Here are overviews of the plants we’ve got in the park.
Apples are the official State Fruit of New York and they’re wildly popular in Ithaca as well- chances are you’ve been to the Apple Harvest Festival that’s held downtown every October. Apples grow best when there are several different varieties growing in an area that can pollinate one another.
Chenango Strawberry Apple- Malus domestica
This apple gets its name from its conical, strawberry-like shape. They are also easily distinguished by their red and yellow striped skin. Chenango Strawberry Apple trees are semi dwarves, meaning that they will grow to be 12 to 15 feet tall. They begin to bear fruit after 2-5 years. The fruit is crisp and juicy with a sweet taste.
Enterprise Apple- Malus domestica
These easy-to-grow apples are known for their hardiness. They are resistant to most diseases and blights, and they can withstand both cold winters and hot summers. The fruits themselves will keep for about a month after being picked. Their sweet and slightly tart flavor makes them perfect for baking in crisps and pies.
Liberty Apple- Malus domestica
Another low-maintenance variety, Liberty Apple trees are even more blight and disease resistant than Enterprises. These apples have the classic “red with yellow/green highlights” look. In terms of flavor they’ve got slightly more bite to them than Enterprises, making them very versatile. As well as being perfect apples to eat fresh, Liberty apples are used by many orchards to make some of their sweeter ciders.
Apple (unknown variety)- Malus domestica
We have one apple tree in the park that came to us without a label, but we’re hoping to identify it as it continues to grow over the next couple years. If you are an apple expert come take a look and tell us what you think!
Mekong Giant Banana- Musa intinerans var
You may be surprised to hear that a banana plant can grow comfortably in our climate! This cold-hardy banana variety from China can grow up to 40 feet tall in gentler temperatures, but in our climate it’ll still grow to a healthy 6-15 feet each year before dying back in the winter. The fruit is purple when ripe.
Thornless Blackberry- Rubus canadensis
Also known as “Smooth Blackberry” because in addition to the thornless stems, the leaves are smooth and hairless as well. These resilient bushes are known for being some of the first plants to grow after a fire. They also do well in other barren places, making them the perfect plant to begin creating living ecosystems in human-inhabited areas. They spread in dense thickets, providing a great habitat for small birds to safely nest.
Black Eyed Susan- Rudbeckia hirta
Black Eyed Susans may not be edible, but they do offer an excellent example of the diversity of roles involved in any permaculture project. These flowers provide a beautiful ground cover that stifles weeds while providing food for birds such as chickadees and goldfinches that eat pest insects. They also attract helpful pollinators such as bees and butterflies.
Ecos Cactus- Opuntia
This hearty cactus produces a dark red fruit that tastes like a combination of strawberry and watermelon with the texture of aloe vera. It is high in vitamins and minerals such as calcium and magnesium. Many people choose to just scoop out the fruit’s pulp and eat it. If you decide you want to use the fruit’s skin, make sure you remove all of the spines- they are small and hard to deal with if you get stuck with one.
American Hybrid Chestnut- Castanea x dentata
One of the most common trees (and ubiquitous snacks) of early American history, chestnut populations in North America were decimated when a blight was introduced in the early 1900s. Now, scientists and researchers have been working to create a blight-resistant chestnut through hybridization. This article provides more information on the quest to revive the American Chestnut: http://www.americanforests.org/magazine/article/revival-of-the-american-chestnut/
Chive- Allium schoenoprasum
Chives are an herb in the onion family that can be chopped up and used to season a variety of different dishes. Their flavor is similar to that of an onion but slightly lighter and sweeter. The small amount of sulfur that chives produce is useful for warding off pest insects, but their attractive flowers make sure that helpful pollinators aren’t driven away.
Currants are berries that grow on shrubs of similar size or a bit smaller than blueberry bushes. The currants that grow in the park are two of the more disease-resistant varieties. Black currants, which we don’t have, are a little less resilient and also have a less palatable flavor.
Red Currant- Ribes rubrum
White Currant- Ribes rubrum
White currants are actually the albino form of the red currant that’s been bred for its’ flavor. It maintains all the tartness of the red currant while exhibiting added sweetness. These currants are used more for eating raw than for food prep, but they’re a main ingredient in some fancy jellies such as Bar-le-duc and they can also be used to make wine.
