Native and Unusual Fruits

American Hazelnut

The American hazelnut (Corylus americana) is native to the eastern and central United States, as well as parts of Canada. This deciduous shrub thrives in a variety of habitats, including woodlands, thickets, and along streams and roadsides, favoring well-drained, loamy soils.

Historically, the American hazelnut has been an important resource for Native American tribes and early European settlers. Indigenous peoples utilized the nuts as a significant food source, consuming them raw or roasted, and incorporating them into various dishes. The nuts were also ground into meal for use in soups and breads. In addition to their nutritional value, the flexible stems of the hazelnut shrub were used for crafting tools, baskets, and fishing gear. Early settlers adopted these practices, appreciating the shrub for its hardy nature and the versatility of its nuts.

Ecologically, the American hazelnut plays a crucial role in its native habitats. The nuts are a valuable food source for a wide range of wildlife, including squirrels, deer, turkeys, and various bird species, contributing to the health and diversity of ecosystems. The shrub’s dense growth provides excellent cover and nesting sites for birds and small mammals, enhancing habitat complexity. The flowers of the hazelnut are wind-pollinated, and the shrub helps prevent soil erosion with its extensive root system.

In contemporary horticulture, the American hazelnut is valued for its ornamental appeal, with attractive foliage and catkins in the spring and nuts in the fall. It is also appreciated for its potential in sustainable agriculture, particularly for nut production and agroforestry systems.


Blueberries, belonging to the genus Vaccinium, are native to North America, with highbush varieties (Vaccinium corymbosum) primarily found in the eastern United States and Canada, and lowbush varieties (Vaccinium angustifolium) thriving in the northeastern United States and Canadian Maritime provinces. These hardy shrubs favor acidic, well-drained soils in forests, bogs, and open meadows.

Historically, blueberries have been an essential food source for Native American tribes for thousands of years. They consumed the berries fresh, dried, and incorporated into various dishes such as pemmican, a mixture of dried meat and fat. Native Americans also used blueberries medicinally, making teas from the roots to treat a range of ailments including coughs and digestive issues. Early European settlers quickly adopted these practices, and blueberries became a staple in their diets, celebrated for their flavor and nutritional value.

Ecologically, blueberries play a significant role in their native habitats. The plants provide a crucial food source for numerous animals, including birds, mammals, and insects. The blossoms attract a variety of pollinators, including bees. Different bees have different ways of taking nectar from blueberry flowers. Small bees, like honeybees, often “sonicate” flowers by moving their wings rapidly to shake pollen off of the anthers. Other bees, such as carpenter bees, will slice the base of the flower with their mouthparts to “steal” nectar and pollen from the side of the flower. If you look closely you can often see small, oval holes in the base of blueberry flowers from these bees.

In modern agriculture, blueberries are cultivated extensively for their delicious, antioxidant-rich fruits. They are recognized for their health benefits, including high levels of vitamins C and K, fiber, and various phytochemicals. The commercial blueberry industry has grown significantly, especially in states like Michigan, New Jersey, and Oregon, contributing to local economies and global food markets.


Crabapples, particularly the species Malus coronaria, Malus angustifolia, and Malus ioensis, are native to North America, primarily found in the eastern and central regions. These small deciduous trees thrive in a variety of habitats, including forests, meadows, and along riverbanks, favoring well-drained, loamy soils.

Historically, crabapples were utilized by Native American tribes and early European settlers for their culinary and medicinal properties. Indigenous peoples used the tart fruits in cooking, often combining them with other fruits and meats to create flavorful dishes. Crabapples were also dried for winter use and brewed into ciders (both alcoholic and nonalcoholic). Medicinally, various parts of the crabapple tree, such as the bark and leaves, were used to treat ailments like sore throats and digestive issues. European settlers adopted these uses, and crabapple trees became a common feature in colonial orchards. The fruits were prized for their pectin-rich qualities, making them ideal for jellies and preserves.

Ecologically, crabapples play a vital role in their native habitats. The trees provide food for a wide range of wildlife, including birds, deer, and small mammals, which feed on the fruits and help disperse the seeds. The leaves of crabapples host an extremely wide variety of moth and butterfly caterpillars. The flowers attract pollinators such as bees, which are crucial for the pollination of many other plant species. Crabapple trees also offer shelter and nesting sites for various animals, contributing to habitat diversity and ecological stability.

In modern horticulture, crabapples are valued for their ornamental beauty and resilience. Their vibrant spring blossoms, colorful autumn fruits, and attractive foliage make them popular choices for landscaping. Additionally, crabapples continue to be appreciated for their culinary uses and potential health benefits, including high levels of antioxidants and vitamins.


The common fig (Ficus carica) is native to the Middle East and western Asia, with a history of cultivation dating back to ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. Thriving in warm, temperate climates, figs prefer well-drained soils and are often found in sunny, dry regions.

