SOME INEDIBLE FRUITS WHICH MAY BE TRANSFORMED
EVEN THE ACRID BARBERRY IS CHANGING
We have had occasion more than once to call attention to the extraordinary importance of the Rose family in its relations with man, and in particular to the wonderful value of the great genus Rubus. The family gives us an astonishing proportion of our cultivated fruits and berries, in addition to a great variety of our most beautiful flowers. The apple, peach, plum, cherry, quince, pear, loquat, apricot, among orchard fruits, and the blackberry, raspberry, dewberry, Salmonberry, Cloudberry and strawberry, among small fruits, are all representatives of the same tribe. Moreover, there are several minor fruits that claim membership in the family to which reference has not hitherto been made, but some of which will be introduced in the present chapter. Any plant that has membership in the family must be regarded as having possibilites of development. It was perhaps largely a matter of chance that the fruits we have mentioned came under man's tutorage at an early date and thus were developed to their present status. Some other members of the family, such as the hawthorne, the mountain ash, the wineberry, the Juneberry, the thimbleberry, and the bridal rose, have failed to be taken under man's protection and hence have not had their fruiting possibilities developed. But some at least of these are well worthy of consideration, and from among them there will doubtless be developed sooner or later many new varieties of fruit that will be considered valuable acquisitions. We shall be by no means confined, however, in the present chapter to the consideration of members of the wonderful rose family. We have already seen that there are other families having members that bear admirable fruits, even though no single family shows so long a roll of important members. We shall now have our attention called to yet another coterie of fruit bearers of which good things may be expected. Some of these are familiar natives or plants that have become acclimated in this country, others are foreigners known only to the specialist. The fact that at least one or two of them are known as bearers of interesting or beautiful flowers and have been cultivated for ornamental purposes adds interest, and makes the outlook for the development of their neglected fruiting possibilities seem still more enticing. It should perhaps be added that a few of the fruits to be referred to here are not absolutely inedible even in their present state. But no one of them is to be compared with our standard orchard and garden fruits. At most they show promise of development; and, indeed, it is their lack of present quality combined with their promise of adaptability that makes them peculiarly attractive. Almost any one of the potential fruit bearers about to be named offers inviting opportunities for the fruit developer. And some of them are so readily accessible and so responsive to efforts made in their behalf as to make particular appeal to the amateur.
IMPROVING THE BARBERRY
Those who have seen the common barberry with its beautiful, holly-like, green leaves and abundance of blossoms in the early spring, and who have also noted the attractive crimson fruit it bears in the fall, will readily understand why I undertook to improve this shrub with particular reference to making its fruit attractive to the palate as well as to the eye. This is a member of a rather large company of plants that combine decorative appearance with the capacity to bear valuable fruit. But it is well known that the possibilities of the barberry in the latter regard have never been developed beyond the initial stages. Beautiful as the fruit is, it is altogether inedible (except when it is utilized for jelly) or was at the time when my experiments with the plant began. When I say that my work with the barberry was taken up more than twenty-five years ago, and that I have not as yet produced a variety that seemed worthy of introduction as a fruit producer, it will be understood that this plant is not among those that are responsive to the efforts of the plant developer. It should be explained, however, that the work with the barberries, although it has involved the growing of thousands of seedlings of various species, has been carried out purely along the lines of selection, without the aid of hybridizing. It is almost certain that crossing the different species would have resulted in carrying the work forward more rapidly. But the pressure of other work has kept me from undertaking this, and I have been content to select the best specimens of the various species, generation after generation, up to the present time, and thus to advance somewhat slowly, although on the whole rather surely, preparatory to getting improved varieties of each species for crossing. The most promising of the barberries from the standpoint of the fruit grower is probably the common species familiar in many regions as a hedge plant and known botanically as Berberis vulgaris. The genus has many other species, however, and the fact that these tend to vary indicates to the plant breeder that they have inherent possibilities of improvement. In the course of this work I have imported other species of barberries from South America, British Columbia, Asia, Europe, and Northern Africa. Some of these have proved of value, but the most important advance has been made by the progeny of the common barberry. During the course of the twenty-five years of experience with this plant, I have been able by persistent selection to facilitate the development of a fruit much larger than that of the parent