Many years ago (while still in high school) I worked at a local garden center. One day, a man came in and said he wanted the most unusual shaped fruit trees we had. I happily showed him where to find the trees and we selected the castoffs that the other shoppers overlooked while choosing their perfectly shaped fruit trees.
The memory of this unique shopper sticks with me to this day. I walked away from our tree selecting adventure with a deeper appreciation for diversity, if only from a visual perspective in this case.
I value this shoppers ideals and now find myself following in his footsteps, in my own way. My unique combination of ornamental landscape design education, permaculture design certificate, and love for herbal medicine puts me in a design category of my own. Why continue to create the same underused landscapes that surround most American homes when I can create something truly unique and highly valuable in a multitude of ways?
Today I will share 7 unusual fruiting plants for your home garden, so that you can opt for a unique and highly valuable landscape, as well. I chose several plants that are hardy in USDA Zones 3 and 4, for those of us in colder climates ; )
1 - Medlar, Mespilus germanica (USDA Zone 4)
What: Medlar is a small tree that is popular in many parts of Europe. It grows to 8-10 feet in height and has long, dark green leaves and white flowers in spring.
How: Grow medlars in full to part sun and well-drained soil. It is self-fertile so does not need another tree for cross-pollination.
Harvest: Medlars typically begin bearing fruit in the second year. The fruit is a reddish-brown color and ripens in mid- to late-October. The fruit is ripe when it becomes dark and soft to the touch. The fruit has a flavor of spiced applesauce. When mature, each tree will produce about 20 pounds of fruit.
2 - Fruiting Quince, Cydonia oblonga (USDA Zone 5)
What: Quince is an uncommon fruit tree that has a spreading habit. It grows to 10-15 feet in height. The leaves are deep green, oblong, fuzzy underneath, and turn yellow in the fall. The flowers bloom in spring and are about 2" across and are white or pale pink. Prune any suckers to keep your quince as a tree form.
How: Quince trees like part to full sun and nearly any type of soil. They are self-fertile.
Harvest: Quince fruit ripens in September to October and is bright yellow, large, sweet, and fragrant. It is high in vitamin C and is often used for preserves and baked goods. Each mature tree will produce about 100 pounds of fruit. Combine quince fruit with apples for sauce or pies, or make it into chutney, jelly, or paste.
3 - Goumi, Elaeagnus multiflora (USDA Zone 4)
What: Goumi is a shrub that is native to the far East of Russia, Japan, and China. It grows to about 6' tall and has silvery green leaves and white flowers in spring, which the bees love.
How: Grow in full or part sun and well-drained soil. Goumi shrubs are partially self-fertile, but planting two varieties will result in a larger crop of fruit.
Harvest: Goumi fruit is red and speckled with silver. It ripens in July and can be eaten fresh or made into preserves.
4 - Rugosa Rose, Rosa rugosa (USDA Zone 3)
What: Rugosa Rose is a tough plant that will adapt well to most any site. It grows 4-5' tall and has lovely purplish-red flowers, dark green glossy leaves, and large red fruit.
How: Plant Rugosa Rose in part to full sun and either a wet or dry location - it really is a very tough plant.
Harvest: The red fruit, or rose hips, of Rugosa Rose are larger than most roses. Harvest them for jam or jelly that is high in Vitamin C. Rose hips may also be coarsely chopped and dried for tea. I always add dried rose hips to our tea in the winter to help fight off the common cold.
5 - Sea Berry, Hippophae rhamnoides (USDA Zone 3)
What: Sea Berry, also known as Sea Buckthorn, is a multipurpose shrub. It looks great in the landscape, produces fruit, and improves the soil. Sea Berry grow up to 6-12 feet tall. It is a common plant in Eastern Europe, Russia, and China.
How: Sea Berry likes part to full sun and well-drained soil. A male and female plant are required for fruit production. If you have the space for several plants, make sure you plant one male plant for every eight female plants. Sea Berries have large thorns on the branches, which can be used to your advantage as a living barrier in the landscape. They may also sucker, which is a good thing in the right spot. To keep your plant contained, just prune back the suckers.
Harvest: The orange fruit ripens anywhere from July to September, depending on the variety. Each mature plant will produce about 30 pounds of fruit per year. Use the berries fresh (or freeze for later) to make juice and preserves. Dilute the fruit juice with up to 70% water. According to Michael Judd in his book "Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist", Sea Berry fruit contains 14 essential vitamins, anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, omega's 3, 6, 7, and 9, and so much more.
6 - Arctic Beauty Kiwi, Actinidia kolomikta (USDA Zone 3)
What: Native to eastern Russia, this super hardy kiwi vine will grow even in zone 3! The leaves are green, white, and pink in the spring and make an attractive landscape plant.
How: Arctic Beauty likes partial shade and can even be grown on the north side of a fence, arbor, or trellis. It grows 10-12 feet wide/tall and will bear fruit in 1-2 years. Plant a male and female for cross-pollination. One male plant will pollinate up to 8 female plants.
Harvest: The fruit ripens in August to September, depending on the variety. It is fuzzless and can be eaten just like grapes. Enjoy the fruit fresh or make it into preserves.
7 - Magnolia Vine, Schisandra chinensis (USDA Zone 3)
What: Another plant that's native to the far east of Russia and Northern China, Magnolia Vine is both beautiful and edible. It has clusters of fragrant white magnolia-like flowers.
How: Grow Magnolia Vines in part to deep shade in well-drained soil with regular moisture and mulch with an acidic mulch, such as pine needles or oak leaves. Magnolia Vine will grow to 30' wide/tall. Plant a male and female vine for cross-pollination and fruit production.
Harvest: The deep red berries ripen in mid-summer and can be eaten raw, juiced, or made into preserves. Dry the leaves, shoots, and roots for tea.
I'd love to hear from you! What unusual fruit are you growing in your garden? What will you grow in the future?
Resources: One Green World (printed catalog), The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping by Rosalind Creasy, Eat Your Yard! Edible trees, shrubs, vines, herbs and flowers for your landscape by Nan K. Chase, Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist by Michael Judd, and https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/vines/schisandra/schisandra-magnolia-vines.htm
* Please note that USDA Zone recommendations vary from one source to another. For example, one source stated USDA Zone 4 for Medlar and another source said USDA Zone 6 for the same plant. Before planting, do research on what will grow well in your specific location.