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The Grand Boysenberry Discovery

By James Donahue

As a relatively new resident of California, I was recently introduced to the delightful taste of some native boysenberry jam. The very name of this fruit spiked my curosity so I did what so many people all over the world are doing now that we have the gift of the Internet and its spate of grand search engines. I researched the origins of boysenberries.

It seems that we can thank the late California horticulturalist Charles R. Boysen for developing this special berry, which is a hybrid between the European Raspberry, the common blackberry, an American Dewberry and a Loganberry.

Charles Rudolph Boysen (July 14, 1895 – November 25, 1950) was the California horticulturist who created the boysenberry, a hybrid between several varieties of blackberries, raspberries, and loganberries.

Some believe Boysen began his research after getting a parent berry plant that was a cross between the dewberry and loganberry from another horticulturalist, John Lubben, who called his creation the "lubbenberry." And the researcher for Wikipedia wrote that it was possible that Lubben got the original berry plant from America's most famous horticulturalist, Luther Burbank.

Even after all of this history of work by three different horticulturalists, this wonderful berry was almost lost to the world after Boysen abandoned his research and sold his farm.

It was back in the late 1920s that George M. Darrow, a specialist in strawberries and pomologist for the U. S. Department of Agriculture, began tracking reports of a special berry that had been grown on Boysen's farm in Northern California. Darrow and Walter Knott, a berry expert operating the now famed Knott's Berry Farm on Route 39, at Buena Park, California. Back when Knott and Darrow were researching the Boysenberry, Knott and his family were just raising a variety of berries and selling them with berry pies and jams along the highway.

The two men found Boysen's old farm, searched its grounds, and discovered a few frail vines still surviving in a field choked with weeds. They transplanted the vines on Knott's farm where he nurtured them back to health and behold, they began to bear fruit!

Thus, it was Walter Knott was became the first person to commercially cultivate the Boysenberry in Southern California. He began selling the berries at his roadside stand in 1932 and they became an immediate hit. It was Knott who gave the berries their name, after the man who successfully developed them.

After Mrs. Knott began using the berries to make preserves, they were so popular the preserves alone made Knott's Berry Farm famous. The Knotts began developing the first stages of the theme park that exists on the farm today. After their deaths, the children sold the business. The theme park was sold to Cedar FAir and the food business was sold to ConAgra Foods, which then sold to J. M. Smucker.

For a time, the farm was producing about 2,400 acres of boysenberries, but production began to slow because of a short growing season, the berry was difficult to ship without damage, and the fact that the California coastal area was ripe for fungal disease. Consequently, only a few farms in California and Oregon now produce boysenberries.

This is partly why boysenberries are so seasonal and in relatively short supply. But don't fear. It won't be forgotten. The world has now discovered boysenberries. New Zealand today is the largest producer and exporter of this great berry.

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