I am unashamedly a botanical nerd. So it is no surprise that when I see a university website link for “uncommon fruit,” I check it out. While Washington State University researchers work at developing new commercial tree fruit varieties, such as for apples and sweet cherries, the University of Wisconsin hosts a site that provides information on fruit that are “uncommon, unusual, and overlooked.”
Dale Secher of Carandale Farm in Wisconsin has spent over ten years researching these lesser known fruit crops in on-farm trials. The Carandale Farm specializes in commercial strawberry production, but in recent years they have been branching out into grapes, pears, plums, aronia, and less common fruit. In their trials they are looking at uncommon bush and tree fruit to determine their “adaptability, sustainability, and economic potential.” While these on-farm trials are not scientifically valid, they do offer some insight into the commercial potential of the fruit. Here are a few of the trialled fruit that piqued my interest.
Shipova or Bollwiger Pear: This tree is interesting because it is a cross between the common European pear (Pyrus communis) and whitebeam mountain ash (Sorbus aria), making it a rare cross between two different genera. Shipova is a hardy pyramidal tree with grayish green leaves that grows up to 15 feet tall. One Green World (www.onegreenworld.com), a mail-order company that markets fruit plants to gardeners, says it starts producing fruit within 4 to 7 years after planting. However, Carandale indicates that it might take up to 15 years before it produces a significant yield. Yet, it might be worth the wait. The apricot-sized fruit are somewhat flattened and sound delectable. They are described as “semi-solid, buttery and sweet” with a “delicate rose-like aroma.”
Fifteen years or even seven years is a long time to wait for a tree to produce fruit. ‘Baby Shipova’ offered by One Green World could help avoid that long wait. Recently rediscovered, ‘Baby Shipova’ supposedly starts producing fruit 2 to 3 years after planting, and it only grows from 6 to 8 feet tall.
Ivan’s Beauty: This is a relatively new hybrid plant bred by Russian plant breeder, Ivan Michurin. The plant is a cross between European mountain ash and chokeberry (aronia). It is an “attractive, semi-spreading,” 8- to 10-foot, very hardy tree with dark purple fruit. Carandale indicates that the fruit is less astringent (bitter) than the mountain ash but more astringent than aronia. Instead of fresh eating, it recommends using the fruit in similar ways as aronia. While the hybrid trees established and grew well in the trials, they did not produce consistent yields. This is probably because they are only partially self-fertile and might benefit from growing near another variety for cross pollination.
Bush Cherry: ‘Carmine Jewel’ bush cherry (also called dwarf sour cherry) is just one of the different fruit producing bushes that Carandale trialed on their farm. This plant is a cross between pie cherries (Prunus cerasus) and ground cherries (Prunus fruiticosa). It is the result of the University of Saskatoon’s bush cherry breeding program in Canada. The bushes grow to a height of 6 to 8 feet and produce five-eighths inch dark purplish-red fruit that are fairly sweet. ‘Carmine Jewel’ was released in 1999. Since then the Canadian program has also released its Romance series of bush cherries —including ‘Juliet’ with deep burgundy-red fruit with good flavor — that are both larger and sweeter than ‘Carmine Jewel.’
I do not know if any of these interesting fruit will do well in our region, but it might be fun for backyard growers to try give them or other uncommon fruit a try.
Marianne C. Ophardt is a retired horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.