Sea Buckthorn or Seaberry

So you’ve heard of this shrub, Sea Buckthorn, and think you want to try growing it, but you’re not sure if it is a good match for your place? Well, let’s take a look. The reasons to consider it are that as a landscape ornamental with willow-like silvery foliage and attractive orange berries, this is a tough, drought-tolerant plant. A large shrub or small tree, Sea Buckthorn can withstand coastal winds and grows in most soils.

As a permaculture plant Sea Buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides, has lots to offer: it restores degraded sites through preventing soil erosion and fixes nitrogen with the help of soil microbes. The edible and medicinal berry is an up-and-coming super-food that goes by the name Seaberry.

There are a couple of factors to think about, especially if you like to practice right plant-right place. If you want to keep it in polite company within the garden as an 8-foot shrub, purchase a named variety from a nursery. A popular choice is Titan, a Russian variety. Be sure to purchase a male too. You can find it and several other varieties at and

Buy a variety and you get a known quantity; buy open-pollinated seedlings and the plants will be variable in size and shape. They can be very thorny. Since Sea Buckthorn is like Holly (dioecious), the female plant requires a separate male plant to produce fruit. One male can pollinate five females. With seedlings you might wait five years until flowering when you can sex the plants. Some seedlings are sold after they have flowered and are sold as female or male.

Sea Buckthorn trees at Ilana Smith's in Port Townsend (note female tree on left)
Sea Buckthorn trees at Ilana Smith’s in Port Townsend (note female tree on left)

Ilana Smith in Port Townsend has grown these two seedlings in her garden for about 25 years. Although she had never heard of the plant at the time, she was curious to try them. She trained them into attractive small trees, planted in the lawn. Mowing over the years has suppressed suckers (leafy sprouts from the roots).

Windbreaks or hedgerows call for many plants, and neither uniform size nor fruit production is critical. Seedlings are also much cheaper, maybe four dollars instead of twenty-five dollars. This farm in Maine has a great blog about seedlings and they sell both plants and seeds:

How invasive is Sea Buckthorn? In vegetated environments with decent soil it will not become a problem because seeds won’t sprout and seedlings can’t survive with shade. Where it does spread is subarctic regions of the world and deserts of sandy soil with low fertility. It has become a problem in Alberta, Canada where one plant can colonize acres. On the other hand, the fibrous and suckering roots bind sand and add nitrogen, so it has been used extensively in China for reforestation and in the Netherlands for dune restoration. For more information on risks see this site connected with University of Wisconsin, Madison

I spoke to Phil at One Green World and asked how vigorously the varieties will grow. He told me that at their test farm in Molalla, Oregon there are several twenty-year-old shrubs. The largest varieties are about 12 to 15 feet tall but have not spread more than 6 to 8 feet wide. He recommends Titan for the west coast.

Sea Buckthorn can grow almost anywhere as long as it gets sunlight. If it gets less than half-a–day

sunlight, Sea Buckthorn seedlings will wither. Interior branches on mature plants die out from shading. Seedlings destined for a windbreak could be raised in a nursery bed and kept weeded to prevent shading from surrounding vegetation.

To be continued as Part 2 Seaberry Super-food, berry production

Permaculture Shrub Goumi

A friend of mine has moved to a beautiful old craftsman style-cottage in Port Townsend with a landscape full of edible plants. The other day a fragrant scent greeted me as I opened the gate. I turned down the side brick path before knocking on the door.

Was it coming from the flowering shrub with an abundance of pale-yellow tubular flowers? The shrub was humming with bees and other pollinators. What was it? The bronze colored scale on the tender stems made me think of Elaeagnus, the genus including Autumn Olive and Silverberry. But so many flowers! Compare the photo to the botanical illustration of the species below.

Late April 2014
Late April 2014

Elaeagnus multiflora

Knowing this was an edible landscape, my mind flashed to an unusual deciduous shrub I knew from a garden I once tended in the late 1990’s. What was the name-goji? No, but something like that. The scarlet berries dangled from stems tantalizing me. In late summer I popped them in my mouth to savor the astringent sweet-tart flavors. The longer they were left unpicked the sweeter they became, that is if the birds didn’t get them first.

But the shrub I remembered was never wreathed in blossoms. The flowers were sparse. The shrub was growing on the edge of the garden next to blueberries, rhubarb, and Abronia. The client had gotten the plants from One Green World Nursery. I remember reading their catalog that promoted Mountain Ash, Sea Buckhorn, and other ornamentals that plant breeders in Russia and and Ukraine had been selecting for larger, more delicious fruits. The Oregon nursery owners had gone on plant expeditions to bring back edible crops.


  • Soil: flexible, variable pH
  • Water needs: drought tolerant once established
  • Pest: disease and pest resistant. Protect trunks from girdling by rodent
  • Height: 6 to 9 feet
  • Foliage: deciduous silvery green
  • USDA hardiness: Zones 5-9
  • Medicinal: Lycopenes help prevent heart disease.
  • Propagation: Species by seed from ripe seed. Varieties by softwood cuttings with a heel in July/ August or hardwood cuttings from current year’s growth or and layering.
  • Cultivars: Sweet Scarlet™, Ukranian variety self-fertile but best when cross-pollinated with Red Gem™. Note trademark means plants are patented and cannot be propagated for commercial production!

Elaeagnus multiflora, an Asian native has been cultivated in the US for many years. LH Bailey, one of my horticultural heroes discusses it in The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture in 1927. It is native to Japan where it is known as natsugumi. There it grows into a small tree. Other edible Japanese natives in the genus include Aki-gumi, E. umbellate, known here as Autumn Olive. The fruits of this shrub are high in lycopene, so goumi may be too. Unlike Autumn Olive goumi is not invasive.

Nawashiro-gumi, E. pungens.

But this shrub was not a random seedling, but a named variety, grown from cuttings, I’m sure of it. Plant breeders have bred it to produce more flowers. Compare the photo of my friend’s plant with this botanical illustration:

Landscape and Permaculture Use

This drought tolerant, deer-proof and pest-free shrub offers a special bonus; nitrogen fixing. Elaeagnus form symbiotic relationships with bacteria called actinomycetes that form nodules on the shrub roots and fix nitrogen from the air. This characteristic is found in some plants that are the first to colonize disturbed sites. These pioneer plants can grow in poor soils and enrich the soil.

Taking a cue from nature, the permaculture design approach uses Elaeagnus as an early succession plant. Consider planting it in a windbreak of tough plants in poor soil and five years later remove some replacing them with plants that require more fertile soil.

Potential Crop Production

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin are exploring the potential for a commercial market for goumi. Planted in organic systems it can be grown like other hedgerow fruit crops like gooseberry, elderberry, serviceberry, and cornelian cherry. Plant them 4 feet apart and prune into multi trunk shrubs that are allowed to branch about two feet high and maintain at five or to six feet, so it can be mechanically harvested.

Goumi berries