Historically, figs have been a staple food source and a symbol of prosperity and fertility in many cultures. Ancient Egyptians revered figs as a sign of abundance, while the Greeks considered them sacred to Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. The fruit’s high nutritional value, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals, has made it a valuable dietary component for millennia. In addition to being consumed fresh, figs have been dried and preserved, ensuring a year-round food supply. Medicinally, figs were used in traditional remedies to treat various ailments, from digestive issues to skin conditions.

Ecologically, figs play a crucial role in their native habitats. They provide food for a wide range of animals, including birds, bats, and insects, which in turn help disperse the seeds and pollinate the trees. Figs have a unique symbiotic relationship with fig wasps, which are essential for the pollination of many fig species. However, some figs, known as parthenocarpic figs, do not require pollination to produce fruit. These varieties can develop fruit without fertilization, making them particularly valuable for commercial cultivation, as they do not rely on the presence of specific pollinators. Most figs produced in the Southeastern United States are parthenocarpic.

In modern agriculture, figs are cultivated worldwide, with significant production in Mediterranean countries, California, and parts of South America. The adaptability of the fig tree and its ability to produce fruit without pollination in parthenocarpic varieties have contributed to its global popularity.

Flying Dragon Orange

The Flying Dragon orange (Poncirus trifoliata), also known as trifoliate orange, is native to northern China and Korea. It is a deciduous, cold-hardy citrus relative, thriving in a variety of soil types and known for its distinctive twisted, thorny branches and trifoliate leaves.

Historically, the Flying Dragon orange has been valued primarily as a rootstock for grafting other citrus varieties, enhancing their cold tolerance and disease resistance. In traditional Chinese medicine, parts of the plant have been used for their purported health benefits, such as treating digestive issues and respiratory conditions. While the fruit is not typically consumed fresh due to its bitterness and high acidity, it has been used in making marmalades and flavoring agents. Its resilience to cold weather and adaptability to different soils have made it a valuable plant for expanding citrus cultivation into cooler climates.

Ecologically, the Flying Dragon orange plays a unique role in its native and introduced habitats. Its dense, thorny branches provide excellent shelter and nesting sites for birds and small mammals, contributing to local biodiversity. The flowers attract pollinators, such as bees, while the fruit provides a food source for various animals, aiding in seed dispersal. The plant’s ability to grow in a wide range of conditions also makes it useful for soil stabilization and erosion control.

In modern horticulture, the Flying Dragon orange is appreciated not only for its practical applications in citrus grafting but also for its ornamental appeal. Its unique twisted branches and bright orange fruit add aesthetic value to gardens and landscapes.


The maypop (Passiflora incarnata) is a perennial vine native to the southeastern United States, thriving particularly in regions such as Florida, Texas, and Virginia. It is characterized by its strikingly beautiful flowers, which feature a complex arrangement of purple and white petals, and its egg-sized yellow fruits which, when green and immature, “pop” when stepped on. The fruit of the maypop is called passionfruit and is edible.

Historically, the maypop has been used by indigenous peoples and early settlers for its medicinal properties. Native American tribes, such as the Cherokee, utilized the plant to treat ailments ranging from anxiety to insomnia. They would brew the flowers, leaves and stems into a tea believed to have calming effects (This is extremely dangerous, do not try this at home!). Early European settlers adopted these practices, incorporating the plant into their own herbal remedies. The fruits of the maypop were also consumed, either raw or cooked, and appreciated for their unique, sweet-tart flavor.

Ecologically, the maypop plays a crucial role in its native habitats. It serves as a host plant for various butterfly species, including the Gulf Fritillary and the Zebra Longwing. The caterpillars of these butterflies feed on the leaves, while the flowers provide nectar for a range of pollinators including a wide range of bees which can often be seen rubbing their backs against the flower’s stigmas while feeding. The vine’s vigorous growth can also help stabilize soil and prevent erosion.

In modern times, the maypop continues is valued as an ornamental vine and a wonderful source of backyard fruit. Its rich history and ecological importance underscore the maypop’s enduring significance.

Mock Strawberry

The mock strawberry (Duchesnea indica), also known as Indian strawberry, is native to Southeast Asia, including regions of India, China, and Japan. Though many believe this plant was introduced to North America, some believe that it is native to this region. This plant is known as an ornamental ground cover and has naturalized in various regions, thriving in lawns, gardens, and open fields.

Historically, the mock strawberry has not played a significant role in human consumption or traditional medicine in its native regions, likely due to its bland flavor and relatively low nutritional value compared to true strawberries (Fragaria spp.). However, its ornamental value has been recognized for its bright yellow flowers and red fruits, which resemble true strawberries. While the fruits are edible, they are generally tasteless and not commonly used in culinary applications. In some cultures, the plant has been used in traditional medicine, albeit infrequently, to treat minor ailments like skin irritations and inflammation.

