Mid-Atlantic Native Food Forest Polyculture for Rain Gardens & Wet Sites

On June 6, 2015 at Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery, I taught a workshop on Creating Native Food Forests. We discussed our woodland biome & the cycle of ecological succession, contrasted the outputs of wilderness with conventional agriculture, and detailed some possible direct and indirect uses of edible forest gardens. We then looked at some agroforestry case studies, like Mark Shepard’s 100+ acre New Forest Farm, Fields without Fences in Frenchtown, NJ, Eric Toensmeir & Jonathan Bates’ 1/10 acre Paradise Lot, and Steven Gabriel’s ‘De-slugging the Woods‘ maple-mushroom-duck polyculture.

It seems that everyone has a downspout or some greywater that could be redirected into a rain garden, so I pulled a selection of Edge of the Woods plants favoring moist to wet soil conditions. I wanted to highlight how these native species could produce nuts, fruit, berries, vegetables, tea, and medicine, as well as ecosystem services like nitrogen fixation, pollinator habitat, stormwater management, and watershed quality improvement.

mid atlantic native food forest polyculture rain garden

Species List (roughly from largest to smallest mature size)

1. Pecan / Carya illinoinensis / 70-100′, delicious nuts, high value timber

2. Pawpaw / Asimina triloba / 10-40′, most commonly 20-35′, delicious fruit (improved seedlings and grafted forms available), deer & pest resistant, host to zebra swallowtail butterfly.

3. Downy serviceberry / Amelanchier arborea / 15-25′, species within the Amelanchier genus go by many names and have varying sizes and habits, but all have highly ornamental white spring blossoms, followed by small, flavorful berries, and burgundy fall foliage. Not very picky about soils, serviceberries offer a nice alternative to acid-loving blueberries.

4. Hazel alder / Alnus serrulata / 12-20′, nitrogen-fixing, high wildlife value, glossy, ribbed leaves tinged with red, winter interest.

5. Spicebush / Lindera benzoin / 6-12′, a graceful shrub providing lemon blooms in early spring, glossy red berries, and yellow-gold fall foliage. Aromatic twigs and leaves can be used as tea. Host plant for spicebush swallowtail.

6. American black elderberry / Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis / 6-12′, insectary umbel blooms and dark purple fruits, usually stewed and consumed as cordials or cough medicine. Several ornamental cultivars are now available, featuring varied foliage and flower color, or improved fruit quality. Self-fruitful, although a pollinator will improve fruit set.

7. Ostrich fern / Matteuccia struthiopteris / 3-6′, ornamental fern producing edible fiddlehead vegetable of early spring. Will spread via stolons, and foliage will die down by mid-summer.

8. Swamp verbena / Verbana hastata / 2-5′, ornamental candelabra-like blooms, insectary, ‘cure-all’ medicinal, usually consumed as tea.

9. Goldenrod ‘Fireworks’ / Solidago rugosa / 3-4′, top herbaceous insectary species according to Douglas Tallamy. Ornamental golden sprays in late summer/ early fall. Medicinal/ tea.

10. Hoary mountain mint / Pycanthemum incanum / 2-4′, native, insectary mint. Medicinal, tea, potherb.

11. Nodding onion / Alium cernuum / 1-2′, ornamental flowers, insectary, deer/ pest resistant, all parts edible and used like scallions

12. Labrador violet / Viola labradorica / 4-6″, groundcover, ornamental and edible purple foliage and lavender flowers. Host plant for fritillary butterflies and seeds are favored by cardinals & other songbirds.


Related posts:

Lunaria Gardens Nursery

#SavetheBees: ‘Queen of the Sun’ screening and pollinator panel discussion, Doylestown, PA

Photos from Forest Gardening workshop at Fields without Fences

Notes from Edible Forest Gardening Workshop with Eric Toensmeier


Contact Kristen Jas Vietty

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *