Wild, Recombinant Fruit & Nut Forests of the Lower Clearwater River, Idaho

I paid my first visit to the lower Clearwater canyon on September 5-7, 2016.  I was so excited by what I saw I am writing this report the day of departure.

The lower Clearwater canyon (the bit that I saw) is one of the best examples of a wild food forest that I have ever seen. One of the North American counterparts to the wild fruit and nut forests of Kyrgyzstan.

David Holmgren describes recombinant ecosystems as a mix of non-native and native species co-existing on the edges of human settlements.  The Clearwater food forests are good examples of this concept.  Here are some of the main fruit and nut species involved.

Of the non-native component, apples figure prominently as the old homestead trees have been raided often by bears and their seeds distributed across the landscape. Plum thickets are also common.  The same goes for pears, and sundry other fruit to a much lesser extent.  Himalayan-type blackberries are common.  Naturalized, domestic cherry trees are more abundant here than anywhere I’ve seen. I notice Lycium barbarum in some places, which is close relative of the goji berry.  The only nut tree obviously naturalizing (that I saw) was the black walnut.  I did not notice English walnut trees, but suspect there would be some of that happening.  The walnuts and cherries are mostly spread by birds. 

The strong, native fruit component includes serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), blue elderberry, hawthorn, chokecherry, currants, gooseberries, cascara (Rhamnus purshiana), sumac and hackberry (Celtis occidentalis).  This wild food component was no doubt managed by the Nez Perce population prior to white settlement and the addition of the naturalized fruit/nut component. 

The result of the intermingling is a large fruit production in the environment.  This feeds wild animals and birds, the chain of life and to a small extent, wildcrafting humans.  Some people wildcraft to a small extent for family use, but the sustainable production of this resource is barely being touched.

The object of my visit was to teach a wildcrafting workshop at Vedrica community, which is located along Lolo Creek.  In 2015 one of the big, wildfires in the Clearwater burned through the property and torched most of the buildings and forests. The whole property was blackened and many trees died.  In 2016 the ground is covered by a profusion of native and weedy non-native ground covers.  The resident recombinant fruit forest I which was particularly strong at this property) was partially killed but many of the trees are recovering. Blue elderberry is resprouting heavily and there is plethora of new seedlings which have sprung up in the wake of the fire.  The elderberry harvest is going to be huge in the years ahead.  The community has openings for new members if anyone is inspired to be part of a land-based community inspired by Anastasia of the Ringing Cedars of Russia book series. If interested contact me for details.

The lower Clearwater canyon is just one of many recombinant fruit forests I have seen in my travels around the Interior Pacific Northwest.

Some other examples of recombinant food forests are:

The Columbia River valley in Stevens County (northeast Washington).

The Colockum Creek drainage outside of Wenatchee Washington has a strong component of black walnut in the riparian stream corridor.

One section along Lake Chelan had an old nut orchard and the vicinity has strong groves of English and black walnut.

The Loomis/Palmer Lake area of northwest Okanogan County (north-central Washington) has many naturalized apricot and mulberry trees.

Part of the Omak grade coming down from Loup Loup pass has English and Black walnut as part of a mixed recombinant forest. 

All of these Washington examples have strong native fruit components of the aforementioned species.

All of these examples and the Clearwater canyon are set in semi-arid, mountainous, landscapes with many similarities to the habitats and species of the fruit and nut forests in Central Asia.

Here are some references to the wild fruit and nut forests of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan (which I first read about over 30 years ago). 

The Fruit Forests of Kyrgyzstan: Introduction


Gary Paul Nabhan’s visit to Kazakhstan,


Saving Ancient Walnut Forests In the Valleys of Central Asia


Bibliography on the walnut-fruit forests of southern Kyrgyzstan


Reclamation and development of walnut and fruit forests in southern Kirghizia. (Vosstanovlenie i razvitie orekhovo-plodovykh...

1968, by A. F. Zarubin - out of print.


MICHAEL “SKEETER” PILARSKI is a life-long student of plants and earth repair. His farming career started in 2nd grade and his organic farming career began in 1972 at age 25. Michael founded Friends of the Trees Society in 1978 and took his first permaculture design course in 1982. Since 1988 he has taught 36 permaculture design courses in the US and abroad. His specialties include earth repair, agriculture, seed collecting, nursery sales, tree planting, fruit picking, permaculture, agroforestry, forestry, ethnobotany, medicinal herb growing, hoeing and wildcrafting. He has hands-on experience with over 1000 species of plants. He is a prolific gathering organizer and likes group singing.