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Branching Out: Planting Haskap as Your Next fruit crop!

Staying ahead in the ever-developing agricultural industry can be a challenge. Growing practices and techniques are being constantly developed and improved, while new varieties bred and tested. However, it’s not every day that a novel plant with big potential is introduced, especially one that has been specifically bred for the colder climatic conditions of Canada and other parts of the World. Allow me to introduce to you the ‘Haskap’ berry.

Haskap ‘Boreal Beauty’ (Photo credit: Dr. Bob Bors, University of Saskatchewan, SK, Canada)

Haskap ‘Boreal Beauty’ (Photo credit: Dr. Bob Bors, University of Saskatchewan, SK, Canada)

Haskap (Lonicera caerulua) a.k.a edible blue honeysuckle, honeyberry or sweet berry honeysuckle, is the ancient Japanese name (spelled phonetically as Haskappu, Hascap, Hascup) used by the Ainu people, the aboriginal people of Hokkaido, Japan, for the fruit meaning “berry of long life and good vision”.

The name ‘Haskap’ was chosen as the brand name that have been applied to new varieties bred by Dr. Bob Bors, Head of Fruit Program at the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. Haskap resemble blueberries in appearance, but are more elongated rather than round. Haskap have their own unique taste, color and texture. Their taste is somewhere between blueberry and raspberry with a zingy finish. The taste has also been described as tart/sweet and juicy. They have a powdery blue skin, like a blueberry but the skin is quite thin and melts in your mouth. They also have very tiny seeds that can be eaten with the berry.

According to recent nutraceutical studies conducted, at the Dalhousie University, Truro, Nova Scotia, Canada, haskap are very rich in antioxidants and polyphenols (1), which are reported to impart prospective beneficial activities such as anti-inflammatory (2) anti-adherence, antioxidant, and chemoprotective (3). Thus, natural antioxidants, natural colorants, and an ingredient of functional foods based on L. caerulea berries, look promising as a useful addition in the prevention of a number of chronic conditions, e.g., cancer, diabetes mellitus, tumor growth, and cardiovascular diseases.

Why plant haskap?

Haskap are the first berries to produce fruit in spring (June) and survive harsher winter conditions (-47 Degree Celcius) than other berries. They are also easy to grow under different agro-climatic conditions and do not require a heavy water regime. Haskap are easy to manage plants (do not sucker, have no thorns, do not require intensive pruning, no cultural practices and no disease pressures) thus being less labor intensive.

There are many benefits to having an early crop to harvest in your fruit production program, especially if you want to diversify. Many farmers don’t see revenue until summer is well on its way, so having an income at the beginning of the growing season from haskap would bring in some much-needed funds to get a kick-start. The time frame that these berries are ready to be picked, is optimal for labor distribution. Berries are harvested after early spring pruning of fruit trees and the planting of annual crops, but before the heavy duties of a full growing season.

Haskap have been developed, using selected parent plants from Russia, Japan and Kuril Islands, into early and late-ripening types to prolong their production period and to better suit the variable climatic conditions. Each variety has a mix/percentage of desired characteristics contributed by its parent.

It would be important to discuss the generalities of each parent before choosing the right variety for your farming practice (U-pick or mechanical harvesting, fresh or value added products) as well as the location (communicated by Dr. Bob Bors).

Growing Haskap plants

Haskap is a cross pollinated crop and would require a designated pollinator variety to pollinate the producing variety. Haskap flowers are self-incompatible and require insect pollinators in order to set fruit (4). It would be important to check the bee types and their population in your area.


Studies indicate that Bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are the best pollinating agents for Haskap (5) followed by honeybees. The flowers usually bloom one month before the last frost under Saskatchewan conditions.

Haskap flowers can survive up to -7 degrees Celsius. Flowers usually have two ovaries so each berry is derived of two flowers.

Haskap pollination by Bumble bees

(Photo credit: Sandra Danae Frier, University of Regina, Canada)

The early ripening haskap varieties are Borealis, Tundra, Indigo Gem, Indigo Yum, Indigo Treat, and Aurora with a required compatible pollinator variety Honeybee. Borealis is the sweetest variety of all and is recommended for U-pick operations since the fruit is quite soft while the rest are good for mechanical harvesting. Indigo gem is preferred in Saskatchewan whereas Maritime provinces prefer Indigo Treat (communicated by Dr. Bors). Honeybee has good mouth feel and could be used in wine making.

The recently released (2016-2017) late ripening varieties are Boreal Beauty, Boreal Blizzard with a designated pollinator Boreal Beast. These varieties have a minimum of 50 percent Japanese and/or Kuril islands parental lineage, which helps in late blooming. They have already been tested for growing in Canadian prairies. However, they are currently under evaluations in Maritime Provinces, which could have varied weather conditions during winter and summer. For more information visit

Haskap are very versatile when it comes to what you can do with them after harvesting. Besides selling them as a fresh berry/ individually quick frozen (IQF), they can be made into preserves and pastry fillings, pies and cakes, dried or juiced and much recently developed chocolate truffles. They make a spectacular liqueur and even wine. The domestic market for Haskap is growing every year as Canadian consumers are looking for locally grown nutritionally rich fruits and their value added products, rather than relying on imports of other fruits.

A feasibility study suggests export potential of Haskap to Japan (6). Haskap has been traditionally grown in Hokkaido, northern island of Japan but available production is not keeping up to the demands. There could be larger markets in Europe and Asia, which need to be further explored.

Literature cited

1. H. P. Vasantha Rupasinghe, Li Juan Yu, Khushwant S. Bhullar, and Bob Bors. 2012 Haskap (Lonicera caerulea): A new berry crop with high antioxidant capacity. Can. J. Plant Sci. 92: 1311-1317.

2. H. P. Vasantha Rupasinghe, Mannfred M. A. Boehm, Satvir Sekhon-Loodu, Indu Parmar , Bob Bors and Andrew R. Jamieson. 2015. Anti-Inflammatory Activity of Haskap Cultivars is Polyphenols-Dependent. Biomolecules. 5, 1079-1098.

3. Irena Palikova, Jan Heinrich, Petr Bednar, Petr Marhol, Vladimir Kren, Ladislav Cvak, Katerina Valentova, Filip Ruzicka, Veronika Hola, Milan Kolar, Vilim Simanek, and Jitka Ulrichova. 2008. Constituents and Antimicrobial Properties of Blue Honeysuckle: A Novel Source for Phenolic Antioxidants. J. Agric. Food Chem. 56, 11883–11889.

4. B. Bors, J. Thomson, E. Sawchuk, P. Reimer, R. Sawatzky, T. Sander, T. Kaban, E. Gerbrandt and J. Dawson. 2012. Haskap berry breeding and production - final report. University of Saskatchewan, SK, Canada.

5. Sandra Danae Frier. 2016. The pollination biology of Haskap (Lonicera caerulea L.: Caprifoliaceae): floral traits and pollinator performance of a new Saskatchewan fruit crop. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Regina, Regina, SK, Canada.

6. Éric B. Lefol . 2007. Haskap Market Development -The Japanese Opportunity- Feasibility Study. Parkland Agroforestry Products Inc. Saskatchewan Agriculture and Food. MBA 992 Edwards School of Business, University of Saskatchewan, SK.

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