Those of us who grew up with the old fashioned stone fruit orchards or vineyards might remember some of the traditional methods for protecting the ripening fruit from birds. Mulberry trees were grown on the corners of some orchards to keep birds well fed and less hungry for the ripe orchard fruit. Mulberry cultivars were selected to ripen just prior to the fruit within the particular orchards.
The trees were not there to produce fruit to be harvested like the fruit within the orchards was. Most, but not all of what the birds did not consume fell to the ground and rotted. Only small quantities of the overly abundant fruit was taken by a few neighbors who made jam or syrup with with it. Mulberries were a byproduct of the orchards that some put to good use just because it was available.
Decades ago, it was much easier to get a bit of fruit from neglected or naturalized fruit trees in rural regions and on roadsides without offending anyone. Isolated remnants of the old fruit orchards were common. American plum, which had been used as understock for orchard trees, had naturalized in some regions. For those daring enough to harvest them, so had Himalayan blackberry.
Even now, we can find a bit of fruit where do not expect it to be. A few plants that are grown more for their visual appeal can be surprisingly generous with their fruit production. Pineapple guava, which is now popularly grown as a simple evergreen hedge, used to be grown instead for its small tart guavas. Purple leaf plum, as it matures, may not be quite as fruitless as it is purported to be.
The difficulty with the more unfamiliar types of fruit is finding practical uses for it. The native blue elderberry makes excellent jelly or syrup, like black elderberry, but not many of us even know it is edible once cooked. Australian brush cherry, strawberry tree, English hawthorn and ‘Majestic Beauty’ Indian hawthorn, are never overly productive, but might sometimes make enough fruit for jelly.
Of course, no unfamiliar fruit or nut should be eaten prior to confirmation that it is safe for consumption.
Felton League, the Facebook group of the homeless and their friends in Felton, California, briefly mentions the source of some interesting, but typically overlooked fruits that can be found in the wild or unrefined landscapes. Blackberries, American plums and elderberries collected from rural roadsides have produced award winning jellies for the Santa Cruz Mountains Harvest Festival.
Unlike the fruit that so many of us put so much effort into growing in our home gardens, these fruits and others are productive without any help. They are commonly overlooked only because they are so easy to ignore. In some ways, they are inferior to ‘garden variety’ fruit; but they also have certain advantages. Free fruit that takes no more effort than harvesting is obviously a good thing.
The most common wild blackberries are actually Himalayan blackberries that have naturalized. Unfortunately, they do not compare well to garden variety blackberries. They are not as abundant, and are difficult to pick from the wickedly thorny and rampant canes. Blue elderberries really are native, and are just as good or maybe better than black elderberries from eastern North America.
Figs, olives, grapes, rhubarb, prickly pears, apples and various citrus can sometimes be found in abandoned or neglected landscapes. Walnut, almond and wild plum trees sometimes grow from self-sown seed. Purple leaf plum is not always as fruitless as it is purported to be. Then there are all the other ornamental plants that happen to produce fruit that is useful to those willing to try it.
For example, Australian brush cherry, English hawthorn, Indian hawthorn (‘Majestic Beauty’), strawberry tree and even common freeway iceplant all produce fruit that can be cooked into luscious jelly. Of course, no fruit, particularly unfamiliar fruit, should be eaten or experimented with until it is confirmed to be safe for consumption. Many fruits really are toxic! Also, fruit should not be harvested from where it might be illegal to do so, such as private property or parks.
NOTE: This is an old article. Felton League is no longer a group on Facebook, but is now a blog here on WordPress.