Rich and red when ripe, they're great for munching off the bush while hiking in the uplands, or for making jam for breakfast.
(Image: `Ōhelo bush full of berries. Credit: Francis T.P. Zee, ARS.)
These relatives of cranberries, Vaccinium reticulatum, can be sweet, or sour, or bland. There are multiple varieties that grow in the uplands of most of the islands.
They are also attractive compact shrubs with foliage that ranges from red and orange to green.
Researchers have now done the work to select tasty, attractive cultivars for both fruit collecting and ornamental uses.
In a press release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it is the first cultivar of its kind to be released, and that one of the key reasons is to provide a viable stock that will help reduce pressure on wild native environments.
“As people scour the landscape to harvest this delectable berry for use in jam, jelly and pie filling, they unfortunately disrupt the fragile habitats where this plant grows,” the release said. (The release says the plant is limited to Maui and Hawai'i uplands, but it's also found on other islands.)
Horticulturist Francis T.P. Zee, of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service's Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo, led the work, in collaboration with other ARS folks, including Amy Strauss, and Claire Arakawa, and interested individuals at the University of Hawaii, Big Island Candies, and the Big Island Association of Nurserymen.
They used wild-collected seed to grow many plants, then collected the one best suited for fruit production. They named that cultivar “Kilauea. They also used tissue culture and cuttings to develop potted plants suitable for such uses as bonsai.
For an extensive discussion of the procedures and progress, see this University of Hawai'i Cooperative Extension Service report.
© Jan TenBruggencate 2010