are fuzzy and the 2-scaled leaf buds are very dark. The ¾-inch fragrant, pale yellow-green flowers are radially symmetrical flowers and bell-shaped. Flowers appear late in the spring. The globular fruit which are, botanically-speaking, berries are 1 – 1 ½ inches in diameter and has a thin leathery skin. Fruit are orange throughout with a texture between gooey pudding and dried apricots. Each fruit has 1 to 6 large, flat brown seeds. American persimmon fruit are smaller and redder-orange than Asian varieties. Asian varieties are either astringent or non-astringent. Whereas, American varieties are all astringent. Astringent varieties contain alum so unless fully ripe, they will give you an unforgettable pucker.

Site Selection

American persimmons prefer full sun but will tolerate some shade. They like to grow at the edges of fields and roadsides or in dry forests and in floodplains. They favor moist soil but will also adapt to a wide variety of soil types. They grow best in slightly acid soil. American persimmons are hardy from Zone 4 to 10. Hardy down to -25 degrees F.

General Culture

Persimmons, especially American persimmons, are low maintenance trees. But, these trees are not well-suited for long-term container culture because of their very long taproot. They will do better planted along a border or as a solitary specimen tree at least 12 feet away from a structure. In an orchard planting, it is best to plant the trees 20 feet apart. Persimmons can be started from seeds, bare root, or as small container trees.

Irrigation

It is a good idea to water daily the first two weeks after planting. Then, cut back to watering every other day in the third week and deep watering once a week by the fourth week after planting. But, once these trees have established root systems they will rarely need additional watering. Only in extremely hot or drought conditions will they possibly need extra irrigation. American persimmons will tolerate drought but will bare less fruit.

 

 

Fertilization

Avoid high nitrogen fertilizer formulations since they can cause premature fruit drop in young trees. It is best to use weak organic fertilizers or compost to fertilize your persimmon trees. Apply a chelated plant tonic, fish emulsion, or 5 to 10 pounds of compost twice a year in early spring and mid-summer. If you feel more comfortable using inorganic fertilizer, then use 2 ounces of 10-10-10 (N-P-K) per age of the tree. When your trees are growing about a foot per year, then they are getting adequate fertilizer.

Pruning and Thinning

American persimmon trees should be pruned to a modified central leader or open center initially. Then, they will only require remedial pruning once they reach fruit bearing age. Each year remove dead limbs, downward growing branches, and crossed branches. Also, shorten any long branches that might break under a heavy fruit load. Occasionally prune to limit the size of the tree to ease in harvesting fruit. Try to keep your tree no taller than your hands held over your head. These trees are prone to suckering so remove suckers at the base of the tree once a year. Persimmons are inclined to alternate bearing from year to year. Thinning the fruit to 10 inches apart will help to prevent over cropping causing fruit not to mature to desired size during the heavy bearing years.

Pollination

Native persimmons are dioecious and form either male or female flowers. That is, they need both male and female trees to produce a good crop. It is best to plant a male pollinator like ‘American Male’. Only a few American persimmon varieties, such as ‘Meader’ are self-fertile. Pollination can be accomplished by wind or insects.

Propagation

Persimmons can be propagated by seeds, rooted cuttings, grafts or suckers. For propagation by seed, it is necessary to stratify the seeds 2 to 3 months after extracting them from the fruit. Keep the seedlings shaded for the first 4 to 6 weeks. Then gradually acclimate them to the outdoors after the last frost date. It will take about 4 to 9 years before the seedlings will produce their first crop of fruit. Hardwood or root cuttings can be used on native persimmons. Use wood that is 2 to 3 years old for the hardwood cuttings. Cleft grafts, whip grafts, or chip budding are all good methods for developing new varieties of Asian persimmons or American persimmons where American persimmon is usually used as the rootstock because of its hardiness. Grafted trees begin fruiting in about 3 years. But, the easiest method to propagate American persimmons is by simply digging up and transplanting suckers found at the base of the parent tree. Suckers will produce fruit in about 4 to 6 years.

Pest and Disease

American persimmons are rarely affected by pest problems. Although, a few pest problems can occur such as ambrosia beetles, twig girdlers, persimmon borers, bagworms, fall webworms, scale, mealybugs, ants, and psyllids. Possible diseases are fungal persimmon wilt, sooty mold, anthracnose leaf spot.  Fungal wilt disease can even kill established trees. Deer, raccoons, birds, and squirrels can also damage trees and eat the fruit.

