On the State of the Union, Blueberries, Cranberries, and Grapes

Foraging for North America’s native fruits more difficult than finding “climate change” in president’s address to Congress.

It’s the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address, a time when folks like to count stuff — like the number of minutes he spoke (65 or, for the less precise-minded, an hour-plus), how many words he intoned (many thousands), how many times he was interrupted by applause (83) or the number of times he received a standing ovation (37).

One counting exercise that definitely requires no higher math skills is tallying up the number of times the president mentioned climate change (or global warming). By my count it was once — an infinite increase relative to last year’s zero. However, lest we get too excited, this year’s mention was not exactly a call to action:

“The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change. But there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation.”

A Fruity Diversion

Disappointed with yet another missed opportunity for a serious discussion of climate change, but still wearing my counting shoes, I decided to go in search of something else to tally, and I found a good one: the number of fruits that are native to North America.

And, much to my surprise, I found some synchronicity with climate change. For one, like climate change there’s a good deal of misinformation on the subject. A cursory search on the Internets will lead you to myriad sites where it is stated that our wonderfully abundant and expansive continent is the native home to only three fruits: blueberries, cranberries and grapes. Here is a handful of said sites:

  • “Cranberries–one of only three fruits native to North America!”  (UMaine.edu)
  • “Concord grapes are one of only three fruits native to North America. The other two fruits are blueberries and cranberries.” (Dole.com)
  • “The cranberry is one of just three fruits native to North America (along with Concord grapes and blueberries)” (Pittsburgh Magazine)
  • “One of only three berries native to North America, the Wild Blueberry (vaccinium angustifolium) thrives in the glacial soils and northern climate found in the glacial soils and northern climate found in the fields and barrens of Downeast Maine and Canada. (Wildblueberries.com)
  • “Cranberries are actually one of the most unique fruits in the world. In fact, it’s only one of three fruits that are native to North America (the other two being the blueberry and the Concord grape).” (Oceansprayfoodservice.com)

Turns out that the idea that just three native fruit plants are native to North America is a meme that has spread throughout the Web like so many dandelion seeds being carried to lands far and away. And seemingly just as rootless and wrong.

In addition to the three bandied about above there are: strawberries, raspberries [pdf], buffaloberries, saskatoons, and persimmons, to name a few. Many of the aging male variety, who, like me, find themselves waking up in the middle of the night needing to tinkle, are thankful for the native saw palmetto.

And let’s not forget the wondrous and delicious avocado from central Mexico. There’s even something called a pawpaw; I thought that was just the name my wife had for her grandfather, but it too, it turns out, is yet another fruit native to North America.

Bringing It All Back Home

And so, contrary to the party line, so to speak, North America is a veritable cornucopia of fruit. And this brings us to the other parallel with climate change. For in climate change there is also a commonly held party line (or perhaps more accurately a two-party line): politically, climate change is a dead issue — so much so that it hardly even merits a mention in the president’s State of the Union. But, like the notion that there are only three fruits native to North America, party lines can be wrong. If you’ll pardon the pun, climate change was a hot topic in Congress in 2008. Who’s to say that it won’t heat up again? Stranger things have happened. And while you’re waiting you might try out a pawpaw or two. It’s definitely on my list.

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