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Yellowhorn / Yellow Horn / Goldenhorn / Xanthoceras sorbifolium (was Xanthoceras sorbifolia )

 
Dan Boone
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Yellowhorn ( Xanthoceras sorbifolium, formerly sorbifolia ) is another one of those commonly-mentioned permaculture trees that you see in ambitious food forest planting lists. But on Permies.com at least, we never see posts from people who are happily harvesting them of their edible flowers, foliage, or nuts. My purpose in starting this thread is to bring together the scattered information I've found about this tree. I'm also currently working on germinating some seeds from eBay, so I may update the thread in future with photos and impressions if that goes well. Anyone with impressions of the tree or experience harvesting it, please share!



According to Wikipedia:

Xanthoceras sorbifolium (yellowhorn, shiny leaf yellowhorn, goldenhorn, Chinese flowering chestnut) is a woody perennial in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae, native to northern China in the provinces of Gansu, Hebei, Henan, Liaoning, Nei Monggol, Ningxia, Shaanxi, and Shandong.

It is a large shrub or small tree growing to 8 m tall. The fruit is an oval leathery capsule 5–6 cm diameter, which splits into three sections at maturity to release the 6–18 seeds; the seeds are black, 1.5 cm diameter, resembling a small horse chestnut seed.

The genus name means 'yellow horn'. The species name refers to the leaves, similar to those of rowans (Sorbus). It was originally spelled as sorbifolia, but this is a grammatical error that was corrected to sorbifolium under the ICBN.

The leaves, flowers, and seeds of yellowhorn are all edible.


There's been one previous thread on Permies, but only one poster reported having a mature tree, which was not making nuts.

Plants For A Future has a page here, and puts it in USDA hardiness zones 4-7. Propagation notes suggest the plant needs some cold protection when young.

Germination advice is all over the map. Some reports call for cold stratification up to three months, others report germination rates in excess of fifty percent without stratification. Presoaking and scarification of the nut are frequent suggestions also.

This nice photo of the fruit is from a 2004 thread on the forums of the UBC botanical gardens:



Notably absent from my research was much enthusiasm by anyone for actually eating the products of this tree. It's uncertain whether the edible parts are unappealing, or whether it's just that nobody much among the sources I found have any experience with those crops.

What do you know about Yellowhorn? Please share experiences and informative links!

 
Bill Erickson
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That is an interesting looking piece of flora.

I would be curious to see what all those "edible" portions of the tree taste like. I'm also interested in how your seeds do on this one and what you did to get yours going, IE scarification/stratification.

 
Dan Boone
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Bill I will keep you updated!

I only have about nine or so seeds and so for this first attempt, I followed the very specific germination advice found on this page, which also claims that (yum!) the nuts taste like Macademia nuts:

Propagation is by seed soaked for 24 hours (sometimes 48 hours is necessary) and gently nicking the seed coat near the pore, slowly shaving it away until you see the barest glimmer of white, being very careful not to cut the embryo. Re-soak for 12 hours and sow in moist peat / sand / perlite mix. Germination will usually occur in 4 - 7 days.


I soaked three seeds for 48 hours, then worked on the (very tough) seed coat. Given the difficulty of "nicking" the coat with the blade I was using, it was more like a precision sawing process. I may have nicked the embryo in one case, I almost certainly did in another, and I got it just right (faint glimmer of white) on the third one. They went into my seeding sowing mix yesterday.
 
Bill Erickson
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So, multiple trees are needed for nut propagation, and I do like me some macadamia nuts - even if it is only "tastes like".

Now I'm wondering how this would work around here for me. Need to make sure the Bride won't eviscerate me for bringing another seed group into the house.

I'll wait for your germination results and we'll go from there.
 
Russell Olson
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I got seeds from FW Schumacher this fall, I attempted to nick/soak 4 of them, only one sprouted, but the remaining seeds look ok. I'll be trying to start more once spring comes.
Here's a picture of the one seedling, it's the feathery looking guy on the left, quite robust for a few week old seedling. The black locusts were started at the same time.
I had bought a small seedling from burnt ridge last year, but I think it arrived dead.
Looking forward to seeing how this tree grows.
image.jpg
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Dan Boone
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Thanks for the picture and the news that it can be done! I am tempted to taste one of my tiny number of existing seeds to see if it really does taste like a Macademia nut. But one does not eat the seed corn, right?
 
