jean_q

Will wild solanums cross with my wonderberry?

jean_q
13 years ago

I've just started growing "wonderberry", the edible member of the nightshade family developed by Luther Burbank. We have wild nightshades growing in the area--will they cross with my wonderberry giving me toxic berries next year if I save seed? If yes, what kind of distance would I need to ensure safe seed? I live out in the country and can't clear the entire area. Thanks for any help anyone can give me.

Comments (6)

  • greentongue
    13 years ago

    Luther Burbank bred the WonderBerry (which he called SunBerry) from an African species and a European species, which he patiently crossed for 10 years or more to develop the new species.

    Seed Savers Exchange and my best references on seed saving say it will NOT cross with wild Solanums here in the USA. Go ahead and save your seeds and also let it reseed... no worries!

    Fun plant, ain't it? My mother grew it in the high plains of Northeastern Colorado (Zone 4 with 12-15 inches annual rainfall)... as a reseeding annual.... and as a kid I dearly loved it. My siblings and I nearly fought over the fruit. It still grows as a reseeding annual in my sister's yard in Denver, and her grandchildren are enjoying it every summer.

    In Northeastern Colorado, the plants got about 2 ft high but grew very well. I think it was part of Luther Burbank's projects to develop plants that would be of value in the heat and low rainfall of the Great Plains.

    Here in Arkansas it gets 4 to 5 feet high, and I use it as a trap crop for other solanum pests. Black blister bugs will come for it before they move on to the tomatoes,so I can get ready to deal with them. It also gets tomato hornworms and flea beetles.

    The fruit mysteriously disappears from my plants outside the garden fence, but I'm not sure whether the neighbor's guineas are eating them, or maybe something else. No matter... it's making something happy!

    As a kid, I thought they were so delicious... but that was life in a land without strawberries, blackberries, and tree fruits which I have here, so now they kinda pale out by comparison.

  • jean_q
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Thanks--I had hoped this was the case. I got the seeds from Southern Exposure this year, and after tasting the first ripe fruits raw, I thought the "wonder" in Wonderberry was wondering why you grew them. Then someone on another forum mentioned they were better cooked, so I cooked some up with a little sugar--what a difference! I can't wait until enough are ripe to make a pie or a cobbler. They could become addictive. Next year I'm devoting a lot more space to them. You mentioned some were growing outside your fence--do you know if deer eat the vines? I have a lot of space outside my fences that I could give to them if the dear deer will just leave them alone.

  • greentongue
    13 years ago

    Luther Burbank was VERY UPSET when the man who bought rights to his plant introduced them as "Wonderberries". He thought that greatly overstated it, and he wanted to call them "SunBerries", which is the name Seed Savers Exchange uses when selling their seeds. My Arkansas-born neighbor ( a sharecropper's daughter who has lived a life of extreme poverty) spit them out on first tasting, then asked to taste them again a week later, and said, "I know we would have ate them as kids, cuz we were just so hungry for anything to eat.."

    When my mother made cooked fruit dishes with them, she added a bit of lemon juice & grated peel to them as well. This really does wonders for their rather flat taste. Also dead ripe tastes a bit sweeter, but not quite ripe is awful! The biggest problem is you'll be picking 15 minutes to get a half a cup cuz the berries are so small and they ripen progressively on the cluster.

    So far the deer haven't touched them, but this is no guarantee they never will. I would expect more problems from woodchucks. Solanums as a group ain't deer favorites.. they eat pepper plants for me sometimes, but not eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes, and I haven't noticed brouse on wild solanums,which here are mostly thorny.

    I lost a lot of the plant growth to tomato hornworms and blister bugs early in summer.... which was what told me to go check the tomatoes better... yep, insects just arriving on them, too.

    If you live in a warm and wet climate where they will grow big, you might try planting outside the fence but letting the plants kinda grow up and thru the fence for support. That would help with their tendency to get so big they rip apart from their own weight. Just remember that what's outside the fence but next to it is sharing root space (and food/water requirements) with the plants inside the fence, and if they get several feet tall they could become a shade problem, too.

    A lot of my berries are now disappearing... ain't sure if it is wild birds or my neighbor's free-roaming guineas, but I ain't too concerned either way.... both are welcome to whatever they want cuz they give me back so much in bug control.

  • jean_q
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Fortunately, we don't have woodchucks around here and if the birds start to eat them, I can net them easily enough. The plants I have didn't get very big, but that may be because the flea beetles hit them badly when they were young. Next year I'll put milk jugs over them until they start to grow out of the tops--that's what I do to protect my eggplant and it works pretty good. I'm looking for things to plant outside the fence that deer don't like. So far, potatoes, jerusalem artichokes, sunflowers, California poppies and various succulents seem to be deerproof, although they take an occasional bite from the succulents.

    In your first post you mentioned your "best references on seed saving." What are the best references? Although I've been gardening forever and saving simple seeds like beans and squash, I've only just started saving other things and could use a few good books.

  • greentongue
    13 years ago

    Probably the best reference in print is Suzanne Ashworth's SEED TO SEED.... excellent and thorough, but it only covers food crops, not flowers.... and I am still managing to come up with questions that didn't make the book.

    Also, if you are serious about vegetables and do not already belong, consider joining Seed Savers Exchange at Decorah, Iowa. It's probably the world's biggest, oldest, and best organizations dedicated to preserving heirlooms for future generations, and its publications will give you opportunity to buy seeds that are not available anywhere else, plus some contact with other members is possible.

    And I am also VERY FOND of internet at large and this site itself is quite good. I find that if I google a subject and spend the time opening those dozens to hundreds of postings from all over the world, I will be able to get a view of the subject that I can NEVER get from corresponding with only one or two people, or just reading one book.

    As for deer... experiment and observe... over and over and as the years go on, you will reach a point where you can guess correctly at least 85% of the time what they won't eat.

    As for tasting stuff, they do that with everything that's new to them, I think. The question is whether they take a 2nd bite. One year I was experimenting with Castor Beans as deer repellant. One morning I found a bit leaf... and the bite... totally unchewed... lying on the ground below where it had been instantly spit out!

    This morning... with pressure of drought driving deer ever more into our yard and some of our uncleared areas that have grown up to weeds and saplings... I was taking pix for my passionate gardener/hunter brother in Wyoming of how much deer prefer new growth of many native woody plants even to garden crop you'd think they'd relish.... and how they won't touch even fresh new growth of "agricultural experiment" grasses from Africa which have become major weeds here.

  • jean_q
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Many thanks for your advice--I'll put Seed to Seed on my Xmas list. Don't have time to do much on the internet--visiting these forums a few time a week is about all I can spare, especially since my computer is so slow, having a very old OS and dial up connection. (We're so far out in the country we can't get DSL.) But that's OK--I'd rather read words on a page than a screen anyway! ; ) But I appreciate your help and will put all my volunteer Wonderberry seedlings to work next year without worrying about being poisoned. (Well, maybe not all of them--from the looks of the dropped berries, I may have hundreds!)

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