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Garden huckleberry

Jill MacKenzie

drawing of a garden huckleberry plant

Garden huckleberry

Garden huckleberry or wonderberry (Solanum melanocerasum, syn S. nigrum guineense) is not related to true huckleberries, woody plants in the heath family. Instead, it is an herbaceous annual in the nightshade family, related to tomatoes, peppers, tobacco, eggplant and potato. An unusual crop for gardeners to try, garden huckleberry bears small jet-black berries that are cooked and sweetened, and often combined with other fruits such as apples, lemons and grapes, to make jellies, preserves and pies.

Culture of garden huckleberry is similar to tomato culture: start plants indoors in early April, covering the seeds with 1/4 inch of soil. Germination should take one to two weeks. Transplant to a sunny location outdoors when all danger of frost is past and the weather has settled, in late May or early June. Allow two feet between plants.

Garden huckleberry plants resemble pepper plants, bushy and erect, up to two feet tall. Flowers, appearing in clusters in July, are small and white. Each plant will bear hundreds of 1/2-3/4-inch berries, ripening from green to deep black. One plant should produce enough berries for a single pie.

The fruits are not edible until fully ripe and cooked. They are toxic if eaten unripe, and the raw fruit is quite bitter. The berries are ready to harvest about two weeks after they first turn black, when their skin has changed from shiny to dull, and the flesh is very soft. The interior pulp will turn from greenish to purple when ripe. The flavor of the berries is improved by allowing them to remain on the plant until after the first frost. The plants have some cold tolerance and may continue to ripen fruit after light frosts.

The following companies are sources for garden huckleberry seeds:

Farmers Seed & Nursery
818 NW Fourth Street
Faribault, MN 55021
(507) 334-8214

Seeds Blum
HC 33 Idaho City Stage
Boise, ID 83706
(Catalog: $3.00)

Stokes Seeds, Inc.
Box 548
Buffalo, NY 14240-0548

H201H Revised 1999

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