Food Producing Forest Gardens
A food forest is a food-producing model that seeks to mimic the patterns of a natural forest ecosystem. Ecosystems are incredibly diverse and primarily made up of perennial plants.
The following project is an attempt to crowdsource a list of plants (according to layer) ideal for food forests in cold hardy, zone 4 or colder, climates.
A Quick Acknowledgment
Before we move on, I want to acknowledge that this is a crowdsourced project and that its development and success is made possible by the individuals who are continuously editing it – not the least, The Urban Farmer, Ron Berezan, whose “Edible Plants For The Prairies” list has been the jumping off point of this project.
Layers of a Forest
One way to think about the structure of a forest is by describing it in layers. Each layer of a forest occupies a different space in the system – each plant carving out a niche and contributing to the whole.
1. Overstory/Canopy Layer
The tallest plants in the forest make up the canopy layer. Canopy plants reach for the light and thus shade much of the forest below.
2. Understory and Shrub Layer
While the understory and shrubs are thought of as separate layers, I have brought them together as a single group. This layer is typically made up of small trees, and multi-stemmed woody-shrubs. Shrubs and understory plants that have evolved the ability to live beneath the canopy or at the margins of forests.
3. Herbaceous Plant Layer
Herbaceous plants have non-woody stems and usually die back to the ground each fall. As a result, they tend to be shorter than most woody shrubs.
4. Ground Cover Layer
Ground covers are short, crawling, or clumping plants that may be woody or none-woody. They protect the forest floor from the elements.
5. Root Zone Layer
As is the case above ground, the roots of each plant occupy various depts of the soil. However, when talking about food forests, the root zone is usually taken to mean plants whose roots are edible.
6. Vine Layer
Vines are long, spindly, climbing plants that are capable of occupying the vertical spaces within a forest. They can be herbaceous and die back to the ground each year (hops) or woody (clematis and grapes).
Using the Hardy Food Forest Plant List
The following plant list is an open Google document. As a result, anyone can access and edit its contents. The list is edited by myself and backed up periodically to ensure quality.
Editing The Plant List
Follow this link if you wish to view the plant list in a separate page or edit its contents. Here are a few guidelines when editing the document.
- Do not delete or move existing plants
- Incomplete information is fine. Don’t know the Latin name? Not a problem.
- Perennials. This list is meant to have an emphasis on perennials plants.
- Cold Hardy. Please add plants that will survive in Zone 4 or colder.
- Link when possible. If you know the botanical name of the plant, feel free to link it to a reputable source such as Plants For A Future Database.
Using The Plant List
At the bottom of the window, you will see tabs corresponding to the various food forest layers mentioned above. Within each layer, you will see a curated list of plants, their common name(s), botanical family, botanical name (Genus species), as well as plant notes.
If you’re looking for a food-producing ground cover, select the ground cover tab at the bottom and browse through the list of suitable plants. If the botanical name is blue than it has been linked to an external page with more information. See the list by clicking here or on the image below.