Harvest and Storage

Be patient, native persimmons take a long time to ripen, and harvest time covers a period of weeks. Fruit need to turn deep orange or bright red-orange in color and become gooey-soft before the sweetness overtakes the astringency. The fruit usually ripen in September and October. Fruit should be hand-picked when possible since they are prone to bruising. If some fruit are too high to reach, spread an old sheet beneath the tree and shake the branches. Then separate out the unripe fruit. Pruners should be used to clip the stem (pedicel) and the sepal cap (calyx) needs to be preserved to extend the fruit’s shelf life. A mature American persimmon can produce up to 30 pounds of fruit in a heavy-bearing year. Persimmons can be stored up to 4 months if kept cool and dry place or frozen for up to 6 months. Fruit can be picked while still not yet ripe and the astringency can be removed by several different methods. The fruit can be placed in a brown paper bag with a bruised banana or apple. The ethylene gas will ripen the fruit.  One can also remove the astringency by freezing the fruit overnight, sealing the fruit in a plastic bag with dry ice or by drying the fruit.

Culinary Uses

The genus name of persimmons, Diospyros, loosely translates from Greek as “food of the gods”. This exotically delicious fruit, as well as the leaves, can be used in a multitude of ways. Although, eating a fresh, well-ripened persimmon is hard to beat. Persimmons make tasty puddings, breads, cookies, pancakes, jellies, jams, and syrups. They can also be dried, candied, or ground and dried into fruit leathers. They can also be brewed into beers, wines, and liquors. The leaves can be dried and ground to make a healthy tea. The seeds can be roasted and ground into a black powder which can be used as a coffee extender. It is best not to use the ground seeds as a fulltime coffee substitute because it can cause gastric upset in some people.

Nutritional Benefits

The fruit are an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A, vitamin E, B-complex vitamins, calcium, copper, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and dietary fiber. Due to its high vitamin, mineral and other nutrient content persimmons are capable of a multitude of health benefits. Consuming persimmons can boost energy and bolster the immune system by increasing metabolic activity aided by B-complex vitamins like thiamin and folic acid as well as vitamin C. They help increase the efficiency of the digestive tract because of their high dietary fiber content and aid in the creation of red blood cells due to their copper content. The fruit contains betulinic acid, which is a proven anti-tumor compound, as well as having anti-cancer properties provided by phenolic compounds such as catechins and gallocatechins.

Other Uses

These trees make excellent ornamental landscape specimens with their interesting bark, colorful yellow-orange to red fall foliage, and lovely orange fruit that often stay on the tree long after the leaves have fallen. The fruit can be used for livestock feed, especially for hogs. The dense persimmon wood was used early in the twentieth century to make golf club shafts, as well as, the heads of woods. The tough close-grained wood is also used for drum sticks, flutes, wooden spoons, longbows, billiard cues, and furniture. American persimmon rootstock is often used when grafting Asian varieties to make them more cold hardy.

Hazards

Persimmons can cause bezoars or gastric blockages in rare cases in some people, but more commonly in horses. Don’t plant these trees near sidewalks or driveways to avoid splattered fruit from being tracked indoors. Although there are no poisonous look-alikes, it is still prudent to have a plant identification expert check the fruit before foraging for the American persimmon in the wild.

Recommended Varieties

Most American persimmons are native seedlings. Yet, there are numerous grafted named cultivars used in commercial orchards but these varieties are rarely available to retail customers. Some of these named cultivars are self-fertile but most produce larger crops with a pollinator. The following are some of the better named cultivars:

‘American Male’: one of the best pollinators.

‘Early Golden’: medium round fruit; early to mid-season ripening; sweet flavor; usually self-fruitful; the most commonly planted American persimmon variety.

‘John Rick’: very large round fruit; late season ripening; excellent flavor; productive.

‘Killen’: medium sized fruit; good flavor; moderately productive.

‘Meader’: medium round fruit, early ripening; sweet flavor; self-fruitful; very cold hardy.

References and External Links

  • Brill, Steve. Identifying and Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild Places. pp. 178-180. New York: Harper, 1994.
  • Creasy, Rosalind. Edible Landscaping. pp. 281-283. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2010.
  • Deane, Green. “Persimmon Provisions.” Eat the Weeds. 6 September 2016. http://www.eattheweeds.com/persimmons-pure-pucker-power-2/.
  • Krewer, Gerald. “Home Garden Persimmons.” UGA Extension (C 784). 1 January 1996. http://extension.uga.edu/publications/detail.cfm?number=C784.
  • Nardozzi, Charlie. “Persimmons.” National Gardening Association, Learning Library. 23 June 2008. http://garden.org/learn/articles/view/291/.
  • Peterson, Lee Allen. A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants: Eastern and Central North America. p. 194. New York: Hough Mifflin Harcourt, 1977.
  • Reich, Lee. Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden. pp. 97-113. Portland: Timber Press, 2004.
  • Wright, Shawn. “American Persimmon.” UK Cooperative Extension Service. September 2011. Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. Accessed 10 October 2016. http://www.uky.edu/Ag/New Crops/infosheets/persimmon.pdf.

