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Growing Saskatoons, Elderberries, and Other Less Common Native Berries

If you have a need for something tart or unusual, Saskatoons (Juneberries), elderberries, and aronia are among the less widely cultivated native berries.

| June/July 2009

  • native berries - saskatoons
    Resembling blueberries, saskatoons are native berries of the northern plains.

  • native berries - saskatoons

Cultivated blueberries are descended from native species, but in the northern plains the “blueberry” of choice is the saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia), or Juneberry. The fine-flavored "Thiessen" variety can produce more than 10 pounds of fruit per bush; most selections will bear 6 to 7 pounds at maturity. But like many native plants, saskatoons are picky about site, preferring soil high in organic matter on a gentle northeastern slope. On the plus side, saskatoons aren’t picky about pH (anything near neutral will do), and the fruits contain more vitamin C than other blueberries.

Two more native berries — elderberries and aronia (black chokecherry) — are too tart for snacks, but they’re great for making nutrient-rich juice or prize-winning wines. Aronia wines have won international competitions. Elderberries produce a rich, dark red wine that’s thought to carry the restorative health benefits of make-you-pucker elderberry juice. (Learn more about wine making.)

If these berries won’t fill your yard, there are still more tart berries to explore, for example cranberries (if you have a moist, acidic site) and lingonberries, a good edible ornamental ground cover for partial shade in cold climates. Lingonberries’ need for acidic soil restricts their spread, but some non-native berries run a high risk of becoming out-of-control. Birds eat the berries and drop the seeds everywhere. For this reason, pump up your yard with trusted and/or native fruits before trying goumi (Elaeagnus multiflora), honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea), and other recent imports with eerily close genetic ties to known invasive species.

More Information on Less Common Native Berries

Find less common native berry seeds and plants with our Seed and Plant Finder.

To learn how to use blueberries in your home landscape, check out the new book Landscaping with Fruit by Lee Reich (Tower, 2009).

See also:

Sue Bockelman
12/22/2018 12:35:03 PM

I grow Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea), Western Sandcherry (Prunus besseyi) and Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) as well as Gooseberries, Blackberries, Marionberries, Loganberries, Raspberries, Strawberries and 2 kinds of Currants in my yard in north Idaho. They all grow well with the Chokeberry and the Honeyberry on the north side of the house. Note - Chokecherry is Prunus melanocarpa, which also does well but gets very large and suckers terribly. I'll be adding Lingonberries next year. They all are producing well and I've made tons of jellies, jams, syrups, salad dressing, BBQ sauce, leather, butters and applesauce. Though the birds really love the honeyberries and strawberries. I also have a number of fruit trees and am planning to try Hawthorn (Crataegus) next year. Any recipes for those?

6/15/2011 3:56:28 PM

I grow honeyberries (Russian honeysuckle), and I despise the invasive honeysuckles that grow in my Maryland yard, yanking them up whenever I see one sprouting. Yet my Russian honeyberries have never seeded themselves, or at least I have never seen a "baby" version of it when I make my rounds. My children love the berries, and the bushes are low enough that they can eat directly off them. They also are heat, humidity and drought tolerant and are the first ones to flower and fruit in the spring. As the East Coast gets hotter and drier, and the droughts get longer and more difficult to manage, I applaud bushes that can survive without needing artificial means to keep them alive, and that provide my children with a fun snack.

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