Ecologically, the mock strawberry serves several roles in its environment. It is a hardy ground cover that helps prevent soil erosion and can thrive in disturbed soils where other plants may struggle. The plant’s flowers attract various pollinators, including bees and butterflies, contributing to the local ecosystem’s biodiversity. The fruits, while not particularly attractive to humans, are eaten by birds and small mammals, aiding in seed dispersal.

In many areas where it has naturalized, the mock strawberry is considered an invasive species. It can outcompete native plants for resources, leading to reduced biodiversity. However, it can also be a useful plant for stabilizing soils and providing ground cover in areas where erosion is a concern. Despite its invasive tendencies, the mock strawberry’s resilience and adaptability highlight its ecological significance and the complex impacts of introduced species on new environments.

Muscadine Grape

The muscadine grape (Vitis rotundifolia) is native to the southeastern United States, thriving in the warm, humid climates of states like Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas. These robust vines prefer sandy or loamy soils and are often found growing wild in forests, along riverbanks, and in open fields.

Historically, muscadine grapes have been a valuable resource for Native American tribes and early European settlers. Indigenous peoples utilized the grapes for their nutritional and medicinal properties, consuming the fruit fresh or dried and using the juice to make beverages and dyes. They also incorporated muscadine grape leaves and bark in traditional remedies to treat various ailments. European settlers quickly recognized the potential of muscadine grapes, cultivating them for wine production as early as the 16th century. The grapes’ thick skins and natural resistance to diseases and pests made them an ideal crop in the challenging Southern climate.

Ecologically, muscadine grapes play an important role in their native habitats. The vines provide a crucial food source for numerous wildlife species, including birds, deer, and raccoons, which feed on the grapes and help disperse the seeds. The dense foliage of muscadine grapevines offers shelter and nesting sites for a variety of animals, contributing to habitat complexity and biodiversity. Additionally, the flowers attract pollinators, such as bees, which are essential for the health of many ecosystems.

In contemporary times, muscadine grapes are celebrated for their unique flavor and health benefits, which include high levels of antioxidants, dietary fiber, and vitamins. They are used in a variety of products, from wines and juices to jellies and dietary supplements.


The pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a small deciduous tree native to the eastern United States, spanning from the Great Lakes down to the Gulf Coast and as far west as eastern Nebraska and Texas. It thrives in the rich, moist soils of riverbanks, floodplains, and deciduous forests, often forming dense thickets.

Historically, the pawpaw has been a significant food source for both Native American tribes and early European settlers. Indigenous peoples cultivated the tree for its large, mango-like fruits, which are highly nutritious and have a custard-like texture with flavors reminiscent of banana and mango. The fruit is consumed fresh, dried, or used in various culinary preparations. Early settlers valued the pawpaw as a staple of their diets during the late summer and early fall when the fruit ripens. Additionally, the pawpaw’s bark and leaves were used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments and are now known to have insecticidal properties.

Ecologically, the pawpaw plays a unique role in its native habitats. It serves as the primary host plant for the zebra swallowtail butterfly (Eurytides marcellus), whose larvae feed exclusively on pawpaw leaves. The tree’s flowers, which emit a faint, yeasty odor, attract specific pollinators, including beetles and flies, contributing to the biodiversity of its environment. The pawpaw’s dense thickets provide shelter and habitat for various wildlife species, promoting ecological stability and diversity.

In contemporary times, there is renewed interest in the pawpaw for its potential in sustainable agriculture and local food systems, as well as its unique flavor and nutritional benefits. Its historical significance and ecological contributions continue to make the pawpaw an important species.


The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is native to a region extending from modern-day Iran to northern India. This ancient fruit has been cultivated for thousands of years in the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, and South Asia, thriving in hot, dry climates and well-drained soils.

Historically, pomegranates have played a significant role in human culture and cuisine. In ancient Persia and Egypt, they were revered not only as a food source, but also as symbols of fertility, prosperity, and eternal life. The fruit is frequently mentioned in religious texts, including the Bible and the Quran, and has been used in various cultural rituals and traditional medicine. Ancient Greeks believed pomegranates were the “fruit of the dead,” associated with the myth of Persephone. Culinary uses of pomegranates include eating the seeds fresh, using the juice for beverages, and incorporating the fruit into sauces, salads, and desserts. The fruit’s high levels of antioxidants, vitamins C and K, and other beneficial compounds have long been valued for their health benefits.

Ecologically, pomegranates contribute to the biodiversity of their native and cultivated regions. The flowers attract pollinators such as bees, which are essential for the fruiting process and help support the surrounding ecosystem. The dense foliage and thorny branches provide shelter and nesting sites for various bird species. In arid environments, pomegranate trees can help prevent soil erosion and contribute to the stability of local ecosystems.

In modern times, pomegranates are widely grown in many parts of the world, including California, where they are an important agricultural crop. Their bright flowers also make them an attractive ornamental shrub. The fruit’s popularity continues to grow, driven by its unique flavor and numerous health benefits.