form, far better flavored, and with a greatly reduced proportion of seed. The fruit has not changed very markedly in appearance but is produced much more abundantly. It has all along been noticed that when seeds are planted there is a marked tendency on the part of most of the progeny to revert toward the wild state rather than to go forward, according to man's interpretation of progress. So it is only the exceptional plant that can be saved with any prospect of producing valuable fruit. Nevertheless, as already noted, there has been marked progress and it is always to be remembered that such progress tends to be cumulative and that there may come a time when the plant may vary suddenly and give opportunity for much more rapid development, a critical point having been reached by previous generations of culture. It is probable that the final development through which the barberry is made to bear a really valuable fruit will come about through hybridizing the familiar species with somewhat different relatives from other lands. Material for such hybridizations are now in hand, as I have large quantities of seedlings of six or seven different species. Two of these species came from the Patagonia and Chili regions. One is a plant called Berberis biixifolia, and known to the natives as Calafate. Like many of the barberries the plants are quite thorny. The berry is blue-black in color and the natives of Chili use it to make a liquor said not to be unlike gin. In addition to this foreigner and a Russian species which produces black fruit, there are several native species that may perhaps be advantageously brought into the cross when the hybridizing experiments are undertaken. These include the two western barberries (Berberis repeizs and Berberis acrifolia), sometimes classified as a subspecies called Mahonia, and colloquially sometimes called Oregon grapes, because of the clusters of bluish-black fruit. These are both handsome dwarf evergreen shrubs abundant from British America to Central California, also in Colorado. There is also a purple-leaved variety, otherwise not unlike the common barberry, and there are varieties with variegated white or yellow leaves and varieties bearing white, yellow, and black fruit in striking contrast to the red fruit of the common species. Moreover there are varieties that bear fruit that is altogether seedless. All in all, then, there is opportunity for such blending of racial characteristics as should give the hybrid barberries an impetus to variation, and afford opportunity for rapid development. My experiments in selection may be regarded as constituting pioneer work, and as affording material for the hybridizing experiments through which the plant may be perfected as a fruit bearer. Already the fruit has been made large and of better flavor, and the seeds have been minimized. With the aid of crosses of the species named, and also, probably, with the introduction of the racial strains of a wild species of western Texas, Utah, and Mexico (Berberis fremonti), which I now have under culture, and which sometimes bears fruit of exceptional size and superior quality, though not as abundantly as most other species, it should be possible to produce a new race of barberries that will be a valuable addition to the rather meager list of small fruits.
IMPROVING THE ELAEAGNUS
During the early years of my work in California I kept in close touch with all the importations made from Japan by the H. H. Berger Co., of San Francisco, and others. From them I received, among other plants, a curious fruit-bearing plant from Japan, known in its native country as the Goumi Berry, and classified by botanists as Elaeagqnus longipes. No other importation of a member of this genus had hitherto been made, so I viewed the plant with particular interest, and was especially struck with the seeming possibilities of improving its fruit. The Elaeagnus longipes bears flowers of a bright, brownish-yellow color, subject to a good deal of variation. The fruit is a berry of varying shades of crimson, rarely changing to yellow. The flavor of the fruit is far from inviting. After one has tasted five or six of the berries, one is scarcely abler to describe the flavor or to decide whether others have any desirable quality. The astringency of the fruit is so great as nearly to obliterate one's sense of taste after two or three have been tested. Perhaps it should be noted that the tasting of fruit for the purpose of testing its quality becomes a rather unwelcome task for the fruit developer even when the fruits under consideration are plums or peaches or other orchard fruits of the finest quality. Visitors have often assured me that they would consider it a very great privilege to test different fruits by the hour. But such an offer only showed their inexperience. No one cares for fruit after he has eaten a certain quantity, and the necessity of tasting one kind after another becomes for the fruit developer who operates on a large scale a highly distasteful task. If this is true when fruits of fine quality are in question, it must obviously be doubly true of undeveloped fruits like the Goumi Berry, the eating of which gives nothing but discomfort from the outset. But it is equally obvious that no progress can be made unless the fruits are constantly tested in order to select the best for the continuance of the experiment. And as there is no known substitute for the human palate in making such selection, the tasting of fruits must be regarded as an unavoidable part of the plant developer's every day work. In the case of the Goumi Berry, my efforts at selective breeding have been rewarded by the notable progress of the plant, first in the elimination of the thorns, and secondly, in the improvement of the fruit. Here and there I have found a seedling, the fruit of which is pleasant to the taste, and by selection through successive generations a variety of Elaeagnus has been produced that gives great promise of eventually growing a fruit of real value. My experience with the genus has included tests of five species, all imported from the Orient bearing the specific names of Elaeagnus augustifolia, E. umbellata, E. pungens, and E. argentea, in addition to the original E. longipes. There are three closely related plants also belonging to the Oleaster natives of North America, these being, E. canadensis (sometimes called Shepherdia canadensis), E. argentea, the buffalo berry (sometimes called Shepherdia argentea), and E. argentea, the silver berry of the far west; all somewhat similar plants in general appearance, but quite different from the Elaeagnus of the eastern hemisphere. The seeds should be treated like those of the pear removed from the fruit when fresh, thoroughly washed, and kept fairly moist until planting time. The seedlings grow rather slowly at first, but offer no particular difficulties. I have made various attempts to cross the different species, but thus far without success, chiefly because the plants bloom at widely different seasons. Up to the present, therefore, the improvement has all been due to selection and to crossing within the species. After many years of selection my stock has finally been reduced to a single plant, a large bush bearing most abundantly each season. The fruits are large and of very good quality. Indeed, the improvement has been so marked that it is not unlikely that this variety, when it has been more fully tested, will be introduced. It has certain attractive qualities that seem to make it worthy of a place in the fruit garden. The best varieties of the American Elaeagnus, especially the buffalo berry and the silver berry, are well worthy of cultivation, and extremely promising for work, being enormous bearers of pleasant-flavored, currant-like fruit, which in the wild state is often collected for making jellies, and is far better in quality than the goumi berry of Japan, although very much smaller. The best of all these species bear fruit in astounding quantities. The crossing of the best varieties of the American and the Asiatic Elaeagnus gives as good promise of important results as any fruits that I can mention.
A UNIQUE CHINESE FRUIT WITH GREEN FLESH
Another importation from the Orient that seems pretty certain to be welcomed here, is a plant indigenous to China, belonging to the genus Actinidia, known to the natives as the mao-li-dzi. The English interpretation of this word is said to be something like "Hairy Plum." As described by a missionary from whom I received the seeds of the plant, the Hairy Plum grows as a vine, and has a fruit with bright green flesh, containing seeds not unlike those of the strawberry, and with a thin brown skin covered with a downy coat like that of the peach. The fruit is said to resemble the strawberry in taste. It is described as delicious when raw, and also as very good when cooked. My informant further states that the seeds are obtained from a plant growing in the mountains at an altitude of about five thousand feet. He declares that the fruit is popular, and that efforts have been made to induce the Chinese to make a business of growing it, but that hitherto it has been necessary to depend entirely upon plants growing wild in the mountains. The vine clambers over the underbrush on the mountainside like a grapevine. It is, of course, very hardy. One of the attractive features of plants of this tribe is the ease with which they may be propagated. Not only can they be grown readily front seed, usually producing new varieties, but they grow also from soft or hard wood cuttings, from tip cuttings, or by layering. When a new variety is produced of the desired type, it can be multiplied indefinitely by dividing any part of the plant into sections and placing these under conditions suitable for growth. Some of the plants of the genus are true climbers. Most of them, however, trail upon the ground, usually hugging it closely. Those that climb are valuable for covering screens, arbors, walls, and low buildings. The trailers are valuable for decorative purposes and quite often for their fruits. In Corea and Manchuria the long, slender vines of Actinidia polygima (the species with which my experiment began) are used for cordage. Other species are used in the manufacture of paper. My first introduction to the genus was through a number of large plants of Actinidia polygirna received in 1904 from an American miner in Corea. The seeds already referred to were received five years later. The first fruit buds appeared on the plants in 1912. But different species vary as to the age at which fruiting begins. Some species fruit in the first year from the seed. The ones under my observation have fruited too recently to enable me to do more than observe their attractive qualities, and form a general opinion as to the possibility of improving them. I have, however, after testing fruit from a number of species, selected an extremely hardy, rugged variety from the high mountains of Western China that bears a really delicious fruit. The vine may be grown as readily as the grape, and its improved varieties promise to be a very valuable addition to the list of American fruits. Its full possibilities of development, however, can be judged only after more extended observations.
