Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens) is the new Blueberry / Huckleberry
Recently there has been a well intentioned and admirable movement toward planting edible plants in local landscapes. Although there are certain segments of the landscape / green trades who have been promoting this as a 'new' concept, we (Wright Nursery and as Bow Point Nursery) have been involved with the idea of edible landscapes for over 25 years - yes, we have been around the block a few times.
In that desire to plant / design edible landscapes, some of the less informed designers and landscapers have focused on planting blueberries - an excellent, tasty and fantastic fruit. Unfortunately - there are issues with the plants provided by the mainstream nursery / garden centres - these plants are not hardy to the eastern slope transition zone. Yes - you are shocked that a garden centre would sell you a plant that will not survive - actually it is a good business model - keep buying new plants annually.
If we look objectively at where the blueberry (or huckleberry) grow on the eastern slope of the Rockies, they tend to be into the montane ecoregion. Look a little deeper and follow the pattern of moisture and snowfall and you will (or should) come to the realization that snow falls in the early part of the winter - long before the deep cold of winter sets in - thus insulating the ground. The roots of the blueberry (Genus vaccinium) do not freeze. We lived in a small mountain town in the middle of the Little Belt Mountains in Montana - we were in deep snow / montane country. One spring, we decided to get an early start on our garden, we dug down through three feet of snow and removed it from the garden patch. We were surprised to find the soil under the snow was not frozen - it had been insulated since October under several feet of snow that fell and stayed. The ground did freeze after we removed the snow - but a different story for a different time.
Conclusion is the blueberry ( Vaccinium) do not like having their roots frozen - leaving the montane / snow country ecosystem has not been kind to the blueberry.
Now we have an interesting, hardy and functional plant and fruit for the southern Alberta region - Oregon Grape or Creeping Mahonia (Mahonia repens) The fruits are approximately pea sized - with a few small seeds - not the sick in your tooth raspberry seed type. The fruit is tart and very thirst quenching - also excellent in pancakes. I have made jelly with the fruit, but they must contain pectin - using a normal jelly recipe, with added pectin , I made my own brand of rubber. Use as a juice, freeze for pancakes in the middle of winter, enjoy raw - field grazing.
We are now in the midst of increasing production - from several hundred this year up to several thousand in the next few years.
Also - as a side note, we have not given up on finding a hardy - frozen root tolerant - Vaccinium. Although, we have searched for 20 or so years without success, does not mean we will not succeed - the search continues. Hopefully, you can read about a new discovery here.
A blog - a series of informative and biased commentary - some relating to specific plants that I think should be better known and more commonly used - in urban and rural landscapes, public areas for various reasons, naturalization projects and reclamation as suited to the site. Some of the information shared here will be things that we have discovered about native woody plants - some via trials in a nursery setting, trials in various landscapes and observations of plants and their interactions with their environment - macro or micro - as the information dictates.
Just another note on this blog, I might be regular - once a year is regular, as long as it is consistent. I do not want to pin myself down to any sort of regularity -updates will be as I feel, as time allows and as I am inspired to share. I have seen other blogs professing to update on a weekly or monthly basis - only to find the last entry was two years ago - not me, I update as I feel.......
Wright Nursery Ltd