Lately our wanderings have taken us further north in the city, following the Panke River in search of interesting plants, new foraging grounds, and a better understanding of the natural history that has shaped the area. The underlying landscape found here, like much of the Brandenburg area, was fundamentaly determined by the slow movement of glaciers whose watery fingerprints dotted this sandy, infertile part of the North European Plain with lakes and bogs. Were it not for human intervention, the area would be covered by ancient woodlands, a glimpse of which can be seen in the beech forest of the Schorfheide-Chorin Biosphere Reserve northeast of Berlin. Human presence has reshaped the landscape in unexpected ways, from artificial hills created with war rubble to modern green spaces in the form of carefully designed urban parks. It is in one such green space, namely Bürgerpark in Pankow, where we found the plant that we decided to write about today.
Japanese quince (Chaenomeles speciosa), a spiny shrub native to eastern Asia, reached Europe in the late 18th century and became widely grown as an ornamental plant with striking early spring flowers. Its popularity among European gardeners is easy to understand: the Japanese quince not only has aesthetic appeal but is also a frost-hardy plant that can be horticulturally trained in a number of ways, from serving as a thorny hedge or showy espalier to being potted and grown as a bonsai. For the urban forager, Japanese quince fruits are a welcome addition to the fall harvest. The hard but intensily fragrant pomes ripen in late October and resemble miniature quince (Cydonia oblonga) fruits. The spicy scent of the small fruit promises more than what its astringent taste can offer the hungry forager, but cooking these fruits will quickly get rid of their undesirable tartness. The fact that they are naturally high in pectin content also makes them perfect for jams and jellies. But before you relegate the fruit to the realm of exotica preserves and gardening minutiae, consider its nontrivial medicinal history: Japanese quince has traditionally been used as an anti-inflamatory agent for joint problems and as a general health stimulant. Today, its therapeutic propertires are being investigated in relation to Parkinson’s disease.
In Berlin, Japanese quince is found in parks or hedges around the city, and the characteristic yellow fruits make it easy to identify in the fall. Feel free to use our Berlin Plants map to see where we found them. There is also one location marked on Mundraub, although it is right next to a busy road and hence not suitable for foraging.