Creating a wildlife haven one plant at a time

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Fall in Love with Berry Worthy Plants

October is in full swing with fall color just beginning to show itself. We've had some early leaf drop due to drought stress and it remains to be seen how dramatic our foliage display will be this year. Peak foliage in North Georgia falls between late October to early November. Nevertheless, ample color abounds around the garden.

Southern Meadows

Pollinators do the ground work here and all their buzzing and fluttering from bloom to bloom has paid off. Plants now adorn the seeds and fruits of their labor. Gardeners and landscape designers often choose perennial plants for their foliage, bloom color, fragrance or shape. Another consideration is the value perennials present to wildlife.  Berries add pops of color and seed pods provide textural interest throughout the landscape, while providing food that will be consumed by birds and other mammals during the fall and winter months.

Southern Meadows
Mockingbird eating fruit from American Beautyberry shrub

The clusters of bright purple fruit on American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a stunning accent in sunny areas. This shrub supports at least 10 species of birds, including cardinals, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, bluebirds, sparrows, wood thrushes and wild turkeys, who gobble up the fruit.

A closer look at the bodacious berries

The pear shaped seed pods of the bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) shrub are popping open to reveal the pumpkin orange nuts (buckeyes), which are revered by chipmunks and squirrels. As soon as the protein rich buckeyes hit the ground they magically disappear as squirrels hastily carry them off. (Note: they are poisonous to humans and livestock).

Seasonally appropriate orange buckeye nuts

Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata) is not your average holly. It is deciduous, which shows off their berries (on female plants) when the leaves fall from the branches. We have two female 'Winter Gold' shrubs  that are supported by the male 'Southern Gentleman'. Birds, such as Cedar Waxwings and American Robins, are eager to consume these bright berries. And if the birds don't get them first, rabbits, squirrels, foxes and deer will vacuum them up. It's possible for the berries to persist through the winter, if wildlife doesn't get them.

Southern Meadows
Winter Gold produces orange berries, a change of pace from the typical red

Another showy berry comes from the Hearts-a-Bustin (Euonumus americanus) shrub. We grow these at the woodland edge where they enjoy the light shade of the understory habitat of the hardwood forest. These shrubs go unnoticed most of the year, but when the seed capsules burst open to reveal the bright red berries, they are show stoppers. Eastern bluebirds, wood thrushes, yellow-rumped warblers, northern mockingbirds and wild turkeys devour these berries and disseminate the seeds.

Bursting with love for these berries

To see how the blooms of Hearts-a-Bustin' are pollinated, see my post Ants, Unlikely Pollinators.

seed capsule opening to reveal orange/red berries
Five species of viburnum grow at Southern Meadows, including viburnum dentatum, viburnum nudum 'winterhur' and 'brandywine', and viburnum obovatum. Viburnums light up the fall garden with their gorgeous foliage and lively berries. 

Blue berries brighten autumn
More recently we have added both red (Aronia arbutifolia) and black (Aronia melanocarpa) chokeberry shrubs to our flower beds. Our yet young shrubs, bloom in spring and once pollinated grow into lovely red or black berries that hang in pendulous clusters. Red berries are dazzling and persist through winter. Black berries are less apparent, unless observed close up. Few birds (robins and bluejays) enjoy the berries as they have a bitter taste, hence the common name.

young shrubs producing a few clusters of berries
Sumac is not a tree intentionally found in most gardens, but it is most certainly a tree that should be included in more landscape plans. Fall is the time of year for this tree to standout with its dramatic foliage and bright berries. Several species, including winged, smooth and staghorn sumac, are found along woodland edges and roadsides in Georgia with berries that persist through the winter months, providing food for many songbirds.

Brilliant red sumac berries against bright blue sky
Bluebirds, warblers, thrashers, chickadees, mockingbirds, woodpeckers, robins, cedar waxwings and thrushes will swallow the brilliant red berries whole, which they then inadvertently spread across the land.

red sumac berries are edible to humans and wildlife (white berries are toxic)

You can't beat berries for bursts of color that persists through fall and winter. They last much longer than most blooms and the fruits and berries are a critical source of food for many birds, especially those that are migrating. Adding berry worthy plants will add visual interest and variety to your garden well into the winter months, but most importantly will support wildlife through the seasons.

14 comments:

  1. Oh, what a great post, Karin! The berries of so many kinds attract the beautiful songbirds we love in our gardens--not to mention the benefits to the birds, themselves, along with other wildlife. Euonymus americanus sure is a beauty. I think I'm too far north for it, but I've seen it--even here in S. Wisconsin (microclimates?) and in nearby states to the south. Great post!

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    1. Unfortunately, I think you are just below the natural habitat for Euonymus. Bummer, because it really is a fun plant. I have some golden alexander that are evergreen for me because they are growing in a microclimate. It's pretty amazing!

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  2. The fruits of fall are lovely indeed. Thanks for highlighting some of them.

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    1. Absolutely! There are many more but I wasn't diligent in getting photos of them before the birds devoured all the berries. I guess they'll have to keep for a post next year.

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  3. Just yesterday I was sitting on one of the benches having a break when I little chick-a-dee landed on the sunflowers nearby looking for seeds. He regarded me and I looked at him. I love moments of connection like that.
    I have a number of berry producing plants, but I'd love more. Bird feeders are fine, but it is even nicer when the garden itself is a source of food. You have some great ones in your post Karin.

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    1. I completely agree Jennifer. It is very exciting to watch wildlife feed from the plants that we grow for them.

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  4. So many wonderful berry producing plants - I think you are right in that many people forget about the beauty and importance of berries in the fall and winter garden.

    The American Beautyberry is stunning - such a vibrant colour! It's too bad we are too cold for it up here - the viburnum is a different story...I *think* I have one in my backyard but am not sure. And those are some beautiful berries on the sumac. We have some staghorn sumac on the edge of the wooded area and the puffy seed heads sure do make for a beautiful display in the fall.

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    1. There are so many different viburnums too. They really add a depth and diversity to the garden landscape. I'm a big fan of sumac, I think they have some of the best fall color around.

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  5. Great post. I like plants that bear ornamental fruit - although in my garden the ornamental value is limited because the berries get eaten very quickly. I have a young chokeberry (red) but it will be a few years before we have many berries. Also this spring I planted two chokecherries but they are still quite small. I would really like to plant a bottlebrush buckeye if I could find the space for it.

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    1. I spent a lot of time this summer observing the visitors to my bottlebrush buckeye. It was entertaining and thrilling to watch hummingbirds, bees, wasps and butterflies on the blooms. I highly recommend getting one if you can find the space.

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  6. Having a small garden, there is never enough berries to go around for all the birds. They get eaten rather quickly. Sumac is a great plant for birds too, and lasts long into the winter. I have seen so many species eating them in Spring after a long winter.

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    1. I think with small gardens one has to be even more vigilant choosing plants that support a wide variety of wildlife. It's true some berries get eaten up swiftly. I was going to include elderberry and devil's walking stick in this post but my berries are all gone already. The birds gobbled those up rather quickly.

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