A DOZEN OTHER DELIGHTFUL BERRIES
OFFERING ENCOURAGEMENT TO COMBINE AND BUILD
In the ensuing chapter will be brought together for brief consideration the records of investigations having to do with a varied company of berries, some of them among our most familiar garden fruits, others practically unknown to anyone but the specialist. It must not be inferred that these berries lack importance because they are grouped here together instead of being given individual chapters. It is only necessary to name the currant, the gooseberry, the huckleberry and blueberry, and the cranberry as members of the list to give assurance that the fruits under consideration have considerable economic importance. But it chances that my work with these fruits, and the others listed with them for present consideration, has been somewhat less extensive than with the small fruits already described. So much remains to be told concerning the plants with which more notable developments have been achieved, that it seems best to conserve space by treating the fruits that are now under consideration somewhat summarily. It will appear, however, that the amount of work done in connection with these various fruits is by no means inconsiderable; and that in more than one instance results have been attained that would warrant more extended consideration were it not that they must be viewed in a relative scale. Let us then somewhat briefly run over the list of a number of interesting fruits that fully justify the title under which they are classified in the present chapter, yet which have associated with them no story quite so spectacular as some others that have been reviewed in recent pages. We may first recall a few less conspicuous members of the great Rubus family-the brambles. The more notable members of this remarkable family have been dealt with at length. But we cannot take leave of so notable a group without at least incidental reference to a few other members of the tribe that have shown interesting possibilities of development. One of the most interesting among these minor Rubuses is the western raspberry, a wild black species, known to the botanist as Rubus leucodermis. This plant, as its Latin name suggests, has a white stem. As to fruit, it rather closely resembles the eastern black raspberry which is a parent of our cultivated blackcap. It is a strong, vigorous grower, producing stout upright canes and berries that are unusually sweet and of a pleasing flavor. Several years ago, while in the Eel River region in Humboldt County in California, I discovered many excellent plants of this western blackcap of specially vigorous growth, and producing berries of extra size and quality. A large number of berries were gathered from the most promising plants, and their seeds carefully planted. After several years of planting and selecting, a promising berry was produced, fully as good, I think, as most eastern blackcaps and much larger than any then known. Unfortunately, the stem and backs of the leaves of the plant are covered with long, sharp prickles, and these are so annoying in cultivating or picking the fruit that it seems not worth while to introduce a plant thus handicapped. There is opportunity, however, to do away with these prickles through hybridizing and selective breeding along the lines already fully detailed in the account of the thornless blackberry in an earlier chapter of the present volume. When this has been done, the developed variety of the western blackcap will be worthy of a place in the small-fruit garden side by side with the very best varieties of raspberry under cultivation. It should be added that this species, like a number of the eastern Rubuses occasionally produces nearly white berries. These also might be developed into fruits of real merit, and doubtless will be when someone finds the time and interest to carry out the experiment of developing them along the now familiar lines outlined herein.
THE CAPE RASPBERRY
One of the strangest forms of Rubus with which I have experimented is a species that came to me from New Zealand but which had its original home in Southern Africa. This form is known as Rubus capensis, in recognition, presumably, of its having been found in the Cape region of Southern Africa. It is not confined to this region, however, as it is believed to be the same species described by Stanley as growing in various regions in the heart of the Dark Continent. The fruit borne by the Cape raspberry is of a dark mulberry color. It is of the raspberry type quite unmistakably but is larger than any other raspberry I have ever seen. The quality of the fruit is fair, and its large size makes it peculiarly attractive. The foliage of the plant is peculiar, having a curious resemblance to leaves of the grape. Indeed the resemblance is so striking that people passing it at a little distance have often asked what kind of a grape I had that grew upright like a bush. The entire plant is highly ornamental, growing about four feet in height and bearing its handsome, large, leathery leaves in profusion. The prickles on the leaves grow so close together and are of such texture that they scarcely injure the skin in handling them. The plant is not very hardy, but its other qualities make it a very desirable species for hybridizing experiments. Indeed, I know of no wild species of Rubus in the world that gives more promise of being useful. My own experiments with the plant were not carried far enough to produce particularly notable results. But the plant invites attention from anyone who is interested in the further development of our small fruits. Coming from the Southern Hemisphere, it should introduce a tendency to variability in a conspicuous degree when crossed with some of our northern species. Among other good qualities of the hybrid progeny, there should be a tendency to prolonged bearing, such as we have seen in the case of the strawberry produced by the crossing of species from the two hemispheres.
