Drawing of two green fruits on a branch


The Eastern Woodlands and Midwest are home to many different kinds of edible fruits. These fruits were gathered and eaten for thousands of years by Indigenous people living in Arkansas, even as people were gardening and growing domesticated plants. Indeed many of us still gather and eat the same fruits today.


Blackberries and Dewberries

(Rubus sp.)

New young shoot.

Flowering Blackberry

Blackberry in May.

Flowering Blackberry

Blackberry flowering with some green, unripe fruit in mid-May.

Blackberries with red, unripe fruit in June.

Ripe berries in July.

Dewberry vine in May. Note the red furry thorns on vine.

Ripe dewberry fruit in June.


(Passiflora incarnata)

One of the first plants to make an appearance in the Arkansas Archeological Survey Teaching Gardens is the maypop, popping up out of the ground in May.

This vineing plant spreads underground through a hardy underground root system. You never know where it might pop up in your garden.

Maypop vines spread very quickly and can get out of control if you don’t watch them.

Maypops have distinctive three lobed leaves. They also have tendrils used for climbing up things.

The flowers of maypops are very beautiful and distinctive- almost tropical looking.

Maypop flowers begin to appear in June.

Maypop flowers

Maypops continue flowering into September.

Maypop fruits begin to appear around late June.

The maypop fruit makes a popping sound when stepped on- another source for the plant’s name.

The maypop fruits are not ready to pick and eat when they are still firm and green.

The fruit is ripe when it is yellowish and soft.

The inside looks a little strange, but tastes great- kind of tropical. Like a pomegranate, the edible flesh is contained in little pods around each seed.

Maypop seeds are quite distinctive- black with small dimples.


(Diospyros virginiana)

Persimmons are medium sized hardwood trees. They are dioecious, meaning that trees either have male or female flowers, and only female trees produce fruit (but have to be near a male tree to do so).

Persimmon fruits do not ripen until the fall- October or November.

Based on ethnohistoric accounts, we know that persimmon fruit was eaten fresh but also dried and stored. It was cooked into bread and stews.

Native persimmons (American persimmon- Diospyros virginiana) are much smaller than the Japanese persimmon (Diospyros kaki L.) that can sometime be found in the grocery store today.

Do not eat a persimmon fruit unless it is orang-red and very soft. When the fruit is still green, it is very astringent and unpleasant.

Persimmon seeds are fairly large as seeds go. They are brown and flat oval in shape. During the Civil War when coffee was in short supply, ground persimmon seeds were used as a substitute.


(Asimina triloba) 

Pawpaw trees are fairly small and like shade.

Pawpaw trees flower in spring (April to May). Their flowers are not very showy but still pretty, dark maroon in color. Pawpaws are pollinated by flies and beetles. The flowers have a smell like something rotting- a very attractive scent for flies, but not so much for people.

The leaves of pawpaw trees are alternate and fairly long with smooth edges.

Pawpaw fruit and green in color and bean-shaped. You can start to see the fruit forming in June, but they do not become ripe and ready to eat until near the end of August or September. The fruit is yellow, sweet and custard-like.

Pawpaw fruit has a pleasant, sweet flavor. They are a nutrious fruit- a good source of vitamin C, magnesium, potassium, iron, and other essential vitamins and minerals.

The pawpaw seeds are fairly large, flat, and bean shaped.


(Sanbucus canadenis) 

Elderberry bush In May

White flower clusters of the elderberry are out by June.

Elderberry plants can get quite tall- up to about 12 feet in height.

Elderberry flower after pollination in late June.

Unripe green elderberries.

Elderberries are dark purple to black when ripe.

Elderberry fruit.

Each small elderberry fruit has a few tiny seeds (1 square = 1 cm).

Ground Cherries

(Physalis sp.)

Ground cherries are a member of the nightshade family like tomatoes, tomatillos, and peppers.

Ground cherry flowers are yellow. Sometime they have dark in the center of the flower and sometimes they don’t.

Ground cherries are similar to their domesticated relative tomatillos in that the fruit grows inside a husk.

Ground cherry fruits and husks start off green. When they are ripe the husk gets light tan and papery and they fall off the plant.

When ripe the ground cherry fruit is yellow inside the husk.

The interior of a ground cherry fruit also looks very much like a tomatillo with many tiny seeds.


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2008   Native Americans as Active and Passive Promoters of Mast and Fruit Trees in the Eastern USA. The Holocene 18(7): 1123-1137.


Briand, Christopher H.

2005    The Common Persimmon (Diospyros viginiana L.): The History of an Underutilized Fruit Tree (16th-19th Centuries) in Huntia; A Yearbook of Botanial and Horticultural Bibliography 12(1):71-89,


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2019   Feeding Cahokia: Early Agriculture in the North American Heartland. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa


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1977   Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region. University of Nebraska Press.


Gremillion, Kristen J.

1989   The Development of A Mutualistic Relationship between Humans and Maypops (Passiflora incarnata L.) in the Southeastern United States. Journal of Ethnobiology 9(2):135-155.


Moore, Andrew

2017     Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit.  Chelsea Green Publishing.


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1984    Comments on Some Additional Species, and Summary of Seasonality in Experiments and Observations on Aboriginal Wild Plant Food Utilization in Eastern North America, edited by Patrick J. Munson, pp. 459-473. Indiana Historical Society Prehistoric Research Series VI(2).


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