By: Liz Baessler
Ornamental trees are prized for their foliage and, above all else, their flowers. But flowers often lead to fruit, which leads to a very important question: are ornamental tree fruits edible? That really depends upon the type of tree. It also often depends upon the distinction between “edible” and “good.” Keep reading to learn more about fruit from ornamental trees.
Is fruit from ornamental trees good to eat? It’s hard to pinpoint a real ornamental tree definition, since many trees are grown just as much for their fruit as for their appearance. In fact, a new trend is cropping up in showcasing tasty, high yield fruit trees as ornamentals in the garden and landscape.
There are plenty of pear, apple, plum, and cherry trees that are cultivated equally for their taste and their appearance. Some trees, however, are bred as ornamentals and produce fruit more as an afterthought. These trees include:
The edible ornamental fruits of these trees have not been bred for their flavor and, while completely edible, are not very pleasant eaten raw. They are, however, perfectly palatable and actually quite popular in pies and preserves.
Purple-leafed plums, in particular, rarely yield high amounts of fruit, as they bloom early in the spring before pollination is in full swing. The small brown fruits found on ornamental pears (like Bradford pears), on the other hand, are inedible.
If you are unsure of a fruit’s edibility, try to determine its exact variety to be sure and, of course, always err on the side of caution.
If you’re looking to plant a tree that’s both spectacular and tasty, a few varieties include:
All of these offer fantastic ornamental flowers in the spring, followed by rich, high yielding fruit in the summer.
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Read more about General Tree Care
A fruiting pomegranate (Punica granatum) is usually too large to grow in a container or for flanking a sidewalk, doorway or garden entrance, but a smaller ornamental cultivar may fit nicely, displaying striking blossoms, foliage and small pomegranates of varying colors. Both fruiting and ornamental cultivars can be grown in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11.
Mature Height/Spread: The Japanese cherry will grow 15 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 25 feet wide. Depending on the cultivar, it may have an upright form, wide spreading form with horizontal branching or weeping form.
Growth Rate: It may grow about 10 feet in 10 years, but is short-lived. The average life span is 15 to 20 years.
Ornamental Features: Bloom occurs from early-to mid-spring, depending on the cultivar. The showy flowers may be white or pink, single or double some are fragrant. Double-flowered varieties tend to hold their bloom longer. Flowers occur before or with the leaves. The new leaves are often bronze when unfolding, turning deep green in summer. Fall color is often bronze to yellow-orange in fall. Fruit are seldom produced.
Landscape Use: Flowering cherries are mainly used as lawn specimens, street trees and in groupings. Wide, spreading trees work well as shade trees, while smaller ones enhance a small garden area.
They prefer moist, fast-draining, well-aerated soil and require full sun. Pruning is seldom necessary except to remove dead or diseased wood, or crossing branches that appear awkward or rub against each other. To avoid reducing the following year’s flower display, prune crossing or rubbing branches immediately after flowering. Prune dead or diseased wood any time of year.
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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 (Malus spp.) 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 (Prunus cerasifera), 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 (Prunus virginiana) 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 (Pyrus calleryana) 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 article originally appeared in the 8/8/2003 issue.
Watch leaf and twig growth from year to year to tell if it's time to fertilize. If a tree produces fewer leaves, smaller leaves or yellowish leaves, then it may benefit from nitrogen fertilization. If the leaves drop early, or twigs grow less than 6 inches a year, these are signs that nitrogen may be deficient. Other deficiencies are less common. Chlorosis is when the veins of a leaf remain green, but the rest of the leaf is yellow. This can be the sign of a mineral deficiency. If leaves on the terminal end of the branch show chlorosis, but not the mature leaves, this could be an iron deficiency. Chlorosis due to magnesium or zinc deficiencies begin on the older leaves first. All of these symptoms could be caused by poor drainage or damaged roots, so examine other causes before settling on fertilizer as the solution to the problems of a mature tree.