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Edible and Useful Plants Room

Sambucus pubens, Red-berried ElderberryThough overshadowed commercially by "exotic" species of fruits, nuts, and extracts, many native trees and shrubs have useful and under-appreciated qualities. Because they lack a history of careful selection for traits such as size and taste, our native species have tended to languish in the shadow of their bigger, and usually, sweeter foreign relatives. In some cases, local indigenous species are directly related to foreign plants that have been cultivated and improved by hundreds of generations of Europeans and Asians. The exotic species have formed the basis for successful agricultural industries in the New World, while their native cousins have continued to survive only in the wild. Examples include the Wild Crabapple (Malus coronaria), native plums and cherries (Prunus sp.), the American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) and the Common Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).

Asimina triloba,Pawpaw TreeHowever, many natives stand alone in their superiority for use as food or for other qualities: blueberries (Vaccinium sp.) and mulberries (Morus rubra) are unsurpassed for their fruit; the sap of the Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) produces delectable syrup; extracts from the roots of Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and Birch (Betula sp.) trees yield excellent flavor for soft drinks and candy; Witchhazel (Hamamellis virginiana) is exploited for its medicinal sap; and, to some, the creamy fruit of the Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is better than banana. Lesser-known species that have nonetheless been used in various forms by generations of local inhabitants include Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Chinquapin (Castanea pumila), Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), Hickories (Carya sp.), Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), and Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium). 

The plants in this section of the arboretum have been grouped according to their useful portion: fruit, nut or extract.


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