THE SALMON BERRY
Another very interesting Rubus that shows great possibility of development is the native species familiar along the Pacific Coast from Central California to Alaska known as the Salmon berry, Rubus spectabilis. This is a tall, erect bush, with stout, perennial canes. The stalks are usually sparsely clothed with weak, slender prickles, but are sometimes nearly smooth. The flowers are borne singly and in pairs on slender stalks; they are large and showy, being bright red or purple. In Humboldt and Mendocino Counties, California, I have seen this berry growing in the pastures where it became a genuine tree from twelve to fifteen feet in height, some of the stalks being two or three inches thick. It is reported sometimes to grow six inches in diameter. The cattle in the pastures browse on the plants as high as they can reach, and the berries are gathered with a stepladder or more commonly from the back of a horse. The berries themselves are large and soft, almost falling to pieces in the picking. They are unusually juicy, and with almost no acidity. There are two strongly marked varieties of Salmon berry. One has the pale yellow fruit, the other reddish, varying to dark crimson. These two varieties may be seen growing side by side, in some instances without intermingling, each individual bush producing berries of one distinct quality and color. The Salmon berry requires a damp, cool atmosphere and moist soil. When transplanted into the warm valleys it does not thrive. There chances to be a moist piece of sandy land on my Sebastopol farm, however, where it thrives fairly well. Here we have grown the Salmon berries from Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Northern Minnesota, and various parts of northern and central California for more than twenty years. Among these I have noticed considerable variation in the size and color of both fruit and flowers. My experiments, however, have not been carried out extensively, partly because of the difficulty that attends the growing of the Salmon berry in this locality. But I have gone far enough to make me confident that the fruit is worthy of further development, although I shall probably leave the task for someone who is more favorably situated geographically for the cultivation of this particular fruit.
THE JAPANESE GOLDEN MAYBERRY
We have already learned that the Rubuses are cosmopolites. The facility with which the seeds of the bramble berries of various kinds are distributed by the birds doubtless accounts in part at least for the wide migrations of the tribe, and this in turn accounts for the great range of variation among the different species. In the course of my experiments with the family, I naturally enough looked to Japan to supply material, just as in the case of so many other tribes of plants. The species that I received from there certainly did not appear to be an encouraging plant to work upon. Yet it proved susceptible of development, and well repaid the efforts bestowed upon it. The plant in question was found growing wild high up on the sides of Mt. Fujiyama in Japan. It is known botanically as the Rubus palmatus. The collector who secured it for me sent the best specimens of the fruit that he could find, and roots of the plant itself. The plants that grew from these roots bore large, white blossoms, solitary and drooping on long, slender stems swinging from the leaf axils. But the berries were a great disappointment, being small and of a dingy, yellowish, unappetizing brown color. Their flavor was as unattractive as their appearance. Knowing the possibilities that lie in the hybridization of Oriental species with their American relatives, however, I did not despair of the Mayberry, but hybridized it with the Cuthbert raspberry, a plant that proved a remarkable parent, as will be recalled, in connection with other hybridizing experiments-notably the production of the Phenomenal berry. The hybridization was effected without difficulty, and the progeny showed a tendency to rapid improvement. After a few generations, the berries were greatly enlarged, and took on a bright yellow color instead of the original dingy brown. The improvement in quality was also very appreciable. But what was perhaps most notable was the extreme earliness with which the hybrid plants fruited. It was, indeed, the early bearing habit of this Rubus that stimulated