Lovely Lycium – the Desert Goji Berry

Lycium? Yep – that’s the name for goji berries. Did you know we have native goji berries in the Southwest?

World Wide Plant

Goji, goji berry or wolfberry is the name applied to the fruit of two Asian plants, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. but the genus is found around the globe, from China to Chile, Southern USA to South Africa. There are roughly 100 species all told, mostly living in arid areas, including rocky hillsides in Italy.

Here in the Southwest we have these six common species, and some rare ones that I won’t bore you with. Unless you’re a plant nerd – then we can chat for hours in the comments at the bottom of this page.

Plants can flower and produce fruit all year long. Photo of L. andersonii courtesy of T. Van Devender.
Some Common Southwestern Lycium
Lycium berlandieri, Berlandier wolfberry
Lycium brevipes, Baja woldberry
Lycium californicum, California wolfberry, frutilla
Lycium cooperi, peachthorn
Lycium fremontii
, desert goji
Lycium texanum, Texas wolfberry
Lycium torreyi, Torrey wolfberry

Tasty Lycium

Lycium berries have a mild tangy taste that is slightly sweet and sour too at the same time. The whole, dried berries have the chewy texture of raisins, but are kind of like a mild form of the candy SweetTart. Excellent to carry as a trail snack.

As a child I was told that Lycium were poisonous and not to eat them. This was a logical deduction since the genus is in the deadly nightshade family, Solanaceae. The family also includes the potato, tomato, eggplant, belladonna, chili pepper, and tobacco. I have since come to find out they were traditionally used by Southwest Natives in moderation as food.

Pollinators are butterflies and hummingbirds. Bees can’t quite get their shorter tounges down into the flowers. Photo of L. cooperii courtesy of J. Kierstead.

10 Reasons to Grow Some Lovely Lycium

Lycium grows into a dense, somewhat spiny, low-water shrub, that might just have a spot in your landscape. Why grow a big old spiny bush in your landscape? Here’s my top ten reasons.

Dense blocking growth – block the views of the neighbors RV.
Fruit is edible by humans. Here’s some ways to eat Lycium on SavortheSW
Birds love to nest in them.
Cardinals and quail love the fruit too.
Neighbor kids will quit cutting thru your yard.
Javalina don’t eat them – once established. Do protect when young.
Bloom all year around – food for pollinators.
Blooms are mildly fragrant, and hummingbirds will visit some species.
Low- (and I mean LOW) water user.
They are native here and so you never have to fuss over them.

Out in the wild these grow into dense shrubs. Imagine what they can do with some extra water in your landscape! Photo of L. parishii courtesy of L. St. John.

How to Grow Lycium

These desert goji are hard to find in nurseries, but some specialty places will have them. That said – the fastest, easiest, and least hassley way to grow them is from seed – starting right where you want them and no holes to dig! I describe the process in my post on growing a mesquite -here – but lets talk about the goji specifically.

Plant Your Desert Goji

Get some fruits from a wild bush. Visit a natural area near you and harvest a handful of berries. This means that you will get the species that grow best in your area. There are species that are from the Mojave desert, or wilds of eastern California. Meanwhile, the wild ones in Texas are good with conditions there.

Lycium seed grow well when processed through a birds digestive system and deposited under a perch along with a nice packet of “fertilizer,” meaning bird poop. Now I am not advocating that you do this yourself! I told you that to tell you that some seeds grow better if they are NOT inside their fruit, and Lycium is one such. You will need to take them out of their fruit.

Each fruit will have several seeds in it. Photo of L. andersonii courtesy of J. Pawek.

Also note that the seeds are deposited under a perch. Lycium start best in part shade – or at least noon-time shade in summer.

And that’s about it.

1. Take the seeds out of their fruit.
2. Dig a hole about a quarter inch deep in part shade.
3. Plant your seeds.
4. Water lightly daily. Less as they get larger.

Note – you may have to cage young plants because its a tough year this year and bunnies and the like will eat tender seedlings. I have cages out of hardware cloth held down with tent pegs. Driving those tent pegs into the soil is the hardest part of all this.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

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2 thoughts on “Lovely Lycium – the Desert Goji Berry

  1. If I could find lycium seed, could I start the seed in pots and later transplant each small established plant to its final spot (with protection)?

    1. Hi Lois,
      Yes, you could do that. I suggest cactus potting mix to start the seeds in. Lycium fremontii would be best if you are looking for food for your self, but the other species are also lovely in the landscape – the fruit is just smaller. If you live near Tucson, you could try Desert Survivors Nursery or Spadefoot nursery. Both specialize in unusual natives.
      If you can – please let me know how it turns out.

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