Stumbling upon a rich harvest of wild fruits or nuts can be quite a rewarding jaunt into the forest and warrants further stewardship of the forest to ensure these harvests are reliable. They feed us and wildlife of all sorts so there is quite a crossover to managing for fish and wildlife habitat, which was part of a previous article. Having had the pleasure of harvesting bucket upon bucket of wild paw paws (Asimina triloba) when I was studying Fish and Wildlife Management back in 2003 in Southeast Ohio, this forest forgaging solidified my passion for this exact topic. I sold them at a local festival, the Paw Paw Fest, which shows the local culture around their wild harvest and cultivation. The festival has grown enormously and is part of the harvest festival season which represents this local food and its presence in the ecosystem there in the eastern half of the North America.
Paw Paw’s are a native fruit to North America strectching all the way from Canada down to Northern Georgia in the humid Temperate landscapes. It is a relative of other Annona’s and is the only temperate one of this amazing fruit family. All of its relatives are tropical or subtropical and this one is nonetheless tropical in its taste and texture despite surviving the extreme colds within these continental climate regions. Depending on the cultivar or wild harvest some have more of a banana flavor and others mango but they definitely have the distinct custard apple flavor and texture of its family. They grow in humid locations in the landscapes and are often found deep in the forest or on the edge. Manipulating the edge or canopy for more light penetration to these shrubs will allow for rhizominous expansion and greater fruit production. By managing for other non timber forest products like mushrooms, I augment the sub canopy through thinning and allow this more normal shrub layer pop into the sub-canopy and spread with greater fruit production (raccoon vector). To get richer harvests this is our main management tool, which is to let more light into the lower parts of the forest so that the layers embody diversity. In other words, our aim is to destratify parts of the forest which seem monoculture like and bring a different architecture to the forest. Furthermore, grafted cultivars can be purchased or created and planted in the system to ensure a known fruit quality and relative size. This is because what you find in the wilds all vary in size and flavor. Consequently, I am adding grafted varieties near my wild patches as to introduce a different set of genetics to help with the cross pollination and a consistent harvest to back up the wild harvest. This is because many paw paw patches are just one plant with the same genes as it has spread extensively through rhizominous growth and makes harvests quite low or completely obsolete. Thus the nature of its growth habits warrant introducing this diversity of grafted, proven genetics for greater yields and other cascading system benefits.
Another local fruit in that area that I have wild harvested is the American Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana). Its orange and mushy flesh is similar to its Asian cousin (Diospyros kaki), which is the most widely eaten fruit on the planet. The humid temperate one from North America produces an incredibly sugary fruit that ripens usually after the first frost and outcompetes Date Palm fruit with sugar content amazingly enough. People harvest them and process them through taking the seeds out and then freeze them to have a sugar resource for the winter. Furthermore, wild blackberries and raspberries (Rubus spp.) also are found on the edge of forests or in canopy breaks. It’s such a delightful sight and taste to come across these especially the black capped raspberry which gives such a unique color both from the fruit and the slightly blue tinged leaves. I have also collected serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.), blueberries, and cranberries (Vaccinium spp.) in the forest or wetlands habitats that they thrive in.