Wolfberry Production

Whooping cranes depend on Carolina wolfberry (Lycium carlinianum) early in the winter as a food source to regain energy after they have arrived at the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge for the winter.

The wolfberry plant is a small, spiny, spreading shrub with somewhat succulent leaves. It can be found from North Carolina south through Florida and west into California and Mexico. It grows quickly and well in the sand and can tolerate standing water for long periods. It produces a fleshy red berry. Wolfberry fruits (berries) were eaten raw or dried by Native Americans and are said to have a salty-sweet tomato flavor.

Typically wolfberry fruits are available in October and November, right as the cranes are arriving. However, drought does seem to affect the availability of berries and this may have a negative impact on whooping crane health, especially if a drought also negatively impacts blue crab populations in the marsh. In order to understand the impact of drought on food resource availability for whooping cranes, wolfberry surveys have been conducted on the refuge.

To more fully understand wolfberry abundance and its distribution on the refuge, biology staff use a survey method involving multiple transects with data collection points across the marsh.