Desert Goji Berry – Lovely Lycium

Lycium?    Yep – that’s the name for goji berries.    Did you know we have native goji berries in the Southwest?   

Goji is a World Wide Plant

Goji, goji berry, or wolfberry is the name applied to the fruit of two Asian plants, Lycium barbarum and Lycium chinense. but the genus is found around the globe, from China to Chile, Southern USA to South Africa.    There are roughly 100 species all told, mostly living in arid areas, including rocky hillsides in Italy.   


In the West we have these six common species, and some rare ones that I won’t bore you with.    Unless you’re a plant nerd – then we can chat for hours in the comments at the bottom of this page, or over on my Facebook page.

Common Western Lycium

Lycium berlandieri, Berlandier wolfberry
Lycium brevipes,    Baja woldberry
Lycium californicum, California wolfberry, frutilla 
Lycium fremontii, desert goji
Lycium cooperi, Cooper's desert goji, peachthorn
Lycium texanum, Texas wolfberry
Lycium torreyi, Torrey wolfberry
Cooper’s desert goji has lovely flowers! Fragrant too.
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Tasty Lycium

Desert goji berries have a mild tangy taste that is slightly sweet and sour at the same time. The whole, dried berries have the chewy texture of raisins – but with a flavor like a mild form of the candy SweetTart.    Excellent to carry as a trail snack!  More about foraging desert foods on SavortheSouthwest


As a child I was told that Lycium were poisonous and not to eat them.    This was a logical deduction on that adults part because Lycium is in the deadly nightshade family, Solanaceae.  But the family also includes tomato, potato, eggplant, tomatillo, chili peppers, as well as the drugs belladonna and tobacco. I have since come to find out that the desert goji berries were traditionally used by Southwest Natives in moderation as food.

10 Reasons to Grow Some Lovely Lycium

Lycium grows into a dense, somewhat spiny, low-water shrub, that might just have a spot in your landscape. Why grow a big old spiny bush in your landscape? Here’s my top ten reasons.

1. Dense blocking growth – block the views of the neighbors RV.

2. Fruit is edible by humans.

3. Birds love to nest in them (hard for predators to climb).

4. Cardinals and quail love the fruit too.

5. Neighbor kids will quit cutting thru your yard.

Yep. they are thorny. Don’t plant too close to where you walk.

6. Javelina don’t eat them (Once established.  Do protect when young – more below.)

7. Bloom all year around – food for pollinators.

8. Blooms are mildly fragrant.

9. Low – (and I mean LOW) water user.

10. They are native here and so you never have to fuss over them.

Flowers range from white to deep purple.

How to Grow the Goji

Honestly – these desert goji are hard to find in nurseries (now – unless we create a demand!)  Some specialty nurseries do have them.    That said – the fastest, easiest, and least hassley way to grow them is from seed – starting right where you want them and no holes to dig!    I describe the process in my post on growing a mesquite (on the hacked site – will repost soon) but lets talk about the desert goji specifically.


Plant Your Desert Goji

Get some seed from a wild bush.    Visit a natural area near you and harvest a handful of berries.    This means that you will get the species that grow best in your area.    There are species that are from the Mojave desert, or wilds of eastern California.    Meanwhile, the wild ones in Texas are good with conditions there (Lycium texanum!).

Lycium seed grow well when processed through a birds digestive system and deposited under a perch along with a nice packet of “fertilizer” (meaning bird poop).   I am not advocating that you do this yourself!  (Unless you live far from populus regions.)   I told you that to tell you this – some seeds will grow better if they are NOT inside their fruit.  Lycium and many other in the same family are prime examples.    You will need to take them out of their fruit.

Desert goji seeds. Photo courtesy J. Pawek.

Note that the seeds are deposited under a perch.    Desert goji start best in part shade – or at least noon-time shade in summer.

And that’s about it.   

Step 1. Take the seeds out of their fruit.   

Step 2. Dig a hole about a quarter inch deep in part shade.   

Step 3. Plant your seeds. about 3 seeds per hole is good.  

Step 4. Water lightly daily.   

Step 5. Once baby plants emerge, water every other day for a while – then taper off.

The birds nesting in here are well protected – and snacks are a beak away!


Just to highlight.  Young plants will need noon shade in summer.  Also – many hungry animals out there.  You may have to cage young plants to exclude rabbits, javelina, ground squirrels – they all like to eat tender seedlings. Even quail eat the greens.     I have cages out of hardware cloth held down with tent pegs.    Driving those tent pegs into the soil is the hardest part of all this.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading.

Need Some Fruit Selection Help?

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