Yard and Garden: Grow Not-So-Ordinary Berries



AMES, Iowa — Home gardeners who like a tart tasting berry or just want to grow a not-so-ordinary berry might consider planting cornelian cherries, jostaberries, honeyberries or serviceberries. Horticulturists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach answer questions about growing these lesser known fruit in Iowa home gardens. To have other questions answered, contact Hortline at hortline@iastate.edu or call 515-294-3108.

What are serviceberries? 

Serviceberries are members of the genus Amelanchier. Other common names for plants in the genus Amelanchier include juneberry, saskatoon, shadbush, sarvisberry and sugar plum.  

Serviceberries are dual-purpose plants. They are planted as ornamentals for their masses of showy, white flowers in early spring and colorful fall foliage. They are also grown for their edible fruit. The blueberry-like fruit may be eaten fresh, baked in pies or other desserts, canned or made into wine, jams or preserves.  

While the fruit on all Amelanchier species are edible, cultivars of Amelanchier alnifolia are the most productive and produce the best quality fruit. Available cultivars include ‘Smokey,’ ‘Northline,’ ‘Thiessen,’ ‘Regent’ and ‘Pembina.’  

Serviceberries can be successfully grown in partial shade to full sun. However, plant in full sun for maximum fruit production.

What are cornelian cherries? 

The cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) is actually a species of dogwood. It is also referred to as cornelian cherry dogwood. The cornelian cherry dogwood is an adaptable, durable and relatively pest-free small tree. Plants commonly grow 20 to 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. The cornelian cherry dogwood produces small, yellow flowers in round, .75 inch-wide clusters in early spring. After flowering, oblong one-half to one inch-long berry-like fruit develop. The fruit turn cherry red in late summer and are edible. The fruit are similar in taste to tart cherries and can be used for jams, jellies, pies, syrups and wine. The fruit are high in vitamin C.

Cornelian cherry dogwoods are most commonly planted as ornamentals in home landscapes. However, several cultivars (‘Elegant,’ ‘Red Star,’ ‘Pioneer’ and others) are grown for their fruit. The cornelian cherry dogwood is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8. 

What are jostaberries? 

Jostaberries are a cross between black currants and gooseberries. Plants are thornless, vigorous and may grow to a height of 6 to 8 feet. Jostaberry fruit are similar in size to gooseberries and black in color. Fruit can be used in jams, jellies and pies. Plants possess excellent cold hardiness and can be successfully grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 8. 

What are honeyberries? 

Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea) is a species of honeysuckle native to cold regions of Europe, Asia and North America. Other common names include blue honeysuckle or haskap. Honeyberries grow 4 to 6 feet tall. Plants produce small, yellowish white, funnel-shaped flowers in early spring. After flowering, elongated fruit develop that ripen and turn dark blue in late spring. The favor of the fruit is similar to a blueberry with black currant or raspberry overtones. Honeyberries can be used for jams, juice, syrups and wine. They also make great ice cream and smoothies. Fruit are high in antioxidants (as high or higher than blueberries). 

Numerous Russian/Eastern European cultivars are available; including Berry Blue®, Blue Bird®, Blue Moon®, and Blue Velvet®.  In recent years, the University of Saskatchewan has introduced several new cultivars. Fruit of the Canadian introductions are purportedly larger and better tasting than the Russian/Eastern European cultivars. University of Saskatchewan cultivars include ‘Borealis,’ ‘Tundra,’ and ‘Indigo Gem.’ Honeyberries have few pest problems and are easy to grow. Plant at least two cultivars to insure good pollination and fruit set. Honeyberries can be successfully grown in partial shade to full sun. They are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 2 to 6. 

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