me to make the cross. It proved possible to retain and accentuate this habit while introducing the Cuthbert quality into the berries. The result was a new type of berry, as large as the Cuthbert raspberry, ripening in April, a month before the Hansell, a variety then famed for its early fruiting. Indeed the hybrid Rubus bears fruit at a time when the earliest of the standard raspberries have hardly awakened from their winter rest. This habit of early bearing combined with the unusual qualities of the berry itself seemed to justify its introduction. So it was announced to the public in 1893 as the Japanese Golden Mayberry. The bushes on which the Mayberry grows are distinct from all others of the tribe, attaining a height of six or eight feet and being almost tree-like in form. All along the branches the white, bell-shaped blossoms are pendant, soon succeeded by the large, sweet, golden, semi-translucent berries. The plants do not at first bear very heavily, but as they advance in age they produce a surprising abundance of fruit. Unfortunately the hybrid Mayberry is not hardy, and so is not adapted to the climate in many parts of the United States. It has become almost the standard berry in the Philippine Islands, and it is sure to gain popularity in any climate to which it is adapted. More recently I have given attention to improving the variety, and the developed races bear luscious fruit fully an inch and a half in diameter. The fruit is rather soft and more suitable for home use than for the market. But it is a productive and delicious berry, well worthy of introduction in all milder climates. Possibly a series of hybridizing experiments, introducing some northern species of Rubus, would result in giving the plant hardiness, in which case it should become popular everywhere. Such a line of experiment is well worth undertaking.
In marked contrast to the Mayberry in point of habitat and hardiness is the Rubus from the far North that is commonly known as the Cloudberry, or, in some regions, the bake-apple berry, and known to the botanist as the Rubus chamemorus, a name given to it more than a century and a half ago by Linnaeus. The plant inhabits the peat bogs and similar localities far to the North, even within the Arctic Circle. Like many other arctic species of plants it does not confine its habitat to a single continent but is found in northern Europe and Asia as well as in North America. The same thing is true of Arctic species of birds and animals; the obvious explanation being that it is easy to wander from one longitude to another in the regions where all longitudes merge toward a common center. On this continent the Cloudberry extends southward along the mountain ranges to Maine, on the east coast, and on the west coast to South British Columbia. The plant bears berries of the characteristic Rubus type that are more commonly flattened raspberry-shape or nearly globular, of a bright red or yellowish color, and of a pleasing acid flavor. They are highly prized in all northern countries, being among the best fruiting Rubuses of Norway, Sweden, and Alaska and Labrador in America. It was my good fortune while in Alberta, along the North Fork of the Saskatchewan River, to see this interesting northern species growing wild. The plants with their small, slender, trailing branches and rounded or almost heart-shaped leaves, were very attractive. Some of the seeds were procured for cultivation. The seeds germinated perfectly and vigorous plants developed. But, although they were placed in as damp and cold a spot as could be found on my grounds, they did not thrive in the warm, dry atmosphere of a sunny California summer. The change from the northern habitat was too great, and, although the plants lived for a year or two, no important developmental experiments were made with them. They so obviously found the conditions uncongenial that it was thought best, after a year or two, to discontinue the attempt to reconcile them to the change. Whoever considers the production of hardy varieties of raspberries, however, should bear the Cloudberry in mind. It offers obvious possibilities as a hybridizing agent to give hardiness of the most "ironclad" kind to a variety that may lack that essential quality. Possibly the Japanese Mayberry will ultimately be made adaptable to northern climates by such an infusion of new blood.
