Featured Plant: Sea Buckthorn (Seaberry)

by longtallyarn

I read profiles of Sea Buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides, in several edible landscaping books and looked at as many permaculture/gardening websites as I could find by way of research before I decided to plant it in my garden. I selected it because of the health benefits (anti-cancer properties and very high vitamin C) and also because of its good looks. Bright orange berries in the fall, silvery leaves all summer, shrubby dimensions that would grow to fill a niche in the backyard. The berries are reportedly sour so I had them in mind for making some juice or jam.

Warning, warning!  A sad tale follows:

The internet resources I checked said it was very, very easy to grow. Too easy, even. I actually perused a lot of comments about the invasive nature of this plant in some ecosystems, but decided that it ultimately wouldn’t be invasive in my region because our ecosystem is forested. It prefers open-plains type areas where it can get full sun and little competition. It easily tolerates very cold temps, very hot temps, poor soil, bright sun, and is unbothered by pests. I thought this would be a winner for us (in the southeastern US, near Raleigh NC, in case you are researching this plant for yourself). Some sources said it would tolerate humidity, my biggest concern since that is the condition that bothers the gardener the most 🙂  I even asked my neighbor from Estonia about the plants and she asked her mother for recommendations.  Her mom said it is a good plant with worthwhile fruits.

After what I thought to be adequate research, I obtained 3 plants from One Green World, a gardening center in Portland Oregon; Two females, Sirola and Golden Sweet, and one male sea buckthorn. I chose the German varieties as opposed to the Siberian varieties since the adapted climate might be more similar to ours. I received one potted female, the other female and the male were bare root plants. I put them in the ground as soon as possible and have kept other vegetation from shading them out and watered them as I thought necessary. There are oak trees in my yard but they still get 5 to 6 hours of good, hot, Carolina sun in the middle of the day.

The poor things have struggled all summer and if anything have grown shorter instead of taller, as the existing branches of the potted plant died back and it sent up a smaller shoot from the roots. The male was eaten by insects twice. May Beetles seem to target plants that are struggling, so I suspect it was already troubled when they came along. After the second time it was devoured, the one remaining leaf turned brown and it died. The females are still alive but they do not grow. I am thinking of digging them up and giving them to someone a little further north or anywhere else (do you want them, Mom?)

I inquired of a local gardening forum and was informed by a nearby member that he had tried to grow these plants for 3 years and failed. He said that his males always died first too. I asked if he had any theories and he said that the day lengths may not be right for them or maybe our soil is too acid.

I am thinking of writing to the authors who recommended the sea buckthorn as adaptable to any location and telling them all about my sorrows.  I’m also thinking about asking the local forum before taking any more recommendations from these books.

I guess the bright side is that it is exciting to buy new plants but not nearly as exciting as harvesting bright orange berries… Sigh.