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  • Nan Mccarry

Edibles at Watermark!

I’ve been wanting to write a post on this topic of edible plants found at Watermark Woods for some time, and I was spurred on by this book that we recently got in at our bookshop.

Of course, most of the plants we sell at Watermark Woods are edibles —they feed insects, birds, and many other wildlife! In addition, however, some of our plants are edible by human animals as well  As an

ethnobotanist, interested in the intersection of plants and people, and especially in agricultural systems, I enjoy finding things at Watermark that I can bring into my garden as edibles for me as well as wildlife.

Many of you will be familiar with some of the trees and shrubs that we can bring into the home landscape and enjoy: pawpaws (Asimina tribloba) and persimmons (Diospyros virginiana). With both, for best fruit production, you’d want to get more than one – pawpaws, because, though they can self-fertilize, it’s said that you get the best fruit production when they cross-fertilize with another individual; and persimmons because they are dioecious, meaning there are male and female individuals. With males, you’ll get flowers, but no fruit. You’ll also get the most fruiting when you plant these in the sun. Persimmons are of course very astringent until they are very ripe, as seems to be the case with a lot of species who have a more tropical distribution (with persimmons and pawpaws, the species that grow in this region are the most northern representatives of their genera). It’s a myth that they need frost to ripen, but you do need to wait until they are falling-off-the-tree ripe, which is in the Fall.

Blueberries, both highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum) and lowbush (V. angustifolium) are also popular. Blueberries were only domesticated as a crop a little over a century ago, and you can get a nice crop of blueberries from individuals that we sell. The lowbush type produces tiny berries, and the highbush produces berries like those you’d buy in the grocery store. The nice thing about blueberries is they seem to have very few pests. Another easy fruit to grow, and just as delicious as blueberry, is serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) There are several species, but the last time I asked a tree expert about which was which, she said that they were so mixed up taxonomically that I shouldn’t worry about which ones I chose! Some will grow as shrubs and some as trees. Serviceberries come in early summer and also are easy to grow—the one caveat being that if you also have red cedars, Juniperus virginiana, as I do, then you may get the cedar-apple rust on some of your berries. It won’t harm the tree or shrub, but you’ll get fewer edible fruits. Amelanchier is in the Rose family, as are the apples, and the rust seems to affect everything in that large family.

Elderberries (Sambucus spp.) are another popular fruit found at Watermark Woods. They are not edible right off the shrub, as the seeds have cyanide in them. but must be collected and processed, as they are here by my hard-working husband. He makes jelly from them, and of course many people make wine from them or use the elderflower in similar ways. Elderberries, as a pioneer or early-successional species, are very easy to grow, and in fact you’ll soon have many clones and seedlings. It’s a great way to reclaim some open areas and the flowers and fruit are stunning to look at. After a couple of years, you need to hack them way back so that you can continue to get fruit that you can reach.

Check back for an ongoing series on Edibles at Watermark Woods!

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