Jc Desj
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Location: Ste-Émelie-de-L'Énergie, Quebec, Canada (4a)
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By the way, does someone know what time it takes the plants to go from seed to nut?
So I have a couple of 1.5' tall Xanthoceras on this photo. I also have 40 more germinating right now On my first batch I dug out all the ones that didn't germinate, and nicked them again, and back in the peet. Some took longer than others but they kinda all germinated. You have to nick them pretty severly (without hurting the embryo too much). I use a very sharp chef knife and cut out small strips until I see a good portion of white (2-3 mm) . No stratification. Apparently it helps but so far, the nicking works very well. I germinated them with a 18/6 light cycle.
Xantho.JPG
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4 Xanthoceras (yeah theres a little one in the front)
 
John Saltveit
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I grew it for about 8 years. The flowers were small and cute. I never ate them because I was hoping to get a crop. I never did. I live in an area with pretty low heat units. I have heard that you need a lot of heat. Oklahoma might work; I don't know how hardy they are though. That's not an issue for us with that tree. The leaves were fibrous and not tasty. Now I ferment, and so maybe I wouldve kept it. Still, probably not worth the space I was allotting to it. We have wet springs, and there are kinds of bush cherries that never fruit for us, because they get a mild disease that makes the fruit drop. That may have been the case with this one. My verdict: not worth growing on the west side of the PNW, especially if you have limited space.
John S
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leila hamaya
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i thought about trying to grow these, as someone offered them in a trade, but what research i did indicated to me i am not in a good climate for these. maybe they like heat, but they wouldnt do in our dry too hot heat, and it doesnt get cold enough in the winter for these, my research led me to believe. the trees are BEAUTIFUL, seriously gorgeous in flower.
 
Sion Wilson
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I was able to get a hold of some seeds from a plant growing outside for many years here in Utah, if you would believe that. Since the tree is mature and producing, I was able to eat some of the nuts as well as gather plenty to plant. The seeds kind of taste like macadamia nuts, but there are only slight similarities. They are much softer in texture than most nuts.. almost waxy. The unripe nuts are quite bitter, and the shell is very tough and leathery, not crispy or brittle. A normal nutcracker doesn't seem to do well to open them but mostly only mangles the seed. I think they have more of a sunflower seed texture than nut texture, but they are sweetish and definitely palatable in general. As for eating flowers, not really my cuppa, and the leaves tend to be too veiny and leathery to really make any kind of palatable salad or to eat plain. I would imagine that the new growth may be more palatable, but I can't bring myself to mar such a unique specimen to try it.
Since it is the only plant of its kind anywhere in the vicinity (and probably the only one in the northern Utah) it seems to be a. self fertile, and b. quite prolific (most years). We are a solid USDA Zone 5 where it is growing and it seems to be pest and problem free. It is tending toward being more of a small multi-trunk tree, though my seed grown specimens are very slender and vertical so far (1 year old) and I plan on keeping them trained in a standard. Since the tree is way smaller than most nut trees, even with many fruit covering the plant, the yield will be fairly small in comparison to, say a walnut or pecan, so planting multiple may be the way to go for more nuts.
If you are interested in more research on these trees, there is quite a lot of info written in Chinese on these plants. The current use for them being explored in China seems to be Biodiesel and there are some really cool photos of double flowers and different colors, but the plants are not being grown for ornamental or food usage from what I have been able to find. Most of the info is either scientific papers or industrial energy web pages.

