New Development on Domesticating Wild Huckleberries

Domesticating wild huckleberries is a project that several different agencies have researched over the years.  Dr. Dan Barney,who has been a friend of this organization since its inception, has several articles on his findings while working at the University of Idaho’s Sandpoint Research center (which was closed in 2010).

New Development on Domesticating Wild Huckleberries

Dr. Dan Barney presentation at the Elk River Huckleberry Workshop held in 2005

Nathan Tarlyn, a research assistant at Washington State University, has recently picked up the torch on domesticating wild huckleberries , according to an article by Taryn Phaneuf in CrossCut.com.

Here are some excerpts from her article:

Taming the Northwest’s beloved huckleberry

Huckleberries are completely wild — they won’t be found lined up in rows on farms like their tamed cousin, the blueberry. Instead, thousands of people appear in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest each year, armed with buckets and permits, looking to cash in on a berry crop that retails for upward of $10 per pound.

Previous attempts have failed because wild huckleberries’ dependence on their ecosystem makes them notoriously hard to grow anywhere else. But Tarlyn works in a lab known for its deep dives into plant genomes that wind up solving major problems in the world of tree fruit, and the huckleberry puzzle caught researchers’ attention. Three years after he introduced the challenge, a set of huckleberry plants growing in a campus greenhouse produced fruit — a process that takes closer to seven years in the wild. Researchers estimate that within another year, the first domesticated variety will be ready….

The lab began with tissue cultures from wild huckleberry plants Tarlyn bought at a wild plant store. Normally, it would take years for those cuttings to reach maturity, but a previous breakthrough by Dhingra’s lab altered the timeline. They pioneered a method for propagating plants five times faster than traditional nurseries using a soil-free, nutrient-rich medium….

Step by step, the lab saw success with huckleberries: With the right soil mix, plants survived in the greenhouse, where researchers could manipulate the conditions to speed up growth. To get berries this year, Tarlyn put blueberry plants in the greenhouse and released bumblebees for pollination. The unorthodox method worked, and now they’re germinating new huckleberry seeds to see what traits the crosses will have that may lead to an attractive variety later….

“Our goal is to have the productivity of a blueberry and the quality of a wild huckleberry,” Dhingra says….

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