Common Daylily- Hemerocallis fulva
A plant with edible flowers and buds. Daylilies are popular in permaculture projects because their tendency to spread thickly makes them a great “edge plant.” A clump of daylilies provides a barrier between a planting bed and the grass outside of it, helping to keep out weeds. The buds can be cooked along with other foods or fried on their own. The flowers are mainly used as a garnish in soups, but they’re edible on their own as well.
Dill- Antheum graveolens
Dill is a biennial herb that reseeds itself, so when it’s planted it can be counted on to stay in an area for several years. The leaves (commonly called “dill weed”) can be used fresh or dried to add flavor to pickles, fish, potato salad, and soups. Beyond its edible uses, dill is a great plant for permaculture design because its flowers attract pollinators as well as pest-regulating insects such as hover flies.
Kousa Dogwood- Cornus kousa
This variety of dogwood tree will grow 25-40 feet tall and grows a versatile and interesting fruit. The berries have a similar texture to a pear or a persimmon and taste like an apple. Although the skin is edible, many choose to remove it as it is quite bitter. These fruits are mainly eaten raw in order to avoid cooking away the delicate flavor. Kousa dogwoods fruit throughout the fall so prepare to wait until August for these.
Echinacea- Echinacea purpurea
Echinacea, otherwise known as purple coneflower, is an herb that is known for boosting the immune system. The whole plant is edible, and the leaves, flowers, and roots can be used to make a nutritious and tasty tea. These drought-resistant flowers like to grow in the sun, so we’ve got them planted out away from trees and other taller plants in the park in order to make sure they get all the light they need.
It is important to be careful with elderberries as they can be mildly poisonous in certain situations and can cause nausea and vomiting if consumed without care. They can be very rewarding fruits when used correctly, however, and their complex root systems and ability to provide habitats for birds mean that elderberries are useful plants for permaculture design even without taking their edible features into account.
Blue Elderberry- Sambucus caerulea
Blue elderberries are safely edible once ripe, at which point they will take on a blue or purple color. Do not eat them if they are still red. However, blue elderberries are prototypical permaculture plants and have a multitude of uses if care is taken. When ripe, the berries are great for eating raw, or making jam, wine, pies, or even syrup. The flowers are edible and can be eaten raw, fried in batter, made into tea, or added to pancake batter for a tasty breakfast.
Red Elderberry- Sambucus racemosa
Unlike blue elderberries, red elderberries must be prepared before being consumed. They cause vomiting if eaten unprocessed. However, you’ve got several appealing options for processing them. They are a popular base for jams, and they can also be used to make wine or particularly tasty schnapps. Red elderberries also work well as a dye.
Gooseberries grow on bushes and are members of the same plant family as currants. The branches have sharp but easily visible spines, so avoiding them is something to be aware of but shouldn’t pose a problem. The fruit itself is edible both fresh or cooked in deserts, but if a berry is picked before it’s ripe it will taste sour and be better served for cooking. Gooseberries are also known for their use as flavoring in homemade beverages.
Pixwell Gooseberry- Ribes hirtellum ‘Pixwell’
This drought-resistant variety of gooseberry fruits in its second year. The berries ripen to a bright pink color. Pixwell gooseberries are known for growing much smaller and less abundant thorns than other varieties. They require very little maintenance and fruit heavily.
Gooseberry (unknown variety)- Ribes uva-crispa
Red Gem Goumi- Elaeagnus multiflora
This large shrub is notable both for its nutritious fruit and beautiful flowers. The plant itself is about the size of a dwarf fruit tree, eventually growing to 8-10 feet in height. The fruit, which has a taste that falls somewhere between a cherry and a persimmon, is high in antioxidants and vitamins A, C, and E. Unripe fruit can contain a fair number of seeds; to avoid this you can wait longer for it to ripen before picking or simply dry the fruit. The flowers smell like lilacs and bloom from spring to midsummer.
Precocious Hazelnut- Corylus americana x avellana
This hazelnut variety has been selected for its disease resistance, larger nut size, and thinner shell. It will bear fruit within 3-4 years after planting. Hazelnuts can be cracked and eaten raw, roasted, or ground into a paste- this is what Nutella is made out of.
