For the fruit gardener, there are few disappointments as deep as bringing home a highly anticipated new plant, only to find that it’s actually an ornamental variety rather than one that produces edible fruit. Now hear me out; there’s absolutely nothing wrong with growing these fruit trees and plants – and they can be a tremendous amount of fun! – but know what you’re getting into before you plunk down your pennies. In this article, I’ve listed out some of the more common inedible fruit trees, just so you know what to look for when making your purchasing decisions.


Yes, I want one. I’ve seen these lovely big plants listed for sale through multiple nurseries, all advertising it as cold-hardy all the way to frigid zone FOUR. In case you didn’t know, that zone rating is INSANELY cold-hardy for a banana tree, and the thought of being able to grow musa in my zone is just so exciting — but there’s a catch. If you see a banana tree (which is native to subtropical temperature zones) being marketed as a banana you can grow in a northern climate, take a look at the scientific name of the plant. If it doesn’t have one, consider that a red flag. If it does have one listed and it is Musa Basjoo, I’m sorry to report that this tree is considered an ornamental. Yes, a gorgeous, jungle-y, fabulously interesting and unusual ornamental — because how many of your neighbors grow banana trees in their northern-zone gardens? — but still, inedible. Look before you leap.


OK, so I get it; not everybody pores through the same catalogs I do, and you may never have even heard of the Buddha’s Hand citrus tree. Well, for those – like myself – who are infatuated with windowsill citrus trees or growing subtropical fruit in northern gardening zones, the Buddha’s Hand is one of those super-fascinating fruits that is beyond intriguing.

But. Yes, it looks totally weird and interesting and exotic, but in terms of edible fruit, there just plain isn’t much to work with here… the buddha’s hand is almost completely made of rind! I’m not saying don’t buy it (because by all means, grow the weird thing! That’s what gardeners do!), but just be fully aware before you dive in: there’s not going to be orangey-lemony snacks coming off of this one, unless you zest up the fruit or do one of those fancy pinterest-y things where you candy the peel.


Yes, I admit it, I’m one of those dopes who almost bought this at my local farm store because I saw the word “cranberry.” (In my defense, this happened very early in my gardening career!)

I know probably everyone in the world knew this but me, but apparently, there’s cranberries and then there’s cranberries. Some are for eating, and others are just for looking at! The shrubs labeled “cotoneaster” are definitely NOT for adding to your Thanksgiving dinner, and in fact have no relationship with the real cranberry – they just look vaguely similar, and have picked up the moniker by visual association only. When you see those end-of-summer sales at your local nursery, just walk on by. (And in case you weren’t already aware, if you can’t identify any given plant, just assume red berries are inedible. Seriously.)


It’s very important to understand pineapple plant sizes and varieties before you purchase – especially if purchasing online! – because if you aren’t careful, you may end up with an ornamental variety that produces inedible fruit. For most windowsill subtropical fruit gardens, purchasing a dwarf-type tree rather than a standard size is critically important; a twenty-foot lemon tree won’t fit in most gardeners’ homes! However, the pineapple plant is naturally small. If you go searching for a “dwarf” pineapple, you will probably end up with a tiny plant that produces pineapples smaller than a baseball (and the baseball just might taste better). If edible fruit is your goal, you need to be very careful to review the full plant description before you buy; a smaller fruit than the standard grocery-store fruit is fairly normal for a windowsill-grown pineapple, but if the fruit is advertised as exceptionally small, avoid the plant. Similarly, if you are purchasing from a nursery, be careful about plant sizing. If you see a mature pineapple plant not much bigger than a foot square, it’s an ornamental. A “real” pineapple plant will be sized closer to 2’ by 2’.


You may see some pomegranate cultivars advertised in catalogs as “ornamental” types, with inedible fruit (or with no fruit at all).   However, you needn’t worry about your kids being poisoned by the fruit of “ornamental” pomegranates. These fruits are considered inedible due to quality of the fruit, not the safety.

An ornamental type is typically smaller than a fruit-type shrub, and produces many lovely flowers that may not set fruit (very common for double-blossomed varieties). If any fruit is produced, it is typically very small and very sour, with very hard seeds that you have to spit out as you go. You won’t keel over dead after eating them, but they definitely aren’t worth the bother if you are looking for edible fruit.


For the beginning fruit gardener, there’s a lot to learn – and for the experienced fruit gardener, there is STILL a lot to learn! If you are ever unsure of whether a given fruit tree, shrub, bush or bramble, just be on the safe side and do NOT test-taste it. Talk to an expert (like your local extension office), identify through reliable web sources (not through random blogs… not even mine :-), and talk to your local nursery growers. Never just assume, and be sure to give your kids the talk about poisonous and inedible fruit and berries so they know to avoid unknown produce. Look before you leap, and your fruit garden will thank you!

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