10 Feb A Superfruit You May Not Know About
Last Saturday, I was thrilled to speak to a large group at the CT Horticultural Society’s Winter Symposium. My talk focused on Plants with a Purpose, a theme that you will see woven into absolutely everything we will be doing this year at Natureworks. I discussed the ecological functions of plants, inspired by the teachings in the book The Living Landscape by two of my favorite authors: Rick Darke and Doug Tallamy. Ecological functions include food for birds, nesting/shelter sites for wildlife, pollinator plants, larval and nectar food plants for butterflies, nectar plants for hummingbirds, plants that stop erosion, plants that feed the soil… you get the picture.
My final category was plants that serve MULTIPLE purposes. Elderberries topped the list, as they have a very healthy fruit, beloved by birds and humans alike. Their flowers are edible, medicinal, and provide nectar for pollinators and beneficial insects. Their stems have a soft, pithy exterior and are used by tunnel nesting native bees to lay their eggs over the winter.
The OTHER native shrub that I focused on that has multiple ecological benefits is one that you may not be as familiar with: Aronia melanocarpa, black chokeberry. For years, I have sold mainly the red berried form of Aronia as the fruit is so showy, it is easy to sell in the fall. Having seen a large stand of black chokeberry growing wild on one of the Thimble Islands, I was intrigued. We started stocking this plant and, much to my surprise, my staff displayed it with the rest of the fruiting plants. And people bought it because they knew something I wasn’t yet aware of: this plant produced a fruit that has more antioxidants than elderberries! I went to the local health food store to buy a bottle of my regular organic morning juice blend, and lo and behold, there was Aronia juice on the shelves.
This plant is also a great habitat plant, forming a thicket that will shelter the birds, provide a home for wildlife in the winter, and offer fruit to the birds (if you don’t pick it first). The lesson learned is that when you are trying to decide what to plant in your yard this year, keep the ecological contribution of the plant in mind. And always consider edible landscaping as a way to increase the food you grow while also making your yard a lot prettier.