Blue False Indigo- Baptisia australis
Originally named for its use as a substitute for real indigo dye, this flower is not edible. However, it still plays a crucial role in permaculture design as one of the few nitrogen fixing plants native to our region. In addition to nutrifying the soil with atmospheric nitrogen, these striking flowers are also useful as an edge plant to keep weeds out of planting beds.
Jostaberry- Ribes x nidigrolaria
The jostaberry is a three-way hybrid of black currant, North American coastal gooseberry, and European gooseberry. It combines several of its’ parents most favorable traits: the gooseberries’ appearance, the currant’s thornlessness, and a flavor superior to all three. The hybridization also makes jostaberries more disease resistant. For culinary purposes, these versatile berries can be used similarly to blueberries, cranberries, or grapes. They’re great for baking in pies or crumbles, processed as jams or jellies; made into wine or liqueurs; or mixed into ice cream, yogurt, cereal, or oatmeal.
Jujubes are shade trees which grow to between 20 and 40 feet high. When ripe, the fruit combines the taste and consistency of an apple with the purplish wrinkled look of a date, and indeed they are also commonly known as “Chinese dates.” It also has a stone in the center similar to that of an olive. In many parts of the world plain or simply prepared jujubes are ubiquitous snacks. In addition to being eaten raw or dried and candied, jujubes can be used to make several other things: tea, juice, vinegar for pickling, and wine. Be careful with them, though: fresh jujubes will only keep for about 3-5 days so make sure you do something with them before they go bad! The two types of jujubes we have are companion varieties that have been shown to pollinate each other well.
Lang Jujube- Ziziphus jujuba
Although they appear similar, the lang jujube is distinguishable for fruiting about a month before the li. It also has a slightly more “upright” shape than the li, which tends to balloon out a little. Lang jujubes have attained their full flavor when they’re visibly ripe.
Li Jujube- Ziziphus jujuba
Although it may fruit a month later than the lang jujube, the li has the advantage of tasting good before it’s fully ripe- no need to wait on this one. These jujubes can be picked and eaten when they are still yellowish green.
Lovage- Levisticum officinale
Lovage is an edible perennial plant that grows 6-8 feet tall and has a wide variety of uses. The leaves make great salad greens and are also often used in soups. The root has a taste similar to celery and it can be used the same ways as other root crops like carrots or turnips. The seeds can be collected from the flowers and used as a spice. Lovage is also notable as a great base for tea or cordials.
Russell’s Hybrid Lupine- Lupinus x russellii hort
These flowers are the result of pioneering horniculturalist George Russell’s work in the early 20th century. Over several decades he hand selected only the best specimens to cultivate and weeded out the rest in a quest to create the perfect lupine. What he’s left us with is a beautiful, bi-colored flower that has a multitude of uses for permaculture design. As the lupine is a legume, it’s useful for nitrogen fixation, and it also attracts pollinators and beneficial insects in addition to providing good ground cover.
White Mulberry- Morus alba
White mulberries are known for being slightly tarter than other varieties, but still quite refreshing. They’re commonly used to make tea, pie, and tarts. The trees themselves grow to be between 40 and 60 feet tall and are known to produce a lot of pollen, making them a plant to steer clear of if you’ve got bad allergies.
Green Bunching Onion- Allium fistulosum
These onions do not form bulbs, instead growing white stalks underground that can be harvested and used as a garnish or in salads, or stir-fried. They are common in many Japanese dishes such as tempura.
Pawpaw trees bear some of the larger and more exotic fruit in our garden. The fruits’ flesh has a similar consistency to soft ice cream and tastes like a combination of a banana, mango, and pineapple. In terms of ripeness, pawpaws are also analogous to bananas: green ones are underripe, yellow ones are ripe, and dark brown ones are overripe. The riper a paw paw is, the sweeter it’ll taste. Be careful, though- an unripe pawpaw is actually mildly poisonous and will make you vomit if eaten. Pawpaws developed this adaptation to avoid animals eating the fruit before it ripens and the seeds are ready to be distributed. These toxins, also stored in the branches of the pawpaw tree, are currently being studied for potential medicinal use combatting several forms of cancer. The trees attract many butterflies, including the rare and beautiful Zebra Swallowtail, of which they are the sole host.
