10 Feb 2006
Eleagnus ebbingei – it actually fruits!
*Eleagnus ebbingei* is one of the classic permaculture plants, a nitrogen fixing, evergreen, early fruiting windbreak shrub. Ken Fern in his book ‘Plants for a Future’ talks about finding a mature bush on the roundabout near Heathrow airport covered in juicy red berries in April, a time of year when most other fruits barely even have leaves on. When in Ireland I did a few permaculture designs for people and always included some of this plant, telling the clients what a wonderful plant it was and how they were going to love the berries. None of them ever saw a single berry. I was beginning to think that it was a myth, and that *Eleagnus ebbingei* was purely a decorative shrub with no fruiting abilities, when I got an email from Graham Strouts, who took over teaching the permaculture course in Kinsale from me. 4 years ago the students and myself had planted an edible hedge, to hide a rather ugly car park and also to give some produce. It included hazel, elder, wild pear, other things I can’t remember now and *Eleagnus ebbingei*.
In all my time there it never fruited, but now I have gone, this week it produced some fruit (I’m sure it is nothing personal). Not many, but its a start. So, I am vindicated, it does fruit, and earlier than April, fruit in February, that has to be something to get excited about. As to the taste, Graham writes, “Most aren’t ripe yet- I tasted one reddish one that was quite sweet but left a slightly dry taste on the tongue”. This probably would have improved with being let a little longer, I know *Myrtus ugni* is not much to write home about until it is truly ripe, and then it is sensational. Fruit on Eleagnus may not get many people in a dither of excitement, in fact Graham writes, “I’m not sure the students were quite convinced or appreciated what all the fuss was about!”, which is completely understandable, but for those of us who have spent years in pursuit of its mystical properties, it is the horticultural equivalent of the scientists who recently discovered a whole new area of pristine rainforest in New Guinea full of previously undiscovered species. The promise is huge, and February fruit salads await for all…