By cultivating these native plants on your property, you can feed wildlife and enjoy the fruits of your labor during holiday meals and other times
11-07-2012 // By Janet Marinelli
IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE a Thanksgiving meal in New England without the traditional dollop of cranberry sauce. For many southerners, holiday celebrations would be incomplete without a bowl of warm persimmon pudding. We may not think of these fruits as being as “American as apple pie,” but in fact both were flourishing on this continent long before early European settlers imported the first apples to our shores. Cranberries, persimmons and other native fruits are among the true American originals. They’re also the epitome of “locally grown.”
As we increasingly strive to feed ourselves sustainably, there’s no better place to start than with homegrown native fruits—from blueberries in Maine and scuppernongs in North Carolina to red raspberries in California. We wouldn’t be the only ones to reap the benefits—wildlife love to feast on these fruits, too.
Ten American Originals
Following are 10 American originals you can grow in your garden come next spring and then enjoy the fruits of your labor during holiday meals and other times. Now is a good time to begin making plans. To be certain you are not introducing a plant that might be invasive in your area, look for species that are native to your region. Keep in mind that the cultivated varieties available at local nurseries are not necessarily the best choice—their fruits may be bigger, but they’re often less tasty than the native species and may be less attractive to wildlife.
Serviceberries: Some species of serviceberry—also known as Juneberry, shadbush or Saskatoon—is native to every contiguous U.S. state and Canadian province. The large shrubs or small trees feature delicate white flowers on bare branches in spring that provide nectar for insects emerging from winter nests. The small, purple fruits help sustain grosbeaks, thrushes and many other birds during the breeding season. If you can get to them before the birds, the uniquely flavored berries can be used to make jam or pie.
American Persimmons: Native from Connecticut to Iowa and Kansas south to Florida and Texas, American persimmon trees produce ornamental, purplish-orange fruits that hang on leafless branches in autumn. Before they ripen, the fruits are guaranteed to make your mouth pucker. But when ripe, they taste a lot like dates. Wild persimmons are an important fall and winter food for many mammals, and the trees are a larval host plant for the luna moth.
Pawpaws: Producing the largest edible fruit of any North American native plant, pawpaw shrubs or small trees range from New York to Iowa and south from Florida to Texas. Up to 6 inches long and shaped similar to potatoes, the fruits turn yellow and black when ripe in the fall. They have a custardlike consistency and taste like a combination of mango, banana and pineapple. Birds and certain mammals feed on the fruits, and the trees are the host plant of zebra swallowtail butterflies.
Elderberries: These shrubs produce pyramidal or flat-topped flower clusters that can be as big a Frisbee. Native throughout much of the United States and Canada, they are pollinator magnets. The flowers eventually sprout into clusters of small red or dark purple berries that are gobbled up by birds and mammals. Though inedible to us when raw, cooked elderberries make a tangy pie, wine or jelly.
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