 

 

 

October 24, 2016
by jhtalmadge
0 comments

Goji Berry

Goji Berry Plants #1

Goji Berry plants in 7-gallon containers on a stack of bulb crates


ripe goji berry fruit #2

Ripe Goji Berry fruit


goji berry flowers #3

Goji Berry flowers



Goji Berry

Lycium barbarum L. var. barbarum

Goji berries have come to prominence in the last few years as a superfood and are appearing in different forms in stores across the country. They are native to the lush hillsides of Mongolia, China and Tibet. The fruit and leaves of these plants have been used in the traditional medicine of China, Japan and Korea for thousands of years, but are just being discovered in the United States. Goji berries were first brought to North America by Chinese railroad workers who were building the transcontinental railroad in the late 1800s. Gojis go by numerous common names such as wolfberry, Chinese boxthorn, and Lycii berry. There is some botanical confusion on varieties but most of the plants and berries we see here are Lycium barbarum. There are two other varieties, Lycium chinense and Lycium halimifolium that are also grown to a much lesser extent.

Description

These woody deciduous shrubs are members of the Solanaceae or Nightshade family along with tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and tobacco. When left on their own, they will grow into large trailing mounds as large as 9-feet tall and wide. The long spindly thorny branches are full of small lanceolate leaves arranged in an alternate pattern when they are young. Their leaves will become more elliptic as the plant ages. The small, light purple, bell-shaped flowers appear in late summer and early fall. The elongated, pear-shaped to oval red berries are about ¼ inch in diameter and ½ inch long. The slightly sweet fruit are produced in waves throughout the fall and are filled with 10 to 60, small, yellow seeds similar to tomato seeds. Their roots grow deep and are fibrous.

Site Selection

Most references state that gojis prefer full sun, but my experience is different. They like afternoon shade especially in July and August in the Southeastern United States. The fruit production may be diminished slightly, but the plants are much less stressed when planted in a spot that has some afternoon shade. Try to plant them on the south or southwest side of the house so they can get at least 6 hours of sun in order to fruit. Gojis prefer a slightly alkaline, well-drained, sandy loam soil that has been amended with organic compost with a pH of 6.8 to 8.1. These plants can be grown in USDA Zones 2 to 9. They are very adaptable plants that are hardy down to -15-degrees Fahrenheit and tolerant of temperatures up to 100-degrees Fahrenheit. The plants are drought tolerant and don’t require much irrigation after being well established.

General Culture

In my experience, these plants are difficult to grow. This is another point on which I disagree with most gardening references. It has taken me four years and the loss of several plants to start to understand how to grow them. The goji berry likes a well-drained, high-alkaline soil. If you are growing your plants in a container, use a soil mix with 1/3 sand and 2/3 peat moss-based soil mix. Add some pelletized lime to raise the pH so it is more alkaline. For the best results, do a soil test through your state’s extension service.

Supposedly, gojis prefer full sun, but I have found they do best where they can have 40 to 60% afternoon shade. These plants are accustomed to growing on steep hillsides. So, if you are growing your goji berries in containers, raise them up 5 to 6 feet on a stack of bulb crates or on a stake of pallets. If you prefer to plant them in the garden, you will need to support them against a structure, on a trellis or plant them along the top of a high wall so they can drape down the wall. Space your plants 20 to 36 inches apart. Goji plants prefer low nitrogen organic fertilizers like fish emulsion or plant tonics like Superthrive. They do not like high nitrogen fertilizers. Keep your plants evenly moist, but not overly wet. Apply 1 to 2 inches of mulch to Goji berries planted in the ground to aid with water retention.

Pruning & Training

There is much that can be learned from how commercial nurseries prune and train their goji berry plants. In commercial goji berry nurseries, after the first year a primary shoot is selected to be the central leader. This central leader is supported on bamboo stakes and wire trellises. All the other lower lateral branches are pruned off to 15 inches from the ground. The soil is mounded up 3 to 4 inches around the central leader in order to develop a broader more stable root system. When the plants reach 24 inches in height, pinch out the growing tips to encourage side branching and fullness. The fruit will be born on these side branches. After the plants become well established, prune them regularly to maintain their desired height and continue to remove any branches or suckers forming lower than 15 inches from the ground. Also, prune out unproductive branches and thin out some of the branches after the fruiting season.

Pollination & Propagation

Goji berries are self-fertile so they don’t necessarily need a pollinator but may be cross pollinated by insects. They can be propagated by seed, rooted cuttings or bare root cuttings, and by harvesting suckers that come up near the older plants. Planting seeds is the easiest form of propagation. But, due to seedlings extreme genetic variability of growth rate, fruit production and winter damage susceptibility it is not the most viable propagation method. Growing them by cuttings is a far better choice.