THE EVERGREEN BLACKBERRY
As further illustrating the wide range of the bramble tribe, we may refer to a species that is indigenous to the South Sea Islands, whence it was introduced into this country and Europe so long ago that there is no clear record of its coming. Indeed, the precise place of its origin is somewhat in doubt. The species referred to is the Evergreen Blackberry, Rubus lacinietus. In our northwestern states, especially in western Oregon, this blackberry is cultivated extensively. It is popular as a home berry, since it produces fruit from midsummer until late autumn. As its name implies, this is an evergreen, or nearly evergreen plant. It is a trailing bush with thick perennial canes armed with very stout recurved thorns. This blackberry was worked upon quite extensively on my place in 1890, and the following years, at the time when my chief experiments in the hybridizing of the Rubuses were at their height. Among the hybrids produced were some very curious forms, the variation in the shape of the leaves being especially remarkable. Some of the leaves resembled those of the grape, others were much dissected, like the leaves of a wild carrot. The most promising of the hybrids were produced from a cross between the Evergreen and the popular Lawton blackberry. Some selected seedlings from this cross, in the second generation, were rampant growers, thorny, with curious, handsome, palmate leaves and delicate pink blossoms. The berries ripened late in the fall. Some were rather large and possessed a superior aromatic sweet quality not found in the common summer varieties. One of these promising hybrids was mentioned in my New Creations in 1893. It was never introduced into cultivation, however, as its merits were not quite equal to those of some other varieties of different parentage. But there is no doubt in my mind that if the experiments with the Evergreen blackberry, of this or some other hybrid combination, were carried to a more advanced stage, really useful varieties would be obtained.
THE COMMON CURRANT
Notwithstanding the importance of the Rubus family, its members have by no means a monopoly among the popular small fruits of the garden. There is at least one other bush that may claim to compete with the brambles in wide range of habitat and in general popularity among gardeners. This, of course, is the familiar currant. The forebears of the currant grow wild, represented by various species in both Europe and America. The wild red species, Ribes rubruw, from which all our common cultivated red, white, and pink currants, large and small, sweet and sour, are descended, is indigenous to both continents. It has maintained its specific identity remarkably through long generations, as the close similarity of the specimens found wild in Europe and America testifies. The more common American wild species, however, in most regions is the black currant, which also has a European congener. The American black currant is a hardy plant, growing far north in Canada. It varies greatly in different regions, both in appearance and in the quality of the fruit it bears. There are other wild species and varieties without number, so that there is abundant material supplied the plant developer for work with this valuable fruit. I have experimented with a large number of varieties from different regions, and have produced some interesting anomalies. One of these was the result of hybridizing a native red species known as Ribes sanguineum. By selection and cultivation, varieties of this plant have been produced on my ground that bore flowers of brilliant colors and the largest fruit, perhaps, ever seen on a currant bush. Most of the crosses of this species were made between a form collected on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and the forms native to the regions about San Francisco. The Vancouver forms had long racemes of light crimson flowers and small bluish fruits. The coast form has larger fruits with a more resinous odor, the berries varying in color from bluish to black. My efforts with these species were mostly directed toward increasing the size of the fruit. As just stated, the results are quite noteworthy. But the experiments are still under way and the ultimate possibilities of development are yet to be revealed. My experiments in hybridizing the currant have extended to all the species and varieties that I could obtain. At times I have had five thousand currant seedlings under observation. In addition to the European and American species, I have worked extensively on varieties imported from Japan and China, and from northern Asia and Russia. I have also crossed the currant with the gooseberry, but the hybrids in this case produced no fruit. Notwithstanding the large number of experiments and their interesting results, I have not produced any new currant that was thought worthy of introduction. There is now under observation, however, a hybrid seedling from the Californian species already referred to, Ribes sanguineunl, which is several generations removed from the original, and which bears long clusters of very large blue berries with few seeds. This is the best of thousands of hybrids that I have grown, though I have produced a few really good currants of unique form and flavor, as well as a flowering currant of unusual size and beauty. All in all, my work with the currants, while substantiating and emphasizing the principles of plant development that work with other plants had made familiar, and while showing many features of interest, has not resulted in any very striking developments; largely, perhaps, because attention was diverted from this line of work to other experiments of greater immediate promise; and because the experiments were too radical, taking in so many species that so many unique characters appeared that I had not time to segregate them. If I had worked with a single species, more immediate commercial results might have been attained. Much of the work with currants was done for its aesthetic and scientific interest rather than for immediate commercial prospects.
