Sunberry (aka Wonderberry)

The Plant World 12(11): 267-268 (1909)

Nothing seems to disturb the mental equilibrium of the average botanist and horticulturist so quickly and surely as a question concerning the products of Luther Burbank's breeding operations. The preposterous statements of the daily press, and the equally unsound indiscriminating praise of friends of Mr. Burbank, including some scientists known as botanists and zoologists, have combined to raise a very real prejudice against anything purporting to come from Santa Rosa.

The influence of such antagonism is to be seen in the recent agitation concerning the nature of the Wonderberry, which has been sold to a nursery by Burbank. It is to be noted regretfully that a number of botanists have exhibited methods of treatment no more judicial or fair-minded than that of the average newspaper reporter.

The Wonderberry is described as a hybrid between Solanum Guinense and Solanum villosum by Mr. Burbank. A number of skilled systematists give as their mature opinions that it is simply Solanum villosum or Solanum nigrum. This conclusion was reached upon simple taxonomic data, although it has long been well recognized among breeders and students of heredity that a simple examination of the external appearance of an individual could not yield an accurate diagnosis of its ancestry, both structural examination and pedigree cultures being necessary.

Now comes the announcement of the results of studies by Dr. W. A. Cannon on the origin, variation and inheritance of hairs in hybrids, in which it is noted that one type of these organs in the Wonderberry is exactly like one of S. Guinense, and is not found in S. villosum. Many other features being like S. villosum, the hybridity of the Wonderberry is, therefore, well established and a rude shock given to the specialists who consider taxonomy as a court of last resort in dealing with the results of purely physiological operations in breeding and heredity. If this lesson results in a more judicial attitude on the part of the botanist toward results in breeding and experimental evolution, the misjudged attack on the Wonderberry will have been not without good results.

The National Nurseryman, September 1909

The controversy in relation to the value of the Wonderberry has occupied much space in current issues of the foremost agricultural journals. The ins and outs of the discussion are too many and complex to be followed here. It is enough to say that the editors of the Rural Yorker have challenged Mr. Burbank's statement that the plant is a new production. They claim it to be an established plant under a new name and hence not a discovery.

The first nurseryman to express an opinion on the matter, as far as we can learn, is Mr. Geo. C. Roeding, of the Fancher Creek Nurseries, Fresno, Cal. In the Rural Californian he says:

"You will probably be interested to learn that the Wonderberry about which there has been so much discussion in agricultural as well as daily papers of late, has more merit than has been credited to it. The plant is undoubtedly an improved Solanum nigrum. The practical difference between the two, however, is that the common night shade produces berries which are really nauseating to the palate, so much so that even if they are not very poisonous, but few would attempt to partake of many of them, while the Wonderberry, although it does not possess the flavor of some of our raspberries, blackberries, etc., nevertheless has sufficient flavor so that I could not resist the temptation of eating a couple of handfuls. Mr. Burbank assured me in his simple and unostentatious way, that they were good, and I must say that I had to agree with him. In the vicinity of the patch of Wonderberries, he had some of the ordinary Night Shade growing, and a bite into one of these berries was sufficient. It still remains to be seen whether the Wonderberry has any commercial value, but there is no denying the fact that it is not the fake which some publications have represented it to be, provided the seeds reproduce plants like the parent stock I saw at Mr. Burbank's. The experience which Mr. Burbank has had with this berry is only another illustration of the extreme care necessary on the part of the originator of a new fruit to be sure of its merits before offering it for sale to the public."

The Weekly Market Growers Journal, April 8, 1911


It may be of interest to readers of the journal to know how I save my Tomatoes from the ravages of the small black beetles. Two years ago I invested in the Wonderberry and also in the garden Huckleberry. While these plants were being hardened prior to setting in the field along with the Tomatoes they were all attacked by the beetle. The berries were almost annihilated while the Tomatoes were not hurt.

That gave me a clew, so that last year I planted Wonderberries and Garden Huckleberries both, and when I set Tomatoes in the field I set Wonderberries through one side of the field with the Tomatoes, placing them between the plants in the row. I placed a Wonderberry plant about every 20 feet and in every fifth row of Tomatoes. On the other side of the field I set the Huckleberries the same way.

The Tomatoes were uninjured by the beetle and produced a good crop of fruit. Only two plants of the Wonderberry were left and not over three dozen of the Huckleberry. Please tell Professor Massey that the Wonderberry has its place in the world and especially in the Tomato patch.—H. H. HOSACK, Grove City, Pa.

USDA Circular No. 78, June 1, 1911
Agricultural Observations on the Truckee-Carson Irrigation Project

F. B. Headley, Assistant Agriculturist
Vincent Fulkerson, Agent


The fruit of the wonderberry is about the size of the blueberry. It is quite agreeable to eat raw, and it makes good jams and pies. On account of its small size the fruit is slow to gather. The garden huckleberry is larger than the wonderberry, but is thicker skinned, requires more cooking, and does not have a pleasant taste when eaten raw. The pies and jams made from these two kinds of berries have a very similar taste. While these two fruits are far from perfection, they seem to be popular, at least in this section, and deserve a place in the family garden until more desirable fruits can be grown.

CybeRose: I raised the Garden Huckleberry once, years ago. Once was enough. The Burbank Sunberry (which Childs renamed "Wonderberry") is something very different. The leaves are different. The fruit are different. The trichomes (hairs) are different. The chromosome count is different. The Sunberry is a tetraploid. All the Solanums with small black fruit known when the Sunberry was bred are hexaploids. Below are some pictures of the Sunberry growing in San Carlos, CA. Note the downy leaves and dull fruit.

Cannon: Sunberry Trichomes (1909)

Burbank: Sunberry (1914)

Heiser: Wonderberry (1969)