In late spring or early summer, choose thick, 10-to 18-inch long, softwood cuttings and strip the leaves three-quarters way up the cutting. Plant them 4-to 6-inches deep in small, 4-or 5-inch pots filled with a good potting soil mix. Dip the cuttings in a rooting hormone before sticking them. During the winter, hardwood cutting may be taken. Rooting should take place in 2 to 3 weeks during the warmer time of the year and 4 to 6 weeks during the winter months. Once the cuttings are rooted, they can be fertilized with a low-nitrogen organic fertilizer. Depending on the time of year, the rooted cuttings can be slowly acclimated to the outdoors and then transplanted into a larger container that is at least 18 inches in diameter or planted in the garden.

If you chose to plant seeds, they can be harvested from dried fruit or bought online. It is relatively easy to grow goji berry plants from seeds. Plant 2 to 3 seeds ¼-inch deep in a 3” peat pot filled with a good seed-starter soil mix 6 to 8 weeks prior to the last frost date in spring. Mist them well and seal the pots in a large plastic baggie to maintain soil moisture. Remove the plastic baggie once the seeds germinate.  It usually takes 7 to 14 days for germination. Keep them consistently moist, in good light, and at 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. This will prevent the seedlings from becoming leggy.

 

 

Pest & Disease

Goji berries are not usually affected by many pest or disease problems. But, pests of the goji can include thrips, aphids, spider mites, Japanese beetles, leafhoppers, scale and whiteflies. Possible diseases are many of the same ones that attack tomatoes. The diseases that can affect include early blight, blossom end rot, and powdery mildew. In my experience, Aphids and powdery mildew have been the worst problems in recent years but, birds are by far the greatest threat to your berry harvest. So, bird netting is recommended.

Harvest & Storage

Plants bloom from June through September and the berries mature during mid-summer through October. Harvesting is done completely by hand since the berries are so easily bruised and will leak juice when damaged. The berries are usually dried or made into juice.

Culinary Uses

The semi-sweet tasting fruit of the goji have a flavor similar to tomatoes. They can be eaten fresh or dried and also made into jams or jellies. The berries can also be added to stews, soups, pork dishes, chicken dishes and vegetable dishes. The slightly bitter-tasting leaves can be used to make chicken soup and anti-oxidant rich teas or other beverages.

Nutritional Properties & Health Benefits

Goji berries are one of the most nutrient-dense plants. The fruit contains 500 times more vitamin C by weight than oranges and more beta-carotene than carrots. The dried leaves are higher in vitamin E than kale and have twice the folic acid as wheat bran. The plants contain many other nutrients including 18 amino acids, 11 essential minerals, 21 trace minerals, 5 other vitamins, proteins, and 5 fatty acids. Phytochemicals such as zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin, xanthophyll, and many polysaccharides are also present in goji berry fruit. Several other beneficial compounds have been discovered in the fruit such as the anti-cancer agent selenium and the anti-fungal/anti-bacterial agent solaveitvone.

Although only a few medical studies have been done on the health benefits of these plants, the many health benefits of goji berries are thought to include anti-oxidants that scavenge free radicals, compounds that improve eyesight, cardio-protective compounds, cholesterol lowering properties, control of diabetes, bolstering the immune system, protection of the skin from UV radiation and possibly anti-cancer activity.

Precautions

People that are allergic to plants in the Nightshade family should be cautious when consuming goji berries. Also, goji berries could interfere or interact with some pharmaceuticals such as blood thinners like warfarin, blood pressure medicine, and diabetes medications.

Summary

The majority of goji berry fruit and leaves are still produced in China, but this nutrient-rich plant is now being grown commercially in Utah, California, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. Many new Goji products have recently appeared in stores such as chocolate-covered goji berries, granola bars with goji berry pieces, Goji-leaf tea, and goji berry-flavored yogurt. Over the next ten years, we should see the goji berry become a well-known superfruit produced in America.

 

 

References & External Links

  • Rodale’s 21st Century Herbal, M.J. Balik, PhD, p. 201, Rodale, 2014.
  • Oriental Vegetables, J. Larkcom, pp. 72-73, Kodansha-America, 2008.
  • Goji Berry Culture, http://extension.psu.edu/plants/tree-fruit/news/2014/Goji-berry-culture, Penn State Extension Service, 2014.
  • Health Benefits of Goji Berry,http://organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/health-benefits-of-goji-berry-or-wolfberry.html.
  • Lycium barbarum L. matrimony vine, USDA-NRCS Database, http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=lyba4.