Wild Fruit Trees: a Joy for All
It’s birdsong that makes a country breakfast on the balcony or patio truly idyllic. The best way to attract them and other animals is a stand of wild fruit trees. Bearing blossoms in springtime and fruit in summer and fall, they’re lovely to look at and also provide protection and food for native animals. The harvest is for homeowners, too – provided the robins, thrushes, finches, and starlings leave something leftover.
There are a number of wild fruit trees that are both decorative and play a key role in the local environmental scene. They’re robust woody plants well suited to many locations in the yard, either standing alone as a focal point or in combination with a blooming hedge.
The sweet fruits of the Serviceberry
Eating wild fruit has lost popularity over the years. The juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii), for example, is today primarily known for its luminous white, springtime flowers and vivid fall coloring. In earlier days, however, this multiply trunked tree was cultivated for its fruit, blue-black berries that can be made into a sweet marmelade that has a hint of marzipan flavor, or dried, a method that has lead some to call juneberry the raisin tree (not to be confused with the Japanese raisin tree). Red cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is in demand for naturopathic uses – it is said to contain fever-reducing components. The fruits are sour, but can work well as jelly, preserves, juice, or liqueur. The ‘Jolico’ variety is particularly good for this and it has larger fruits that make harvesting easier. The delicate, golden yellow blossoms bloom as early as February, depending on location. When it’s part of a hedge, cornelian cherry will barely produce, so give it its own spot for a rich harvest.
Blackthorn provides food for a variety of birds
Somewhat less friendly in appearance is the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), an unwieldy shrub with thorns that can very literally keep people at a distance. That said, its ivory flowers are an important source of food for many insects, including butterflies. The round, blue fruit ripens in fall and tastes sour and astringent. When left on the branches til frost, the chill will break down some of the fruits’ bitter tannins. To reach that point, however, you’ll have to compete with about 20 varieties of bird that covet this stone fruit. One tree with a good reputation is the common sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). Because of its high content of vitamin C, it’s also known as the orange of the north. These egg-shaped berries are an eye-catching red-orange color and remain on the branches for a long time. The shrub has an undeserved reputation for being difficult. In fact, it thrives in just about every soil – it simply can’t tolerate shade.
Sea buckthorn is a food source for birds, as is elderberry (Sambucus nigra), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia), and wild cherry (Prunus avium).
Best to plant in fall
Wild fruit trees, like other woody plants, are best planted in fall. This will give them time to develop roots before the frost comes and thereby ensure that they’ll bud well in the following spring.