“Novel Berry Crops” Grant for MSU Research

POSTED IN Uncategorized ON 7/3/2016

Saskatoon berries, goji berries, honeyberries, aronia berries — unfamiliar names to Michigan growers and consumers, but perhaps not for long. Michigan State University is about to launch studies on these novel berry crops, looking for the best varieties of these berries for the state’s climate, soils and marketing opportunities.

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Saskatoon berries

Saskatoons are the best known of these crops in North America, with over two million pounds produced annually in Canada. The various named varieties were derived from wild selections of Amelanchier alnifolia, a shrub native to several western states and Canadian provinces.

Saskatoons are closely related to the Juneberry or Serviceberry of eastern North America. They look very much like blueberries in appearance, but their flavor is uniquely different (some call it sweet nutty almond). Unlike blueberries that can only be grown on acidic soils, saskatoon berries can tolerate a wider range of soils in the neutral to alkaline range.

Saskatoons ripen earlier than most blueberries and are excellent eaten fresh or in pies, jellies, jams, syrups and wine. Human health benefits are associated with their high contents of phenolics, flavonols and anthocyanins.

Michigan currently is the leading producer of saskatoons in the United States, even though there are fewer than 20 acres in full production in the state.

Dr. Erwin "Duke" Elsner, PhD

Erwin “Duke” Elsner, PhD

About as many more acres will be reaching productive age in a short time. A team of Michigan State University campusfaculty and field staff recently received grant funding for a saskatoon berry variety trial to be conducted at four sites in the state. The sites are at Traverse City, East Lansing at the MSU Horticulture Teaching and Research Farm, Bay Mills in Chippewa County and the Upper Peninsula Research and Extension Center in Alger County.

Six promising varieties will be tested at each site. Each of these sites also will have a small variety trial of eight honeyberry, five goji berry and two aronia berry varieties. All of these berry crops are known to be very cold tolerant, so we are expecting good survival and fruiting almost anywhere in Michigan.



Honeyberries (Lonicera caerulea), also known as haskaps, are native to northern Europe, Asia and North America.

Plants are adapted to many soils and produce small, elongated blue berries that are typically sweet and mild. Their flavor lies somewhere between blueberries and raspberries.

Goji berries

Goji berries


Goji is a traditional Chinese berry that is increasingly in demand globally for perceived medicinal properties. This fruit is a member of the Solanaceae family and it has a mild tomato-like flavor.

Demand in the U.S. and globally has exploded because of perceived health benefits.


Aronia/Black Chokeberry

Aronia or black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is a Rosaceae species native to North America and Europe. It is widely grown in Eastern Europe and Russia. The fruit primarily is used for juice, but blended with juice from other less astringent fruits. Aronia has a very high anti-oxidant content.

Saskatoon berries soon will be ripening in the Grand Traverse region. Listings of growers offering U-pick berries and other saskatoon products can be found in the calendar of events page of the Saskatoon Berry Institute of North America’s web site: https://saskatoonberryinstitute.org/events.

Erwin “Duke” Elsner is a small fruit educator for the Grand Traverse County MSU Extension.

To see this article on The Record Eagle website regarding the Novel berry Crops grant, go to: http://www.record-eagle.com/news/business/agriculture-forum-studies-to-launch-on-novel-berry-crops/article_929e37d7-6738-5278-a73d-7a97d5689e39.html

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