6 Native Plant Agricultural Fruit Crops

Native Plant Agriculture (NPA) is the implementing of edible native plants as the basis of a primarily perennial agricultural system that mimics native plant communities in format. The goal of NPA is to expand native vegetation back into agricultural land to support a significant level of biodiversity while improving human-food productivity for a changing climate and growing population.

Photo Credit of the choke cherry fruits goes to Abe Loyd, see his blog on processing chokecherry here: http://arcadianabe.blogspot.com/2012/10/chokecherry-from-dry-side-of-mountain.html

Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)- a spring blooming native thicket species naturally occurring in grasslands, savannas, and other open habitats. A traditional preparation for chokecherry involves sun drying pulverized seed/fruits which allows a toxin in the seeds to break down under UV exposure forming a highly nutritious tart-sweet fruit leather. This is the best use for the fruit because it turns the fruit-crop into a fruit/seed crop maximizing the yield of the plant. Chokecherries and Wild Plum species are part of the Prunus genus that collectively supports over 450 native moth/butterfly species as host plants. Both Wild Plums and Chokecherries supporting newly emerging native bees in the spring time in open habitats that are generally lacking with spring time blooms in the herbaceous layer.

Chickasaw Wild Plum (Prunus angustifolia)- Chickasaw Wild Plums range from tart-sweet, to sweet-tart, to straight sweet depending on the colony. Like Prunus americana and Prunus hortulana, they naturally occur in high water table-wetland habitats as well as grasslands and savanna habitats. Most Wild Plum species reach a height of 15 to 20 feet tall by 15 to 20 feet wide in maturity. Prunus angustifolia is primarily in the southern half of Eastern U.S. while Prunus hortulana is centered in the midwest around Missouri, and Prunus americana is nearly nationally native. All of these wild plum species support spring emerging native bees and other pollinators that rely in them as one of the first sources nectar/pollen. The flowers are heavily fragrant and can sensed upwards of 40 feet away.

Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)- a summer blooming, vigorous native herbaceous vine primarily pollinated by carpenter bees. Like with many native fruits, on their first try most people don't eat them when they're ripe. When ripe the inside will be full of juicy off-colored clear-ish pulp sacs that contain seeds, as is pictured center-bottom. The pulp sacs are designed to be swallowed whole by mammals with the seeds inside, so that the seeds pass through the digestive system and deposited elsewhere. The pods themselves have no flavor of their own, but are edible too if cooked. The pulp tastes like a fruit version of Capri Sun and are used to flavor ice cream, sorbet, sherbet, candy, and drinks. This plant naturally occurs in open habitats such as grasslands/fields, savannas, and wetlands.

Common Wild Plum (Prunus americana)- In our regional experience Prunus americana has the largest variability of flavors from peachy to tangerine-like or more typical plum flavor with a combination of Sweet, Sweet-Tart, Tart-Sweet, or sometimes straight-Tart (Bears love them all though!). We're most excited about cultivating Prunus americana because of its high flavor variability and potential for producing unique wild plum fruits for Native Plant Agriculture. Prunus americana is the most wildly ranging Wild Plum species and because of this other species are often labeled Prunus americana but are really one of the other 8+ Wild Plum species of the U.S. In general, all Wild Plum species require at least 5 direct hours of sunlight to thrive, and as with most fruiting trees, the more sun - the more productive they are.

PawPaw (Asimina triloba)- a savanna/woodland/forest thicket species that is becoming more well known in the eastern half of the U.S. Pawpaws create colonies of small trees that require multiple genetically distinct (non-colonial) trees to produce fruit. Many cultivars and much information is available about PawPaw so we'll keep this short; they are a PH generalist species that occurs in acidic as well as alkaline soil, and to grow in full-sun they require at least moderate soil moisture. These can be largely productive when grown in full-sun, wild flavors are variable and many cultivars have been selected from wild colonies based on unique fruit production. While PawPaws are one of the favorites of humans; insect wise their vegetation is utilized by few for the same reasons beavers prefer not to fell them and deer prefer not to graze them - defensive toxins throughout the vegetation.

Quapaw Wild Plum (Prunus hortulana)- is one of the many native wild plum thicket species of Southern, Midwestern, and Eastern America. Wild Plums may only be the size of large Cherries or a bit bigger than cherries, but their flavor and nutritional content is much more concentrated than store bought plums or cherries. Wild plums provide 91 calories per 100 grams and register a measurement of 76% water. Grocery store bought plums provide only 45 calories and are 87% water per 100 grams so they may be bigger, but they are more watery and less flavor dense and nutrient dense. Not only do wild plums offer twice the energy concentration (calories), they offer 5 to 10 times as many vitamins and minerals compared to our grocery store plums. In our regions we observe that Prunus hortulana has more consistent flavors from colony to colony where as Prunus americana is larger range of flavor possibilities.

Native Plant Agriculture Webpage: http://indigescapes.com/npa

We'll be publishing a paperback book: "The Potential of Native Plant Agriculture" Winter of 2019. To learn more about Native Plant Agriculture and/or sign up for our newsletter to be notified of the book see our website link here: http://indigescapes.com/npa

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