If you have a need for something tart or unusual, Saskatoons (Juneberries), elderberries, lingonberries, and aronia are among the less widely cultivated native berries you can try growing yourself.
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.
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).
Contributing editor Barbara Pleasant gardens in southwest Virginia, where she grows vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers and a few lucky chickens. Contact Barbara by visiting her website or finding her on Google+.
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