Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - December 06, 2008

From: Los Alamos, NM
Region: Southwest
Topic: Edible Plants
Title: Native American barberry with edible fruit in New Mexico
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

HI I am looking for a native american burberry plant with edible fruit. I love Persian cuisine, and they use the dried fruit of the burberry plant in a rice dish that I would like to recreate. I live in high desert in northern new mexico at 7400' elevation. I see there are lots of native varieties but there is not a lot of information on what is edible by humans, rather than birds, mammals, etc. Thanks!

ANSWER:

The only burberry we could find is a 152-year-old British retailer of high-end coats and accessories. We were pretty sure that's not what you were looking for, so we tried barberry, and found four native to New Mexico in our Native Plant Database. All are members of the Mahonia genus, and the berries of all four are considered edible, though apparently some are tastier than others. The question is going to be if they are hardy in your area. We found varying experts' opinions on the hardiness of Mahonia, ranging from hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 4, to Zone 5, to Zones 6 to 9. It's kind of difficult to figure out exactly what zone Los Alamos is in, because of the mountains, and resulting curves and dips in the lines between the zones, but we're guessing, especially at your altitude, you probably are in Zone 5a to 5b. The mahonias ordinarily grow well in part shade, but might not need the shade to protect them from heat in your area. We suggest that you contact the New Mexico State University Extension Office Los Alamos County and the Native Plant Society of New Mexico, both of which would be in a better position to advise you on the hardiness of these New Mexico natives than we are. 

Here is the information we were able to find on the four native to New Mexico, with some comments on the fruit. Follow the plant links to our webpage on each plant, and the link at the bottom of the page to Google information on that plant, for more specific instructions on how and where they will grow.

Mahonia fremontii (Fremont's mahonia) - Yellow edible fruit, a desert plant that really prefers year-round warmth. Pictures

Mahonia haematocarpa (red barberry) - Fruit edible but sour.

Mahonia repens (creeping barberry) -There is believed to be some toxicity to these berries when they are green, though this may be partly because they are not palatable until they are fully ripe and have been through a freeze or two, by which time they are perfectly safe.

Mahonia trifoliolata (agarita) - Hardy to 15 deg. F.

You should be warned that wildlife is also very fond of these berries, especially birds, so if you plan to raise some for berries for your cuisine, prepare to defend the bush.


Mahonia haematocarpa

Mahonia repens

Mahonia trifoliolata

 

 

 

 

More Edible Plants Questions

Sap of mulberry similar to sap of maple for syrup from Wellman IA
February 23, 2012 - Can the the sap of the mulberry tree be used to make syrup similar to maple Syrup?
view the full question and answer

Garden crop to plant in July in Austin
July 16, 2010 - I've just been given access to a plot at Sunshine Gardens and must plant something within 30 days. What would be a good planting crop for the middle of July that would be successful for harvesting i...
view the full question and answer

Use of Ilex sp. by Seminole Indians to make black drink.
August 03, 2009 - Ilex myrtifolia: can the leaves be used as tea? Seminole indians made a black drink reputed to be made of holly leaves.
view the full question and answer

A Bounty of Edibles for New Braunfels Texas
October 25, 2013 - I was hoping you could suggest a few plants that would serve several purposes. I live in New Braunfels, TX and would like to incorporate as many drought tolerant plants which would support birds, but...
view the full question and answer

Possible non-native squash and gourd cross from Kyle TX
June 10, 2012 - Last year I gathered seeds from the yellow squash plants that were grown from a seed packet (hybrid, I assume). Well, now the fruit produced by those plants seems to be a cross between a yellow squash...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.