Published October 15, 2012 | By Robert LaHoff

Most people are drawn, at least initially, to plants because of their flowers. As their education continues, it seems, so does their appreciation of other attributes. Admiring the flowers of rhododendron and azalea and appreciating the unique bark that many trees and shrubs have is a great start, but what about the fruit that many plants have? How many of you stop and admire, and in some instances taste, the fruit that many plants produce? The following is a quick introduction to several plants that offer fabulous fruit to admire and, in some cases, taste if you dare! Please bare in mind, not all of the following trees have edible fruit.

Pawpaw or Custard Apple, Asimina triloba, is always a great tree to start the conversation with when describing fruit on a tree. A beautiful native, common Pawpaw grows 15-30 feet tall and wide, has long, drooping leaves and reddish-purple flowers. Reliable golden-yellow fall color is also a plus. However, it’s the edible fruit I love best! Greenish-yellow fruit, 3-5 inches long with many forms and maturing black, Pawpaw has a banana-like taste with a custard texture.

Kousa Dogwood, Cornus kousa, is a tree many know. For my money, a quintessential tree offering attributes any time of year. Jigsaw-puzzle-like bark to admire all year, particularly in the winter, large creamy-white flowers (pointed bracts) in late spring/early summer, reddish-purple fall color and raspberry-like fruit in the fall. During my education at Rutgers, I was given one to taste in early October and remember thinking that the fruit looks much better than it tastes. Very mealy… tasters beware!

Perhaps one of our more peculiar natives is Osage-Orange, Maclura pomifera. Also called Hedge-apple, this tree seems to grow almost anywhere. I first learned this tree some 20 years ago when I saw a dog chase a rabbit through this tree. Armed with lethal spines (1/2” long), the tree got the best of the dog that day. This large tree grows 20-40 feet tall. I recommend this tree for three reasons; it survives almost anywhere, it certainly is deer-resistant and the fruit is unlike any other. Described by others as “looking like brains”, the fruit is yellow-green and 4-6 inches round. Don’t sit under this tree when the fruit is ripe! An oddity that is always worth throwing into the mix when talking about unique fruit!

Growing up in Roseland, New Jersey, often my friends and I would bike ride to Caldwell, New Jersey to get ice cream at Friendly’s. On Bloomfield Ave, in front of Friendly’s, was an enormous Cucumbertree Magnolia, Magnolia acuminata.Becoming a stately tree, some 50-80 feet tall and wide, Cucumbertree is aptly named because the fruit, albeit pinkish-red and 2-3” long, resembles that of a small cucumber. More on the particular one in West Caldwell, NJ…“The more than 100 year old Cucumber Magnolia on Bloomfield Ave. is an important symbol of the area’s past, present and future. Planted in 1888, this tree has served as a mute witness to local history and a living bridge to the past, present and future of West Caldwell” (TheCaldwellsPatch). I love the words “mute witness”! Often I wonder what trees could tell us if they could talk.

What kind of conifer enthusiast would I be if I didn’t throw one into the mix? Common baldcypress, Taxodium distichum is a tree that reaches for the sky. With our national champion towering at about 100 feet, “this lofty, deciduous conifer of slender, pyramidal habit” (Michael Dirr Manual of Woody Landscape Plants) does it all for me. Fantastic fibrous bark, sage green needles that turn russet brown in the fall and unique fruit all keep this one close in thought. The fruit of Baldcypress can grow up to 1 ½” in diameter and are globe-shaped cones. Starting off greenish-purple and finishing brown, Taxodium is another favorite of mine offering muti-seasonal interest. You would be hard-pressed to find another tree so beautiful and so versatile. Able to adapt to many soil types, Taxodium is another native to the United States.

There are so many plants and so little time. As my thirst for horticulture continues I find myself surrounded by more and more “favorite plants”. Autumn is here and we should all remember, “Fall Is For Planting!” There are so many wonderful trees with fall attributes. Why not stop by your local garden center and add a special tree, with fabulous fruit to look at now, to your garden?

Posted in Garden Tips