Allegheny Paw Paw- Asimina triloba
Allegheny Pawpaw trees bear fruit after 2-3 years, and eventually grow up to 15 feet tall. Allegheny pawpaws are smaller than some other varieties, but compensate by ripening earlier and producing more individual fruits per tree. They are also known for their superior flavor.
Shenandoah Paw Paw- Asimina triloba
This well-balanced pawpaw offers a midpoint between the Susquehanna and Allegheny varieties. The flavor is milder yet universally appealing and the seller we got these from claimed that this was their most popular variety.
Susquehanna Paw Paw- Asimina triloba
Persimmon (unknown variety)- Diospyros virginiana
Over the course of the growing season hopefully we’ll be able to see what variety our two little persimmon plants are. Persimmons are tree-growing fruits that, like tomatoes, are technically berries even though they’re not commonly thought of as such. The fruit can be anywhere between a half inch to four inches in diameter depending on variety. The overall appearance varies- color ranges from pale orange to deep orange-red, and the shape can be anywhere from an acorn to a pumpkin. The fruit is incredibly sweet, but it is a little tricky to harvest because unripe persimmons of most varieties are quite astringent. This article explains how to pick a ripe one: http://www.motherearthnews.com/homesteading-and-livestock/persimmons-zmaz70sozgoe.aspx#axzz35YLUT1Cj
Satsuma Plum- Prunus salicina
This sweet, meaty variety is one of the most popularly planted plums. Satsuma are sometimes known as “blood plums” for their juicy red flesh. Although it’s one of the sweeter varieties of plum, it’s still tart enough to be great for cooking and canning. The trees themselves grow to be 15-25 feet tall and produce lots of dramatic white flowers.
Lemony Quince- Chaenomeles lagenaria
These small plants produce pear-shaped fruits that taste like less juicy lemons. The fruit is great for making jams, jellies, and puddings as it is very high in pectin. It can also be eaten in a variety of other creative ways, such as dicing a quince and adding the cubes to applesauce, yogurt, or oatmeal for flavoring. Lemony quince plants themselves are small, topping out at about three feet tall, but grow lots of beautiful orange and pink flowers.
Red Raspberry- Rubus idaeus
These versatile bushes grow equally well in full sun or in the shade of taller trees in a forest environment. As anyone with a raspberry patch will tell you, they sprout runners prodigiously, so each season the new “canes” can be planted in a new bed or given away. These canes have small thorns and grow to about 4 feet in height. The fruit is wonderful for eating fresh or preserved as jam, frozen, juiced, or dried.
Dwarf Sandcherry- Prunus pumila
A cherry variety that grows well without much water. The “dwarf” classification means that it will grow to be between 8 and 10 feet tall. This tree needs full sun in order to produce fruit, which can be a bit tart for some people’s tastes but sweetens when cooked.
Serviceberries, or Juneberries, can grow on bushes or trees. The fruit can be eaten fresh or cooked; it tastes great in muffins or ice cream. The berries can also be dehydrated like raisins or juiced and either used straight or made into wine. They only fruit for about two weeks, however, so make sure to pick them as soon as you see them ripening!
Allegheny Serviceberry- Amelanchier laevis
The Allegheny variety is the tree form, and it grows to be about 30 feet tall. In the spring, its white flowers are a great source of nectar for the area’s pollinators. The fruit grows throughout the summer and ripens to a dark purple color. These sweet berries can be eaten fresh off the tree and are also popular in pies, jams, and jellies.
Canadian Serviceberry- Amelanchier laevis
The Canadian serviceberry is a large shrub which will grow to 6-20 feet tall at maturity. It has a long lifespan relative to similar plants and its deep roots and cold-resistant nature (hardy to -33 degrees fahrenheit) makes it an ideal foundation plant for gardens in our area. The fruit is purple when ripe and the flavor is similar to a slightly almond-y blueberry.
Strawberry- Fragaria x ananassa
These versatile plants are tolerant of most growing conditions but vulnerable to slugs. Luckily we haven’t had any problems with these pests in the park so far. If we do, though, there are several ways to to deter slugs: putting a layer of straw around the plants to physically get in the slugs way, catching them in saucers of beer, bringing in garden snails (which eat slug eggs,) and many more.