Eating Fruit from Ornamental Trees (ornamentalsfruit)

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Eating Fruit from Ornamental Trees & Shrubs

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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Ornamental trees, such as crabapples and purple-leaved plums, are planted in the home landscape for their flowers or colorful foliage. While chiefly ornamental, these trees also produce fruit resembling those on fruit trees. As the fruits mature, questions concerning their edibility often arise.

Fruit from ornamentals, such as crabapples and purple-leaved plums, are edible. However, the eating quality of some ornamental fruit is rather poor. These trees were selected for their ornamental characteristics rather than the eating quality of their fruit.

The crabapple is an example of a common ornamental that also produces edible fruit. Apples and crabapples are differentiated strictly on the size of their fruit. Crabapples are defined as those varieties with fruit 2 inches or less in diameter. Those with larger fruit are apples. At maturity, crabapple fruits vary from yellow to orange to bright red. The fruit of some crabapple varieties color and ripen in August, others mature in the fall. (The colorful, persistent fruit of many of the newer crabapple varieties are actually an important ornamental characteristic.) While all crabapple fruit can be used in making jellies and preserves, large-fruited varieties, such as 'Whitney' and 'Chestnut,' are the best.

Purple-leaved plums, such as 'Newport,' 'Thundercloud,' and 'Mount Saint Helens' are planted in the home landscape for their white or pink flowers and purple foliage. In most years, ornamental plums produce little or no fruit as they bloom so early that pollination is generally poor. Occasionally, however, they produce a good crop of fruit. At maturity, the edible fruits are approximately 1 inch across and dark purple in color.

The new growth of 'Canada Red' and 'Schubert' chokecherry emerges green, but quickly turns to a maroon red. The small trees produce clusters of white flowers in spring followed by round, 1/3-inch diameter fruit. At maturity, the fruit are dark purple to black. Though bitter, the mature fruit can be used for jams, jellies, and juices.

'Autumn Blaze,' 'Chanticleer,' and 'Redspire' are ornamental pears grown for their glossy dark green foliage and small white flowers in early spring. Ornamental pears generally produce only small numbers of fruit. The inedible fruit are roundish, 1/3-inch across, and tan to brown in color. A word of caution. If you are uncertain of the identity of a tree or shrub, don't eat the fruit. It's better to be safe than sorry.

(This resource was added August 2007 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office

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