An Introduction to Honeyberries
It is very difficult to determine the exact native footprint or region of the Honeyberry, as we have only recently started to look. The map below shows that it is fairly widespread across the Northern hemisphere, divided into two camps Lonicera caerulea (Western Europe, Siberia and Northern Asia) and Lonicera villosa (North America). However, we do know that the best tasting varieties come from Western Siberia to Northern Japan from the following varieties –
- Lonicera kamtschatica Sevast Pojark (Honeyberries)
- Lonicera Turczaninowii Pojark (Honeyberries)
- Lonicera emphyllocalyx (Haskap – Japan and the Kuril Islands)
Honeyberries have long been harvested in the wild in western Russia, northern China and northern Japan. Where it has been treasured and used in folk medicine for centuries. This blue member of the honeysuckle family (Lonicera) was not officially documented until 1755, in ‘Description of the Land of Kamchatka’ by Russian explorer Stepan Krasheninnikov’s.
Lush berry shrubs, such as honeysuckle, bilberries and cranberries, dominate the tundra landscape. The Kamchatka honeysuckle and mountain ash decorate the foothills and valleys. Honeysuckle is a shrub, which lives 50 to 70 years. Its berries are large and have a delicious taste.
Agricultural research to develop this berry into a commercial crop began in the former Soviet Union in the 1950s with selections primarily from Lonicera caerulea, kamtschatica, edulis, altaica and boczkarnikowae. In the 1970s, a research programme was started in Hokkaido, Japan, to develop selections from their local subspecies, Lonicera emphyllocalyx.
Why has it remained – ‘World’s tastiest secret?’
There are some 18th and 19th-century references to an “edible, early-ripening wild berry resembling a blueberry in Russian and Japanese texts. The historically closed societies of both these nations made publication of any information concerning this edible blue honeyberry extremely difficult. Perhaps we could argue one of the best side benefits of glasnost, which marked the collapse of the Soviet Empire in 1986, was the introduction of the Russian-bred honeyberry to the world.
Honeyberry Global Footprint
Where will it thrive? In more places than you think
The native distribution of the Honeyberry is widely spread over many different climatic or regional zones from the Russian arctic to more moderate coastal ones of Northern Japan.
The plant is well known for its extreme cold hardiness, frost tolerance of its spring flowers, low heat unit requirements, early fruit maturity, unique deep flavour, high content of tannins, antioxidant compounds, pectin and Vitamin C, ease of care and very few pests and diseases.
However, the plants are also becoming well know for its adaptability to new local growing conditions outside its native homelands, especially if the soils meet its requirements. It was once thought that it would only thrive the cold middle Canadian hinterland. Where it is easy to make climatic comparisons to Western Siberia.
It has now been proved the plant can thrive in the warmer climatic conditions of the Canadian Maritimes (garden zones 4 to 6), the UK – both in Scotland and Southern England (garden zones 7 to 9) and in Eastern and Southern Poland (garden zones 7 to 9). All these areas easily meet the plants requirement of around 1,000 to 1,200 chilling hours per season, between a latitude of 45 to 58 degrees.
The Honeyberry opportunity is starting to attract commercial growers attentions in the traditional berry regions of the United States. We believe it will not be long until curious and optimistic growers set up new orchards within the plants ‘Goldilocks Zones’ below.
North American Goldilocks Zone
Berries Unlimited Honeyberry Varieties
Lidia Stuart grew up in the Far Eastern part of Russia, where it is considered the origin of Zhimolost or Honeyberry. Most of the wild varieties originate or are found there – Lonicera kamtschatica Sevast. Pojark (commonly known as Honeyberry), Lonicera edulis Turcz. Ex Freyn, Lonicera Turczaninowii Pojark, Lonicera regeliana Boczkar, Lonicera pallasii Ledeb, Lonicera emphyllocalyx (commonly known as Japanese Haskap).
Together with her husband Hare Delafield, they have created a wonderful ‘ Home of the Honeyberry’ at their Berries Unlimited nursery in North Western Arkansas. She has happily found that seedlings from F3, F4, and F5 plants give us a wide variety of possibilities with new cultivars. She has selected wild Honeyberry cuttings and seedlings from all over Far East Russia and Japan to serve as a wonderful source materials for breeding varieties. In her opinion, the most preferable for the selection of new varieties come from Lonicera kamtschatica Sevast, Lonicera Turczaninowii Pojark and Lonicera emphyllocalyx (commonly known as Japanese Haskap).
