Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Features

February 24, 2014

Grow native fruits

Native plants offer fruit, beauty

(Continued)

Juneberry (Amerlanchier spp.), also known as serviceberry or shadblow, is a native tree more often planted as an ornamental than for its fruit. Early spring brings clouds of white or reddish blossoms; fall ignites the leaves in purples, oranges, and yellows; and the plants continue to earn their keep through winter with neat form and striped, gray bark.

The fruits look like blueberries but have a unique flavor that is sweet and juicy, with the richness of sweet cherries and a hint of almond.

FRUIT BUSHES GO NATIVE

If you are looking for a native, fruiting bush rather than a tree, you might again turn to juneberry. Bushy juneberries have the same qualities as the trees do, except that they are more multi-stemmed and shrubby.

And speaking of fruits that look like blueberries, let's segue over to the real thing. Blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum and V. asheii) would undoubtedly be planted as ornamentals if they were not so valued for their fruits. Clusters of blossoms dangle from the stems like dainty, white bells in spring, and the leaves turn a fiery red in autumn.

The secret to success with blueberries is a soil low in fertility, rich in humus and very acidic.

A blueberry relative also ideal as a native fruit is lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea). This half-foot-high plant sports evergreen leaves as lustrous as those of holly and as dainty as mouse ears.

In spring and again in summer, flowers dangle from lingonberry stems like rosy white urns. Lingonberry requires the same soil conditions as blueberry, and in fact grows well in a bed with lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium).

Both spread to create an edible groundcover; they are as happy together in a garden bed as their fruits are in a jar of jam.

Perhaps the star performer among native plants offering beauty and good flavor is a relatively unknown currant, the clove currant (Ribes odoratum). At the turn of the 19th century, it was a common dooryard shrub whose large, yellow flowers would waft spicy fragrance indoors.

Clove currant is a tough plant, able to laugh off drought, heat and cold, as well as insects and diseases, deer and birds. The shiny, blue-black berries are aromatic, fairly large and have a sweet-tart flavor.

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