Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)

Sea Buckthorn

I have already decided that I would like to try and grow some Sea Buckthorn in the field within the Chicken area, partly because it appears that chickens like to eat the berries but also because it'll give the Field another species for wildlife and I like the look of the plant.

More general reading about Sea Buckthorn suggests that there are various people pushing it as a super fruit which can have health benefits along with making a good drink, when sweetened and perhaps mixed with Apple juice. Another good reason to plant some as one of the purposes of the field is to have it produce our food.

As a volunteer for the Wildlife Trust I often have to help manage Sea Buckthorn by cutting it back as it can become an invasive plant. Having been regularly in contact with it something has become apparent to me which I needed to explain for myself...

Sea Buckthorn grows in groups of Female and Male plants. You don't get too many male plants next to female ones so when you look at an extensive area you see a big patch of female plants with loads of berries and, perhaps the other side of a path, a big area of male plants. Why is this?

After giving it some thought, driven by the permaculture principle of observe and interact, it would seem that the main way Sea Buckthorn propogates is by runners or rhizomes. Therefore a female plant will spring up next to a female plant. I have read that the genes of a plant only change by seed (something I need to read up on) and that cuttings are clones of the parent. I think the rhizomes must therefore create clones. A male plant's rhizomes will therefore produce more male plants. You therefore get groups or areas of each type just expanding.

The fact that there are male and female plants in relatively close proximity would lead you to think that a seed could drop close to, for example, a female plant, but grow as a male and therefore help to break up these big groups of same sex plants but in reality this doesn't appear to happen. While it may sometimes, in general, it doesn't. To me this would suggest that a seedling doesn't like growing in a shaded position, or at least struggles to grow, and is therefore out competed by the parent plant. New colonies need to be created by the berries dropping some distance away from the parent, probably by birds.

Reading about Sea Buckthorn you are told that it requires, or demands, full sunlight. The observations and my thoughts would therefore appear to be correct.

By observing things in nature it allows you to better understand something as opposed to just reading about it which then allows you to interact better with nature to produce and care for your plants better. 

For me, it is obvious that I need to plant female Sea Buckthorn to make sure I get berries and also not to allow it to become shaded. The location to plant therefore requires space for the plants to propagate via the rhizomes which also needs to be away from my boundary otherwise the rhizomes will simply go under the fence and annoy the neighbours. Knowing, because I have seen for myself, how invasive these plants can be also means that I will need access all around the shrub in order to break rhizomes to stop them spreading beyond the area that I wish them to be.

Sea buckthorn can tolerate a wide range of soil types but in the wild in this country, certainly in my area, they are only to be found on the coast on very well drained and sandy soil. Perhaps they prefer the salt in the air from the sea and as I'm reasonably close to the sea I hope that I can ignore the air and just concentrate on the soil. As I have plenty of sand left over from the greenhouse base I'll use this to prepare the soil which will also aid the drainage in the chicken area which was part of the field that suffers from surface flooding.

Hopefully I can provide a good enough soil and location for Sea Buckthorn so that it will grow well enough to provide plenty of berries for the chickens but also for us to include in drinks and anything else we can think of incorporating the berries.

Sea Buckthorn would appear to be an excellent plant to have for various reasons but must also be very hardy to live on the coast. With  harvesting berries and cutting back it must be remembered that this shrub is not only thorny as it's name suggests but in reality it aggressively attacks you, almost with deliberate targeting of exposed skin. My work in managing Sea Buckthorn has meant that I have become perforated  on many occasions and when working with others every conversation during the work starts with the word "Ouch!" so leather gloves for handling it are a must.