The currant has a very close relative which vies with it in popularity, particularly in England, the familiar gooseberry. This plant, indeed, is in reality a currant that has developed or retained the habit of bearing prickles both on the stem and on the fruit itself. This is the practical distinction between the gooseberry and other varieties of currants. All the plants of this tribe belong to the same genus. There are some species in California that puzzle a botanist as to whether they should be classified as currants or gooseberries. In Europe, and particularly in England, the gooseberry has been cultivated with the greatest possible care and through selection the fruit has been brought to a very large size, superior quality, and unusual productiveness. But unfortunately the thorns have never been eliminated, except in the case of one or two inferior varieties. These were offered several years ago by an English firm, but their quality of fruit was so inferior that they have not become popular. It has already been mentioned that I was able to hybridize the gooseberry and the currant. The cross is very difficult to make, however, and in my experience the hybrids were sterile. This suggested that the two plants, notwithstanding their affinities as judged from the standpoint of the botanist, have really diverged rather widely. But there are many species of gooseberry as well as of currant, and it would doubtless be possible to find varieties of the two plants that have closer affinity. The hybridizing of these would offer interesting possibilities. I have experimented extensively with the gooseberry, as with the currant, and have produced a great number of gooseberries of superior quality; none, however, that were really notable. Some of my most interesting experiments had to do with the native species known as the Coast gooseberry, Ribes divaricatum, which grows around Tomales Bay. I have also worked with the Canyon gooseberry, Ribes menzieszi, a tall rapid-growing shrub with rather small leaves and very prickly stems. The berries of this variety resemble a chestnut burr rather than a gooseberry, the spines occupying the whole surface of the fruit. The fruit itself is excellent in flavor and is prepared for eating by being placed in hot water so as to soften the prickles, after which the pulp is easily crushed out. I have developed several partially thornless varieties of this gooseberry, and have also had partially thornless ones sent me, showing that the species tends to vary. But the seedlings from these partially thornless plants always produced thorny varieties. It is probable, however, that further experiments might reveal specimens that would drop the thorns altogether and would breed true to thornlessness just as the thornless blackberries do. This, indeed, should be the aim of the plant developer in connection with all varieties of gooseberries. The plant offers a splendid opportunity for hybridizing and careful selection. If it could be induced to shed its thorns and still bear large fine fruit, the gooseberry would gain enormously in popularity. At present there is a not unnatural prejudice against this fruit because the thorns constitute an almost intolerable nuisance, their sting being peculiarly irritating. My own experiments were carried far enough to suggest the probability of the production of thornless varieties. As to fruit, several varieties were produced that I thought superior to any previously seen. But I was not able to introduce them properly, and after keeping them several years the bushes were destroyed to make room for other plants of greater promise. Subsequently, however, I regretted this and now feel that these plants might have rewarded further experimental efforts had I been able to find time for them. Certainly the gooseberry is well worthy of greater attention, from some plant developer who works along modern lines, than it has hitherto received.
THE HUCKLEBEERY AND CRANBERRY
Another interesting tribe of plants supplies us with the familiar market fruits known as bilberries, huckleberries, blueberries, and cranberries. These berries are little grown in the garden, but remain even to this day products of the wild, although the bushes on which they grow may be taken under man's protection and given a certain encouragement in woodland or swamp. The botanist classifies the various huckleberries and cranberries in the genus Vaccinium. There are widely scattered representatives of the tribe in both hemispheres. Most of them are branching shrubs or creeping vines. A large portion of them are vigorous shrubs like the blueberry and huckleberry; whereas on the other hand the cranberry is a trailing evergreen. The varieties in the different species are so numerous as to tax the skill and patience of the botanist. The berries are produced in enormous quantities. A mass of blueberries in fruiting time may seem to spread a blue carpet throughout cleared woodlands and pastures. And as to the cranberry, I recall that in my father's meadow where these plants grew, I used to see the men rake the berries off the vines instead of picking them by hand, so profusely were they clustered. A very interesting feature of the blueberry and cranberry pastures, which I observed even as a boy, was the great variation, sometimes within the same square rod of ground, not only in the size of the berries but in their shape and quality. From the same patch, some berries would be sweet and highly flavored, others insipid and almost flavorless. But individual patches as a rule appeared to be