This spring you may notice a new plant in your local garden center.
Goji is a sprawling shrub with long, flexible canes and clusters of small, grey-green leaves. The flowers are a brilliant purple and appear in early summer along the length of the canes. They produce juicy, bright red fruits that resemble small peppers. The berries grow sweeter as they mature on the plant, and continue to appear until frost.
I discovered the goji plant recently at the Green and Growin’ Show, the North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association’s winter trade show in Greensboro. Following a taste of a few dried berries, I was sold.
Back at home, a search of Wikipedia provided me with a synopsis of the berry’s history in China, where commercial production farms can range in size from 100 to 1000 acres. The botanical reference for goji, Lycos, is Greek for wolf, and the fruit is often referred to as “wolfberry.” The United States imported more than $120 million of this so-called happy fruit in 2004. It is a member of the Nightshade family, which also includes potato and tomato, and has been in cultivation for more than 4300 years.
Many gardeners are eager to introduce a new variety into their backyard orchard. Proven Winners™ and other horticultural organizations have begun marketing campaigns for goji berry plants. And at a cost of $13 per pound for dried fruit, a homegrown batch of the bright orange-red berries is appealing.
Since this plant is new to our area, there is still much to learn about growing this crop. I wonder how the goji berry plant may take to our stubborn Carolina clay soil. Identifying the plant’s ideal growing conditions will be key to learning if they can flourish here. Are they best-suited to our fertile, coastal floodplains, or to the drought-prone Piedmont climate? I have heard from two Piedmont gardeners who have planted them, and one insists that they are underused by gardeners.
I rarely end a garden feature with a question, but I do wonder about your experience with growing the goji plant? If you’ve given them a try, please post a comment and share what you’ve learned about growing them. Thumbs up or thumbs down for growing goji berries?