IMPROVING THE MYRTLES
More familiar exotics, some representatives of which have so long been under observation in America that they seem almost like natives, are the various members of the myrtle family. These are curiously divergent. Some of them are small trailing vines, yet the family includes also the gigantic Eucalyptus trees that grow to such immense size in Australia and California. True myrtles are mostly natives of the Southern hemisphere. There are representatives of the tribe, however, that thrive in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of our own hemisphere, among these being the plants that grow the fruit known as the Guava. The species of myrtle that chiefly concerns us in the present connection is a tender shrub with slender branches, known as the common myrtle, and classified by botanists as Myrtus communes. There are numerous varieties of the shrub, some of them bearing white or yellow or variegated leaves. The tendency to produce these variegated leaves may exist; as a latent characteristic in the green-leaved variety. I have grown a beautiful variegated variety from the seed of the ordinary green myrtle. As a rule the progeny of the "sport" thus produced tends to revert to the original type. And in point of fact it is observed that all plants with variegated foliage have a very strong tendency to produce green-leaved seedlings. The fruit of the common myrtle is small, black, and hardly edible. I have imported many species and varieties from Chili and Patagonia, however, which, although appearing very much like the common myrtle, bear fruit quite different in appearance, being pink, white or yellow. The individual berries are usually as large as huckleberries, sometimes considerably larger, and have delightful aromas and flavors. Some of these new fruiting myrtles will grow on very dry ground; others require soil that is constantly moist. At three or four years some of the trees of the Chilian and Patagonian species are used for timber, and grow to a height of twelve or fifteen feet, with a breadth of ten feet. The branches often droop gracefully like those of the weeping willow, and are heavily loaded with oval, small, glossy green leaves. These are not the fruiting species, which grow to a height of two to four feet, and sometimes of equal breadth. Another species that bears fruit when quite young, sometimes even in the second year, has been received from South America, and is identified as Alyrtus ugni. This plant bears a curious resemblance to the gooseberry, except that it has no thorns. Its berry is a glossy purple, sometimes slightly hairy, growing in compact drooping racemes like the currant. Some of the berries are of excellent flavor, others woody or filled with seeds. Several thousand of the best seedlings from these exotic myrtles are now growing on my place, and there are indications that some among them will almost certainly prove of value as fruiting plants for general culture. All of them appear to be hardy enough to stand the climate of the central United States. It is to be expected that hybridizing experiments will further improve the fruit. The material is now in hand for such experiments.
SOME NEGLECTED RELATIVES OF THE RASPBERRY
Not to leave the field entirely to exotics, we must note that there are several members of the great Rubus family, closely related to our cultivated raspberries and blackberries, that grow at our very door, so to speak, yet which have been hitherto neglected or given slight aid in the development of the latent fruiting possibilities we may confidently expect in most members of this family. Among these are plants of a group represented in the eastern United States by the Flowering Raspberry, Ruibus odoratus; in the central region by Rubus deliciosis of Colorado, and along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Southern California by the Thimble Berry, Rubus nutkanus. The eastern species is a handsome plant with deep, pink flowers that make it suitable for ornament. The Thimble Berry grows among the weeds of the lower hills and valleys, sometimes climbing high up the mountain slope, and in Southern California seldom venturing below an altitude of five thousand feet. No other shrub on the Pacific Coast exhibits a more pleasing effect than a broad expanse of the soft, delicate, green foliage of the Thimble Berry. Its large, white flowers, flat, button-shaped red berries, and sweet, resinous, woody fragrance add to its attractiveness. The flowers of the Thimble Berry are not so large as those of its eastern relative, but their delicate, pure white petals scattered among the large, pale green leaves, add to the beauty of the banks of foliage that overshadow the other forest flowers, The thin, button-shaped berries are often of a brilliant red, though sometimes paler, but are extremely soft so that they can be picked with difficulty. The fruit, though edible, is of little value, being somewhat acid, and lacking flavor. Yet the aristocratic lineage of the plant makes it seem probable that its fruit may be susceptible of development. I have attempted to cross the Thimble Berry with nearly all cultivated varieties of raspberry and blackberry, but have never succeeded in effecting hybridization, unless this has been effected in some hybrid seedlings of last season, which from the foliage would appear to have resulted from a cross. The Rubus deliciosus, the Colorado species is similar to the eastern one in most respects, except that the blossoms are white. All three species are almost thornless; the Colorado species practically wholly thornless, though the fruit of none of them is of any value. The hardiness of the Thimble Berry and its trailing habit suggest interesting and unexpected possibilities for its fruit, if a cross could be effected that would introduce the lacking elements of size and texture and flavor. Other Rubuses that seem worthy of attention are the Bridal-rose, Rubus rosaeflorus, and the Wine-berry, Rubus thoenicolasius, both natives of Japan and China. The former is a double-flowering plant, often cultivated for its flowers. It thrives well in California in cool, shady places. The double-flowering varieties, in my experience, do not fruit, but there is a closely related form that produces single flowers that mature fruit of an inferior quality. The Wine-berry was introduced into America about twenty years ago by Mr. John Lewis Childs. As an ornamental plant it is quite promising. But its fruit, in its present state, is of no value. The bright, cherry-red or sometimes salmon-colored berries are usually small and soft, slightly acid and insipid. But the strong, graceful, recurving branches and the large ample leaves, with their white under surfaces, make the Wine-berry a beautiful and attractive shrub. And although the experiments that have been made with it on my farms have not suggested great promise as to fruit production, yet I wish to state that the experiments were not conducted extensively, nor for a long period, and do not regard them as conclusive. Pending further investigation, the wine-berry must be regarded as possibly presenting opportunities for the development of a new fruit-bearing Rubus. Conceivably the attempt to hybridize this species and the Bridal-rose or the ordinary raspberries might lead to interesting results.