developed from one original seedling which had suckered out in various directions just at the surface of the ground, the trailing branches rooting wherever they touched the earth. Individual groups of plants, sprung thus from one seedling, would usually show the same qualities of fruit. On my last visit to New England I selected from the old blueberry grounds some of the most productive plants, and transplanted them to the experiment farms at Sebastopol. It has often been stated that the blueberry cannot be cultivated to advantage, because it ceases to produce much fruit when removed from the wild state. My experiments did not justify this belief, as the bushes brought from the east were if anything over-productive. I have never seen plants of any kind produce a greater quantity of fruit in proportion to the weight of the plant. During the ripening season the bushes seemed to be a solid mass of berries. This over-production of fruit greatly restricted the growth of the plants themselves. By way of comparison I one season removed all the fruit from a certain number of the bushes. Relieved of the burden of fruit production, these plants made a large growth, quite outstripping the others; and the second year they produced a splendid crop. I was convinced that under proper conditions the blueberry might become profitable under cultivation in California but had not time to follow up the matter, and all were presently destroyed. The same fate awaited a collection of huckleberries, bilberries, and other blueberries of various kinds that I had gathered from British America, Oregon, Washington, and even from Norway. More recently I have received an allied plant said to be of unusual value from the mountains of Central Japan. No important results from the development of this plant have as yet materialized, however. The blueberry and huckleberry are extremely difficult to raise from seed. But if kept sufficiently moist this may be accomplished. Cranberry seedlings can be grown by washing out the seeds and sowing in a protected place or in damp sphagnum moss. The young seedlings can be transplanted like other fruiting plants, but the operation is rather delicate as with all other Vacciniums. The soil must always be virgin soil, and with hardly a trace of lime, as all Vacciniums prefer what is commonly called an acid soil. The cranberry, like most other members of the tribe, spreads by sending out runners. It can be propagated by cutting the vines into small pieces. The plant does not thrive in California except in some bogs of the northwestern part of the state. In regions to which it is adapted, however, the cranberry is a crop of considerable importance, and there appears to be a splendid opportunity for someone to conduct experiments for the development of better varieties. Mere selection from the existing varieties would probably accomplish much. And of course still further progress could be expected if the different varieties were hybridized. By such work the crop could without doubt sooner or later be doubled in quantity, the size of the berries increased, and their quality greatly improved. The most desirable characters for the plant developer to have in mind would be, first, quality of the fruit, next size and color. The vines themselves could be improved, both as to manner of growth and abundant production. Here as with other berries it would perhaps be possible to eliminate the seed, and this would obviously be of great advantage. The cranberries differ less than plants that have been more under cultivation, but they nevertheless show enough of variation to give full opportunity for selective breeding; and of course the variation could be increased by hybridizing, as with other species.
To conclude this survey of common fruits that beckon the plant developer yet which have been largely neglected. I must make brief reference to the berries of two plants that differ radically from the vines we have had under consideration inasmuch as they are trees or large shrubs rather than bushes. The plants referred to are the Mulberry and the Elderberry. The mulberry is a relative of the fig, and it bears abundantly a fruit that is distinctly suggestive of the blackberry in general appearance, but which has a characteristic flavor of its own. Although the fruit of the mulberry is not altogether neglected, yet in general the tree is raised to furnish food for the silk worm or for ornament rather than for its fruit. It is obviously difficult to gather a crop of berries distributed among the branches of tree, and this fact no doubt accounts in part at least for the failure of the mulberry to gain popularity as a fruit producer. It would be possible, however, to train the mulberry tree to a lower and more spreading growth, as it is generally propagated by grafting after the manner of orchard fruits. Indeed, that is the best way to propagate the fruiting varieties of mulberry, as it cannot be depended on to breed true from the seed. In point of fact the fruit of several of the best cultivated varieties is altogether seedless. Reference has been made in another connection to my experiments in hybridizing the mulberry with its relative the fig. Notwithstanding the lack of success of these experiments, it seems possible that further experiments along the same line might lead to interesting, and perhaps to valuable, results. As to the other berry-producing tree just mentioned, the elder, the possibilities of fruit development are even more inviting. The common European elder, Sambucus nigra, has developed into a