Natal plums are not plums but they are a tasty fruit which once established are extremely wind, drought and salt tolerant.
This makes sense as the first time I saw them was some 30 years ago was at a beach house inside Canaveral National Park in New Smyrna Beach. For $75 we could rent the two-story place from Friday afternoon until Monday morning. It slept six, was almost across the street from “Turtle Mound” and was right on the beach, literally. The best part is we were locked in the park from sunset to sunrise giving us the entire beach to ourselves. That house had a hedge of Natal Plums on the west side. In fact just north of Bethune Beach Park there is a half-mile section of A1A that is residential and on the beach. Many of those houses have Natal Plums and where I go when I want to collect a lot of them.
Some 20 years later when I was in San Diego on business I saw Natal Plums everywhere in both commercial and residential landscaping. They can take the heat. And in Port Charlotte, Fla., where I teach my foraging classes, there are several plants in the area. There are numerous one in the neighborhoods where I live. Invariably when I ask the owner if I can have the fruit they have no idea they are edible. I find most of the Natal Plums when I’m driving. When I spy a dark green hedge with plum-size red fruit it’s almost always the Natal Plum. Although it’s closely related to the deadly Oleander there is a large, commercial variety of the species available. And while various fruit councils have championed the species for decades it never really took off as a commercial fruit. You can read about it here.
Another plum that is not a plum but is good to eat is the Cocoplum. It does not taste like chocolate or cocoa but has a seed that tastes like granola or almonds. In warmer climates it’s a common hedge plant. Indeed, at a Starbucks in West Palm Beach (on the south side of Okeechobee Boulevard near I-95) you can order through the drive-in and pick Cocoplums without getting out of your car. There are thee common varieties; white, red, and dark purple. I have not noticed any different in flavor between them but some say the darker the fruit the better the flavor. From an aesthetic point of view the darker colors age better on the bush. While the pulp of the fruit is acceptable — unless texture is a significant food issue with you — the kernel once cracked out if it tough shell is quite tasty and worth the effort. You can read about them here.
While on the topic of wild fruit we are down to the last few days locally of Chickasaw Plums for the year. Height of the season was perhaps two weeks ago but there are some lingering fruit here and there. Annually I have never found any Chickasaw Plum fruit after the Fourth of July. Also confounding foraging some this year are the Surinam Cherries. In two different locations some 200 miles apart the Suriname Cherries seem to have had two fruitings. In both locations they flushed out with smaller than usual fruit, stopped bearing for about three weeks then came back with a second set of fruit. This time many making it to full size. The weather can indeed be strange.
The weather has also started mushroom season in full force. Many days of heavy rainpour have signaled both edible and toxic mushrooms alike to pop up. This will probably be the strongest flush of them until this fall. One of the difficult aspect of studying mushrooms is they are not here all the time (like an oak tree.) You have to study them when they are up. Many people are hesitant about mushroom, and with good cause. But there are some reasonably easy ones and you don’t have to eat any of them. Just start identifying some. It is with some irritation that I can still identify more toxic mushrooms than edible ones.
If someone wants to start studying mushrooms but doesn’t know where to begin I would suggest the Bolete group. All but one species of them have pores not gills. The group contains edible and toxic ones but none of them are deadly if you are in good health (that means a lot of gastric upset but no liver or kidney damage.) And there is a simple set of rules to eliminate the bad ones. But more to the point it is a good group to study to learn the various parts of the mushroom and what identifying characteristics to look for to help identification (color, spore colors, cap textures, stem textures, how they react to some chemicals et cetera.) In short it’s an easy, safe group to start with that you can handle, smell and field taste without any serious issues. (My neighbor’s lawn right now has some boletes that pass the toxic test only to be too bitter to eat. One can’t tell that without a little taste then spit out.)
