Haskap, or Edible Honeysuckle

If you are looking for an early-fruiting, hardy berry to grow, look no further. More adapted to an average prairie garden's conditions than blueberries, and with less pest and disease problems than saskatoons, there are several new cultivars of haskap being released. The word haskap, traditionally used by the Japanese, is being used to refer to superior cultivars of a plant known variously as blue honeysuckle, sweetberry honeysuckle, and honeyberry. Its Latin name has also undergone some changes, having been known as Lonicera edulis and Lonicera villosa, before its current name, Lonicera caerulea. The same plant is still being sold under all these names.

Some old varieties of haskap can be found in prairie gardens, but the new releases claim to be much tastier and more productive. 'Blue Belle' and 'Berry Blue' are two Russian varieties on the market; their fruit is small but reputed to have a good flavour. The University of Saskatchewan's fruit breeding program is working hard on this new fruit, and has released 'Borealis', with large fruit and a good taste, which they recommend for home gardeners. Unfortunately, haskap is not self-fertile, so two varieties must be planted for cross-pollination.

Plants are extremely hardy and produce early in the season. The flower buds are said to be hardy to -7 degrees Celsius, which should protect early-flowering plants from spring frosts. Gardeners in the Chinook zone may want to mulch plants to prevent an early breaking of dormancy. Gardeners seeking an early fruit will be pleased that berries will be ready as early as mid-June, although the fruit may remain on the bush and in good condition into early August, if the birds don't beat you to it. Plants are generally between one and two metres at maturity, and may yield as much as seven to ten kilograms of fruit, although many cultivars are still being tested. 

Haskap fruit is very popular in Japan. It has very small seeds, and the skin is said to melt away when the fruit is eaten, making it very desirable for both processing and fresh eating. The flavour is quite variable among different cultivars, but is said to resemble a mix of blueberries and raspberries.

New varieties of haskap show a lot of promise, but have not been tested for long. New cultivars will probably be released from the University of Saskatchewan's breeding program within a couple years, and they will likely be worth waiting for. This is a fruit to keep an eye on.

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