Goumi (Gumi)

(Elaeagnus multiflora)

Goumi fruit
‘Sweet Scarlet’ fruit

Cultivar tested

‘Sweet Scarlet’

Description and site preference

Type and size – rounded shrub, somewhat thorny, 8 feet tall
Hardiness zone – 5-9 (marginal in 4)
Exposure – full sun for good fruiting
Soil – wide range
Drainage – moderate to well-drained

Goumi in bloom
Goumi in bloom

Economic factors

Years to harvest – 2-3
Maintenance – little required
Life of planting – 20+ years
Machine harvest potential – high in hedgerow plantings
Suitable markets – fresh and processed

Notable features

Nutritional highlights – research is needed to see if goumi has high levels of lycopene and other nutrients, similar to the related autumn olive
Adaptability – high, marginal winter hardiness in Zone 4
Pest issues – minimal (none observed)
Invasive potential – does not have invasive tendencies
Environmental benefits – nitrogen fixing and strong insectary plant

Integration characteristics

Shared management – high, similar to other hedgerow fruit crops
Shared equipment – high, similar to other hedgerow fruit crops
Shared processing – high, provides early start for fresh fruit processing
Co-marketing – high with other similarly processed fruits; intermediate for local and regional sales of fresh fruit

Integration potential – very good

Could be a strong contributor to both economic and ecological components of an integrated system.

History and background

A close relative to autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), goumi is non-invasive. While its nutritional qualities are not well researched, it is possible that it has nutritional value similar to some autumn olive varieties, including high lycopene content.

Goumi is a non-native fruiting plant from the Russian Far East, China and Japan, where it is highly valued as a medicinal plant as well as for its edible fruit. It was introduced to North America from Asia well over 100 years ago. It is still little known in North America, but in 1937, Dr. George Darrow mentioned in a USDA yearbook that goumi was among “plants that await the breeder’s attention.”

Observations at Carandale Farm

Carandale has only one commercial cultivar in the test plot because that was all that was available from Northwoods Nursery (see One Green World) in 2003. The observations are based on a cultivar called ‘Sweet Scarlet’, which is a Ukrainian variety selected for sweetness and fruit size by the Kiev Botanic Garden. The fruit has a pleasant, somewhat tart flavor with slight astringency when fully ripe. Carandale Farm found it to be well accepted as a fresh fruit when test marketed at the Dane County Farmer’s Market in Madison, Wisconsin. Other potential uses include sauces, pies, jellies, juice and perhaps wine.

  • Plants established well in 2003 with substantial crop in 2006.
  • Following a prolonged cold spell in February 2007 when nighttime temperatures dropped below -20 degrees F for three nights, significant dieback was observed. There was no fruit in 2007 due to renewal pruning. The plants rebounded dramatically and were at least three feet tall by fall, with some fruit the following year.
  • No additional dieback has been observed since, even though the lowest temperature was -31.6 degrees F in January 2009. The difference between extensive dieback and no dieback could be attributed to timing and duration of the cold snap.
  • Substantial fruit production again by 2010.
  • The plants were 8 feet tall by the spring of 2012 and covered with bloom by late March, a month earlier than normal.
  • Temperatures fell to the lower to mid 20s for six nights in a row in mid-April 2012 and the crop, as well as other fruit crops at Carandale, was lost. Unprecedented high heat in March caused early bloom. For 10 days in mid-March, night time temperatures were in the 40s and 50s and daytime temperatures were in the 70s and 80s.
  • Fruit is slightly elliptical, bright red, about the size of a small cherry and quite bountiful in spite of the fact that goumi is only considered to be partially self-fertile.
  • Easily shaken off when ripe, fruit is soft, juicy and contains a small asymmetrical pit.
  • This cultivar ripens uniformly and has good mechanical harvesting potential, but the somewhat stiff brambles and strong abscission tendency will require adjustments to facilitate fruit recovery.
  • Bloom is very fragrant and attractive to a wide range of pollinators.
  • The plant and fruit appear to be resistant to insect and disease pests, but mouse and rabbit girdling may occur.

Discussion

Goumi appears to be a non-invasive plant. It may be only marginally winter hardy in Zone 4, but recovers quickly from winter damage. It is a good candidate for organic production, and it is indeed a plant deserving of breeders’ attention.

Goumi is both an insectory and nitrogen fixing plant. It would be an excellent choice for inclusion in a diverse ecological system where it would contribute these symbiotic traits for the benefit of other fruit crops. It is an early ripening fruit that will complement other fruits that use similar harvesting and processing facilities. Goumi has some fresh market appeal, which will help introduce it to the general public through farmers’ markets, food cooperatives and other specialty food stores. It could also be a part of a diverse pick-your-own operation where educational opportunities are nearly limitless.

Northwoods Nursery now offers two commercial varieties for cross-pollination. Some nurseries offer seedling varieties for cross-pollination. Goumi’s need for cross-pollination does not appear critical (as with honeyberry), but yields will most likely be increased.

References

Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, by Lee Reich
The Compleat Botanica entry on Goumi
Plants for a Future: Elaeagnus multiflora

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