Although this was mentioned last week it is worth running again. When it comes to the Bolete group Michael Kuo, a long-recognized expert, recommends this: (If you do eat them) eat only fresh, young specimens. That eliminates food poisoning from rotting flesh and eating nasty bugs in old specimens. Also production of key bruising identification marks can fade with age which is another reason to use or examine only young specimens. Most poisonous boletes have red or orange pore surfaces. Also avoid any Boletes with an orange cap. Avoid Boletes that stain or bruise blue to green. Be sure to check the cap, stem and pore surfaces for bruising.
These rules while eliminating all toxic Boletes also eliminate several edible ones. For example Boletes that stain blue on contact are to be avoided yet one of the more choice edible ones turns brilliant blue almost immediately. But those are the exceptions so one learns the rules first, then the exceptions. Kuo does not mention a taste test but that eliminates bitter ones.
FORAGING CLASSES: The rain held off for a class in Port Charlotte last week. We manage to find some early Cocoplums. This week there is a Saturday class in Jacksonville and then a Sunday one in here in Orlando at Blanchard Park. Dress for the weather!
Saturday, June 17th, Florida State College, south campus, 11901 Beach Blvd., Jacksonville, 32246. 9 a.m.
Sunday, June 18th, Blanchard Park, 10501 Jay Blanchard Trail, Orlando, FL 32817. 9 a.m. Meet east side of the tennis courts near the YMCA building.
Sunday, June 25th, Dreher Park, 1200 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach, 33405., 9 a.m.
Saturday, July 1st., Spruce Creek Park, 6250 Ridgewood Ave. Port Orange, 32127. 9 a.m.
Sunday, July 2nd, John Chestnut County Park: 2200 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor, FL 34685. 9 a.m
Saturday, July 8th, Blanchard Park, 10501 Jay Blanchard Trail, Orlando, FL 32817. 9 a.m. Meet east side of the tennis courts near the YMCA building.
Sunday, July 9th, George LeStrange Preserve, 4911 Ralls Road, Fort Pierce, FL, 34981, 9 a.m.
Saturday, July 15th, Colby-Alderman Park: 1099 Massachusetts Street, Cassadaga. Fla. 32706. 9 a.m.
Sunday July 16th, Red Bug Slough Preserve, 5200 Beneva Road, Sarasota, FL, 34233. 9 a.m.
To read more about the foraging classes go here.
Want to identify a plant? Looking for a foraging reference? Do you have a UFO, an Unidentified Flowering Object you want identified? On the Green Deane Forum we chat about foraging all year. And it’s not just about warm-weather plants or just North American flora. Many nations around the world share common weeds so there’s a lot to talk about. There’s also more than weeds. The reference section has information for foraging around the world. There are also articles on food preservation, and forgotten skills from making bows to fermenting food. One special section is “From the Frightening Mail Bag” where we learn from people’s mistakes. You can join the forum by clicking on the button on the upper right hand side of this page.
All of Green Deane’s videos available for free on You Tube. They do have ads on them so every time you watch a Green Deane video I get a quarter of one cent. Four views, one cent. Not exactly a large money-maker but it helps pays for this newsletter. If you want to see the videos without ads and some in slightly better quality you can order the DVD set. It is nine DVDs with 15 videos on each. Many people want their own copy of the videos or they have a slow service and its easier to order then to watch them on-line. They make a good gift for that forager you know. Individual DVDs can also be ordered. You can order them by clicking on the button on the top right of this page or you can go here.
Blossoming now is a strange plant, the Wild Pineapple. What is strange is that the government says it does not grow here. It’s reported in only one county in Florida but I have seen it in at least five and over 160 miles apart, from Gainesville to east of Lake Wales. I suspect they were ornamentals a century or so ago at resorts and noted inns along rail lines. They can sometimes be found with bamboo and cultivated grapes, more plants that I suspect were stop-over landscaping. I think they were planted more for their beauty than their taste. The problem is some folks can eat the fruit with no apparent after effect and some of us can’t of which I am one. The fruit when ripe is tasty but it wipes out my taste buds for a few hours. Other people report no problem. You can read about the Wild Pineapple here.
This is issue 261
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