Sorry for the long post but hopefully it is helpful to someone =)
 
John Saltveit
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Thanks for the useful info Sion.
John S
PDX OR
 
Reist John
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Bought Yellowhorn seeds from Schumaker and Shefeilds last year with no results, ended up buying some seeds on Ebay from France they did not germinate till later in spring when it got hot. This year I bought seeds through Aliexpress.com the seeds came from China where they are grown as a crop. I soaked in warm water for 48 hrs, had 2 batches one sanded the other nicked both germinated after 2 wk. Planted in a platic shoe box with lid sitting on a grow pad to heat the soil. So far only 3 have germinated out of 88
 
S Usvy
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If this helps anyone looking for seeds (especially in Canada) - I got mine last fall from this seller. Out of 12 seeds, only 2 did not germinate. I used a piece of sandpaper to gently nick the seeds, then popped them in a plastic container with a moist paper towel, and shoved them in the fridge. They were germinating within 4-6 weeks. As soon as the first one germinated, I took the whole container out to make the process faster, and was planting them as germination was occurring. They're growing indoors now, seem to do really well - I've never seen a tree grow that fast from a seed. They do seem to like deep soil - I have mine planted in tall buckets, 2-3 plants per bucket, until it's summer time outside.
http://www.ebay.ca/itm/Yellowhorn-Xanthoceras-sorbifolium-Tree-Seeds-Showy-Hardy-Fall-Color-/270736778449?
 
Lance Kleckner
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Think when I planted seed, got a pound from lawyer nursery, they seemed to germinate pretty easily like most nuts I have tried. When I transplant them to their permanent spots, left behind roots sometimes will sprout up and give me more plants.
 
Reist John
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I grow trees as a hobby and sell them from my dooryard. Looking for seeds my wife noticed the tree on the internet and its showy flowers. Doing research I found they are 75% oil and make a good biofuel.I will be trying to plant them out on my property to see how they grow and investigate how they would be as a crop. Other plants used for biofuel like corn have to be replanted every year, the Yellowhorn produces a nus that can be collected everyyear..
 
Lance Kleckner
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Well that's if they are productive every year. I think hazelnuts are mentioned for the oil, too.
 
Christine Wilcox
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Along with many others, I'm very interested in nut trees that can produce in the Far North. Hazelberts are growing, but not yet producing any nuts. We don't know if they will be able to in the short season. But as the climate changes, who knows what will work or not. Korean pines are started, but those are for someone's grandchildren.I just ordered some Yellowhorn plants from Burnt Ridge Nursery (WA). Hope they produce.
 
Dan Boone
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My germination effort last year was an utter failure -- none of the half-dozen Ebay seeds I planted germinated. I just now scarified and planted my last four seeds, we'll see how that goes.

Meanwhile I am really interested in the 100-seeds-for-$17 deal direct from China via the AliBaba link posted up thread. Next time I get a spare $17 I may well make that order.
 
Jessie Robertson
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I just found out about this plant this year from a nursery I order from frequently www.whiffletreefarmandnursery.ca and was super excited.
I don't have enough sun in my yard for it but have ordered it bareroot for my parent's place this spring. Hopefully we get some fruit in a couple of years. I will share here when we do. Fingers crossed for the macadamia flavour to be strong in ours.
 
Nick Blonigen
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I planted two yellowhorns from Burnt Ridge Nursery 3 years ago.  One died the first summer, the other winterkilled to the ground the first winter.  However, I left it alone and that survivor resprouted into a multi-stemmed tree/large shrub; today it is 6 ft tall.  It flowered last year, but the few pods fell off when only marble-sized.  This year, one pod did mature fully; I just picked it yesterday as it was starting to dry and split so as not to lose any nuts.

I'm 30 min. south of Minneapolis, MN, in the country with no heat island effect here so we're still a zone 4 (lucky city dwellers are zone 5A).  My particular tree is therefore self-fruitful and hardy to at least -22F.  However, I am thinking it would be more fruitful if there were another one nearby, so I'll be germinating the dozen seeds I got for new specimens next spring to incorporate into my edible windbreak/living snow fence on the north side of my property.

Question: Should I consider pruning off the smaller branches to grow it as a single-stemmed tree, or leave it as a 4-5 stemmed tree/shrub thing?  I'm not so much focused on the look of the plant, only it's health and bearing ability.
 
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