Among other plants with undeveloped fruiting possibilities are some shrubs of the heath family (Ericaceae), relatives of the rhododendrons among flowering shrubs and the huckleberry among fruit bearers. Of these the best known is the form of Arbutus called the Strawberry tree. This is commonly grown both in Europe and America, and considerably prized as an ornamental shrub. It is a small shrub, varying a good deal in size, but commonly growing to the height of about six feet. It bears berries that vary in size and color, but which in general are red, suggesting the common name given the shrub. There are several other species of Arbutus, among them some of the most beautiful trees and shrubs for the adornment of lawns. One of the most prized species is the California form known as the Madrona, which sometimes grows to a height of about one hundred feet, and which bears ovate leathery leaves not unlike those of the Magnolia. This tree is quite hardy, even in the mountains of California, its native home, and its leaves, blossoms and fruit are ornamental and attractive. The blossoms grow in clusters, sometimes erect and sometimes drooping. They are white in color, and very fragrant. The berries, orange or scarlet in color, somewhat resemble those of the Unedo or Strawberry tree, but the clusters are more numerous and smaller. A singular thing with regard to both of these forms of Arbutus is that blossoms and ripe fruit may be seen on the tree at the same time. In this respect the Arbutus resembles the orange tree. I have often thought that a handsome tree could be produced by crossing the Unedo or Strawberry tree with the Madrona, and I have no reason to doubt that the cross could be made. I regard the Arbutus as a promising tree for experimentation. My own experiments with the shrub have been confined to the raising of seedlings for ornamental purposes. I observed that the Strawberry tree, like the Madrona, varies in size and sometimes in shape and color of leaves and fruit. I am confident, therefore, that by special cultivation and selection the Strawberry tree might be improved and made to bear a very fragrant and luscious fruit. Various members of the genus are available, and there is good prospect that experiments in selective breeding, with or without hybridization, would reward the experimenter. Two other shrubs that give good promise are the Hawthorn and the Mountain Ash. The Hawthorn in particular is an extremely valuable shrub, and gives very great promise of the production of improved varieties of fruit through selective breeding. The Mountain Ash is usually raised for the beauty of its fruit. I have made experiments in selective breeding with this plant, and have greatly improved the size and beauty of the clusters of fruit. With the Hawthorn also I have made some interesting experiments, but there is fine opportunity for other workers in this field. Indeed, the work of developing this fruit has made only the barest beginnings. I would especially emphasize the fact that there are peculiarly inviting opportunities open to the amateur in connection with this familiar but almost totally neglected plant. The hawthorns are hardy shrubs or small trees, of vigorous growth. There are about seventy species available for hybridizing experiments, and some of them already bear fruit that seems fairly to beckon the would-be developer. Doubtless the original apple-the progenitor of all modern varieties-was no better than the best of the present native hawthorns. Who will give us a new race of fruits to compete with the apple, through bringing out the only half-hidden qualities of this responsive shrub?
-Largely by chance, certain plants have come under the tutorage of man, and thus have been brought about the familiar fruits of our orchards, vineyards and berry patches; who can predict the surprises which the orchards and vineyards and berry patches of the next generation will reveal?
This text is from: Luther Burbank: his methods and discoveries and their practical application. Volume 6 Chapter 8