Local Trees, Local Knowledge

Agricultural extension service helps identify plants in Alexandria

Kousa Dogwood fruit?

When I was young, my mother had a vegetable garden and we subscribed to our local extension service’s printed newsletter  that educated folks on soil conditions, pests and appropriate local varieties. The printed newsletter is long gone, but the agencies are just as helpful.

Case in point: My wife and I live adjacent to the George Washington Parkway, just south of Dyke Marsh,  which gives us the opportunity to observe the changing seasons through its diverse flora. Whether we are running, biking, or putting in our kayaks, there are hundreds of plant species greeting the eye. We are especially interested in the occasional shrub or tree that yields edible fruit.

During an evening walk about three weeks ago,  we noticed two fruit trees — one that appeared to bear crab apples and one that bore an interesting pinkish/yellowish fruit that  looked like something one might find in a Hispanic grocery store.

I picked a few fruits, along with their respective leaves and continued our evening walk along the river in perfect weather. When we got home, I uploaded photos of our finds and sent an inquiry to the local agricultural extension office in Fairfax, Virginia through their webpage http://offices.ext.vt.edu/fairfax/.  The good folks there got back to me in a day or two and helped me narrow down the possibilities. The photos I emailed to their specialist were low resolution, so we could not get a definite ID.  Turns out, we most likely did find crab apples and possibly the fruit of the Kousa Dogwood tree.

The crab apples

Crab apple?

are edible (especially to deer, turkeys and grouse!) and while bitter, they can be boiled down and sweetened to make jams, jellies or ciders.  The Kousa Dogwood fruit— no guarantee this is a Kousa — are edible and have a melony/sweet taste.

One word of caution though, I was advised by the extension agent to get a confirmed identification of both plants before tucking in to a confection of their fruits. The agent suggested I submit the fruits to the Extention’s diagnostic laboratory or visit a local plant clinic hosted by  the Fairfax County Master Gardeners.

We probably won’t be going to out to harvest crab apples by the bushel anytime soon, but it was great fun getting to know area plants by tapping into the expert knowledge of our local extension office.

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