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Sunday - March 17, 2013

From: Grand Prairie, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pollinators, Propagation, Seeds and Seeding, Shrubs
Title: Lack of Fruit on Forestiera
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


I have not been able to get berry production on my elbow bush. I have male and female plants. Is it possible to help with the pollination process? Thank you.


Elbow bush (Forestiera pubescens) is in the olive family and has fleshy blue fruit looking like individual grapes about ¼ inch in diameter. The fruit have a whitish coating called a bloom that can easily rub off ripens in early summer. One of the other common names for this plant is Spring Herald which is appropriate for its early bloom. This native shrub is an excellent nectar source for bees and butterflies when it is in bloom. Birds and other wildlife are very fond of the fruit.

The unglamorous flowers bloom between January and March on separate male and female bushes (dioecious). They are small, yellow, without petals, highly scented, and are in clusters right close to the twigs. Without a close up examination of the flowers, the male and female plants look the same. The flowers appear before the shrub opens its leaves.  In Central Texas the flowers bloom in February.

The first question that comes to mind is ... do you really have male and female plants? Often nurseries do not label the different sexes and having more than two plants is necessary to be sure you get a male and a female plant. Next year when they are blooming it would be wise to confirm that you do have a male and female plant and if not then you can quickly run to the nursery when they are still in bloom and buy the opposite sex. A website that has good close up pictures of the stamen and pistil is Katie Hansen’s Image Archive of Central Texas Plants. This is a website she maintains for the Native Plants of Central Texas course at the University of Texas at Austin.  

Two additional causes of male and female plants not producing fruit could be that they are not blooming at the same time (but this is not supposed to be the case for Forestiera pubescens). And lastly, fruit will not be formed if there is an excessively late and hard freeze that damages the flower buds or keeps away the pollinators. This should be a very rare occurence since this plant is quite cold tolerant (although flower buds are often not as hardy as leaf buds on a plant). Grand Prairie, Texas,  west of Dallas is USDA hardiness zone 8a (hardy to 10-15 F.) Forestiera pubescens is cold hardy to well below this temperature.



From the Image Gallery

Elbow bush
Forestiera pubescens

Elbow bush
Forestiera pubescens

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