Nuts and Berries of California

2019 A Voice in the NELA Wilderness Christopher Nyerges Columnists Editions July

A Voice in the NELA Wilderness

by Christopher Nyerges

NELA’s landscape has an amazing mix of native and non-native vegetation. Both types have had important roles in our rich horticultural and agricultural history.

For example, native nuts and berries – black walnuts, pine nuts, blackberries, wild strawberries, to name a few – have long histories of use by Native Americans in our area and throughout North America. Generations of rural Americans also grew up collecting native nuts and berries from the forests to supplement their other foods.

Then there are the non-native plants, firmly established in NELA.

When writing my book, Nuts and Berries of California, we debated what to call these non-natives. We thought to call them “FUN” plants, for “Feral Urban Neighborhood,” but that seemed to convey a misleading message, as not all non-natives have been good or desirable.

We finally landed on calling them “HIP” plants or “Horticulturally Introduced Plants.” This name seemed the best because many HIP plants, especially exotics, like oleanders, were introduced by gurus of horticulture as the new great thing for yards – “hip,” so to speak – with great colors and good for dinner party conversations. Some of the hip/HIP plants were edible and useful, some were not – as in the case of the poisonous oleanders.

Other HIP bushes and trees widely used in yards and street landscaping include ficus trees (figs), loquats, mulberries, pyracantha, olives and ginkgo. As new hip/HIPs came into fashion, the old ones were forgotten – but not gone, because even after they were no longer tended, they often expanded their habitat into wild areas.

I have observed HIPs that have survived for decades in wilderness areas with no human intervention. HIPS are survivors. The edible ones – such as figs, loquat and mulberry – provide food with very little work and care and are probably already growing in or near your neighborhood, just waiting for you to discover and appreciate them.

My book, Nuts and Berries of California, describes them all – the natives, the HIP plants that are still hip and the ones that aren’t so hip anymore, but are still great plants. Every plant has a story, and I tell them in the book along with recipes.


Christopher Nyerges is the author and teacher of survival skills. For more information, visit his website:

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