2005, ARS News Service: Have you ever tasted
an elderberry or lingonberry? How about an aronia berry?
These three lesser-known fruit crops are being studied
by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists who
hope to make these fruits more popular with consumers.
At the ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository in
Corvallis, Ore., research leader Kim E. Hummer and her
staff are studying what are called "minor crops"--fruits
that may be popular in other countries--to see if they
can successfully grow them here. Another example is
the edible-fruited honeysuckle, which looks somewhat
like a blueberry and has its own unique flavor, very
different from the more popular ornamental honeysuckles
with orange fruit.
There are more than 600 minor crops in the United States.
While any crop that's grown on fewer than 300,000 acres
nationally is considered a minor crop, many of the crops
studied in Corvallis are grown on only a few hundred
In some cases, such as with kiwifruit, the fruit may
start off as a minor crop but eventually become a market
staple. The scientists also are studying hardy kiwifruit,
which is related to the fuzzy kiwifruit found in supermarket
produce sections. The hardy kiwifruit has a smooth skin
and is the size of a large grape, but has green flesh
and black seeds similar to the traditional kiwi.
Two problems with the current hardy kiwifruit cultivars
are that they are smaller than desired and only ripen
during a three-week window, meaning they can only be
sold for a few weeks a year. Geneticist Chad E. Finn
at the ARS Horticultural Crops Research Laboratory,
also in Corvallis, is trying to identify new cultivars
from populations of wild hardy kiwifruit collected in
China that have larger fruit and ripen at different
times in the season than current cultivars.