number of handsome ornamental varieties, most of which are offered by the American nurserymen. Our native eastern species, the Sambucus Canadensis, the commen elder of the eastern United States, has also developed several forms; and there is a California species, S. glauca, that shows a like tendency to variation, both as to size of tree and size and quality of fruit. The berries of the elder are borne in large clusters, sometimes in enormous profusion, so that the bushes fairly break under their weight. The fruit is generally bluish black, with a very thick white bloom. A curious anomaly is sometimes shown by another European or Asiatic species, S. racemosa, a variety of which grows in various parts of northern California and northward along the Pacific coast. This sometimes makes a large, rambling, tree-like bush, and the singularity in question consists in the fact that some of the bushes bear berries of a brilliant yellow color and others reddish purple or almost black berries. The bushes intermingle almost indiscriminately, yet there is no intermingling of the different berries on the same bush. Each plant bears exclusively berries of one color or the other. I have experimented extensively in the improvement of the berries of the different elders and these experiments are still under way. My experiments began with the planting of seeds of the Mexican elder, which bore berries of medium or small size and of black color. Some of the plants that grew from these seeds produced, much to my surprise, berries yellowish-white in color. Observing this tendency to variation, I at once surmised that improvements might be made in almost any direction with a plant that showed this tendency. So more seedlings were raised, and selection was made according to my usual method. From the best of these seedlings many plants were produced that bore berries of a yellowish white or sometimes grayish color. While the berries were bitter, like elderberries in general, I noted that some were less bitter than others. Moreover, there was a diversity in size, and a great variation as to productivity. A few of the trees bore a constant crop all summer, blooming and bearing fruit throughout the season and well into winter. This was another unusual break in the traditions of the family and one that seemed to offer pleasing possibilities. The experiment has continued along the lines of further crossing and selection. A few seasons ago I had from twenty-five to thirty thousand elder plants in bearing. From these the best, to the number of about seventy-five, were selected. And the trees of the generation now under observation bear really delicious berries, without a trace of bitterness. Some are quite sweet, others acid. The best of them are an astonishing improvement over any elderberries I had ever seen before. They make pies of excellent quality. The berries are grown in abundant clusters and they are individually of the size of small currants. When dried they turn a light golden color, like the whitest of the white raisins. In flavor they can hardly be distinguished from the best raisins, though so notably different in size. The progress already attained makes it certain that we shall soon be able to educate this elder to a condition that will make it highly acceptable as a productive fruit, especially for arid regions. The elder grows readily from cuttings and will thrive in dry climates. I have under way also a series of hybridizing experiments in which the different elders, notably the progeny of the Mexican elder, and the California species already referred to, Sambucus clauga, and the hardy Dakota elders are combined. To produce still further variation and facilitate progress, I have also crossed the new elder with species from Ariozna, one of which is a very large tree for an elder. From a second generation cross I got probably one individual in forty that bore black berries, but from the third generation not a single one out of several thousands was black. I secured, however, one that bore berries of a gray or mulberry color and two or three having a tendency to a mixed color. All the rest were white or amber. It will appear, then, that a race of elders has thus been produced that bears fruit of an attractive white or amber color and of such quality as to commend it highly, as a substitute for other berries, in regions where the garden fruits in general do not thrive. Moreover, there is every probability that the experiments now under way will result ultimately in the development of varieties of elder of such improved quality as to make a valuable addition to the orchard even in competition with the most popular fruits. The elderberry has qualities of its own that will commend it strongly. If for no other reason, the fact of its development on a tree or large shrub gives it peculiar attractiveness. The vine-like growth of many bearers of small fruit, notably the raspberries and blackberries, necessitates methods of cultivating, with perpetual pruning that many horticulturists find irksome. The elder shrub can take its place in the fruit orchard along with the trees that bear apples, or plums, or peaches, requiring no special treatment or attention, and constituting a permanent acquisition for the fruit grower.
-There are opportunities in the by-paths of plant improvement, opportunities untold, which call out for patient specialized effort, and which will well repay the investment of that effort.
This text is from: Luther Burbank: his methods and discoveries and their practical application. Volume 6 Chapter 5