These offer different tastes and flavours from bitterness to very sweet. These together factors and berry shape, firmness and productivity are all vitality important in selecting a viable new cultivar. In her opinion blending tart berries with sweeter ones give the Honeyberry its unique wild flavour. She is currently selecting new cultivars for wine and other alcohol products. We firmly agree with her that Honeyberries will evolve along the lines of grapes. Where table grapes (Vitis labrusca) are fat and sassy with a Brix level of 17 to 19 and wine grapes (Vitis verifa) are lean and mean with a Brix closer to 24 to 26.
Polish Lukaszewska Honeyberry Varieties
Sophia Łukaszewska together with her husband Jerome started their wonderful adventure with Honeyberries or “Jagada Kamczacką” in 1991. In their garden in Osielsko near Bydgoszcz, they planted the seedlings imported from Russia varieties of Honeyberries. Even after the first year, they managed to select two promising varieties with tasty fruit. This was one of the main features that were taken into account during the selection process. Over 90% of the plants from the Russian seeds produced bitter fruits.They continued their work with other varieties derived from Lonicera edulis Turcz. Two of which were named ‘Wojtek’ and ‘Jolanta’ and were submitted to the Research Centre for Cultivar Testing in Słupia United, where they were described as a model for other new Polish varieties of honeyberries.
- Larisa (Wojtek)
- Vicky (Zojka)
- Erin (Ruben)
- Rebecca (Rebekka)
- Ruth (Iga)
- Maries (Tola)
- Evie (Jolanta)
University of Saskatchewan Haskap Varieties
Since receiving funding from Saskatchewan Agriculture in 2006, The University of Saskatchewan, under Dr. Bob Bors direction have made controlled crosses, between Japanese, Russian and Kuril parentage, resulting in thousands of Haskap seedlings. This research program has seen impressive results in faster-growing plants and larger and more flavorsome berries. Their goal is to combine the best traits from different regions to adapt this crop for mechanical harvesting under the varietal name – Haskap and are better adapted to warmer areas.
Their new varieties (Boreal Beauty and Boreal Blizzard) continue to improve since the introduction of Borealis (2007) with the introduction of higher parental breeding quality. Most of their advanced breeding material is based on hybridizing germplasm from Maxine Thompson (Formally Oregon State University) from material sourced in Japan, Russia and Europe, Jim Gilbert (Northwood’s Nursery) and Maria Plekhanova (Vavilov Institute, Russia).
Dr. Bob Bors is the Head of the Domestic Fruit Program and an Assistant Professor in the Department of the Plant Sciences University of Saskatchewan, and lead’s Canada’s development of Haskap berries. He began in 1999 to head the Fruit Program at the university. Bob obtained a BSC from the University of Maryland, and a Ph.D. from the University of Guelph. Bob’s research focuses on breeding, tissue culture, propagation, disease screening, and interspecific hybridization of horticultural crops with emphasis on fruit and ornamentals.
Dr. Bors will share his research experience growing and breeding cold-tolerant fruit, as well as techniques for selecting which fruits to grow in the north.
- Boreal Beast
- Boreal Beauty
- Boreal Blizzard
- Indigo Gem
- Indigo Treat
- Indigo Yum
- Honey Bee
Maxine Thompson Varieties
Dr. Maxine Thompson, professor emeritus of the department of horticulture at Oregon State University, is one of the foremost expert on Haskap in the United States. She operates an active breeding program in the United States to develop varieties suitable for the western American climate. She received a BSC and Ph.D. from the University of California, Davis. Her research focuses on the development of cultivars suited for home garden and commercial farm use. Her peers recognized her with the Frank M. Meyer Medal for Plant Genetic Resources – 1997 and the Wilder Medal – American Pomological Society – 2002.
Her varieties originate from northern Japan and tend to ripen in some cases 3 to 4 weeks later than the Russian varieties. However, this depends on the climatic region where the plants are grown. She has worked extensively with and developed numerous cultivars from this species focusing her efforts on improving the best Japanese traits including later blooming, larger rounder or more oval fruits with uniform ripening, and better more upright growth habits. Because of their strong Japanese heritage we refer to her varieties as Haskap rather than Honeyberries.