Baxter County Master Gardener Program • University of Arkansas System • Division of Agriculture • © 2013 BCMG
Plant of the Week: Lycium barbarum Goji Berry, Lifeberry, Wolfberry Periodically, I crawl out from under my rock and see what is going on in the world. Recently I discovered a new plant growing in the garden called Goji Berry (Lycium barbarum). Checking it out on the Internet, I discovered I must be one of the few people on the planet who knew nothing of it and was instantly intrigued by the potential it has for making me live longer, lose weight and be a better all-around person.
Goji berry, also called Wolfberry or Lifeberry, is a member of the tomato family and is one of 80 species of Lycium scattered throughout South America, Africa and Asia. Seven species are found in China with Goji berry and a closely related species (L. chinense) grown commercially for their dried fruit. Goji is native to the cold, dry region of north central China and is extensively grown there as both an agricultural crop and to stabilize the shifting sands that are becoming increasingly common there. L. chinense is grown in warmer areas, including tropical regions.
Goji berry is a deciduous woody shrub growing 8-10 feet tall with slender sprawling branches that are armed with thin spines. This plant is often referred to as a vining plant, but in reality it is a “thorn climber” that, if left unpruned, climbs by piling new growth on older growth, surrounding plants until it reaches the light.
Leaves are alternately on the stem or in clusters of three, deciduous, elliptical or lanceolate (shaped like the head of a lance), and as long as 2 ½ inches. Flowers are ¾ inch across, 5-petaled, light lavender in color and show a ready resemblance to other members of the nightshade family. They bloom on new growth and are produced in early summer, and more or less continually through the summer as long as the plant continues growing.
Goji berries are true berries (just as the tomato is actually a berry), orange red in color, slender-oval in shape and as long as an inch in length. If cut open, 15-20 tiny seeds are produced in fleshy chambers, much similar to a tomato. Berries hang from a peduncle that is inflated as it attaches to the fruit and has five short green calyx segments. The berries ripen during much of the summer, based on when the flower opened. Plants are self-fruitful and do not need a different clone for fruit set.
Goji berry has apparently been cultivated for several millennia in China, where it is considered one of the “tonic herbs” – like ginseng – that is good for whatever ails you. It found its way into Western culture during the last years of the 20th century, during the antioxidant spurt that had researchers testing everything we consume for the ability to tie up free radicals. Goji berry was close to the top of some of these lists in antioxidant activity, though just marginally higher than common fruit such as citrus and strawberries, so it became a natural for the rapidly-expanding Internet market.
If you believe the hype, Goji berry does everything from fighting the aging process to making you thinner and improving your eyesight. These claims – with nothing in the way of rigorous blind testing trials – are supposedly due to the aforementioned antioxidant properties of the fruit. There have been several cease and desist suits filed against Goji berry promoters for claiming it cures cancer, but mostly it falls into the largely unregulated “food supplements” market.
In the garden, Goji berry plants can be grown as free-standing bushes that are cut back severely each spring or trellised much as you would grapes. They should have full sun, a well-drained neutral to alkaline soil and free air circulation to keep the foliage dry, thus avoiding mildew problems. It is reported as being hardy from zones 3 through 10, but most likely L. barbarum is what is grown in colder climates while L. chinense is more likely suited for warmer regions. Once established, plants are quite drought tolerant. Though it can be grown from seed, clonally propagated selections should be chosen to ensure best fruit quality and production.
By: Gerald Klingaman, Retired Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - Aug. 28, 2015