Where Have All the Berries Gone?

Autumn is about fruit. Mists and mellow fruitfullness, as the poet said. In the garden, there’s fruit for people and fruit for the birds. I have lots of the latter.

This year I noticed that lots of the fruit that is supposed to hang around so we can admire it for a while has been gone in a flash.

Grey dogwood berries.
Gray Dogwood berries. Unusual to see this many ripe ones.

Of course, some fruits you expect to disappear quickly. Gray Dogwood, for example, has white drupes that are eaten by birds almost immediately upon ripening. You see the unripe green ones – then they’re gone, eaten up by cardinals, woodpeckers, and other birds.

(I hate to get all botanical, but fruits with a single seed are generally drupes, not berries. Cherries, also, are actually drupes. So you could say that life is just a bowl of drupes, though that doesn’t have the same ring to it. Why am I pointing this out? Because I paid good money for that botany class, damn it.)

In early September, only a few unripe elderberries remained.
In early September, only a few unripe elderberries remained.

Same thing with my Black Elderberries (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis). Elderberries are also drupes, so they should be called Elderdrupes.

All gone!
All gone!

The Elderdrupes are green and unripe, then they’re gone.

Cranberrybush Viburnum 'Redwing' fruit, not quite ripe, on a young shrub.
Cranberrybush Viburnum ‘Redwing’ fruit, not quite ripe, on a young shrub.

But other plants are supposed to have persistent fruit. Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum opulus var americanum), for example. The shiny red fruit are extremely ornamental and extremely sour. The garden books say that birds won’t eat the fruit until after a freeze, often not until late winter.

Somebody forgot to tell the birds, though. In my garden, all the Cranberrybush drupes were gone by the middle of September.

Fortunately, Cranberrybush has nice red and purple foliage in late fall, plus it’s a host plant for the Spring Azure butterfly.

'Donald Wyman' Crabapple
‘Donald Wyman’ Crabapple

Then there’s my ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapple. (Crabapples, like apples, are pomes. As in “I think that I shall never see/a pome as  lovely as a tree.” Ironically, pomes grow on trees.)

Anyway. Experts will tell you that ‘Donald Wyman’ crabapples will stay on the tree until spring. At 1/2″, they are too big for most birds. In the past that seems to have been the case in my garden.

But this year the birds changed their minds. By the end of September all the ‘Donald Wyman’ cranberries were gone.

'Golden Raindrops' Crabapple
‘Golden Raindrops’ Crabapple

In July I planted a new ‘Golden Raindrops’ crabapple. Birds are supposed to love the yellow 1/4″ fruit. The new crabapple has just a few fruits, but the birds have ignored them so far.

What’s your favorite ornamental fruit for fall and winter?

30 Comments on “Where Have All the Berries Gone?”

  1. I never see any fruit in winter though plenty grows. The birds have keen eyes and to twist a phrase: they leave no fruit behind. Dogwood, holly, chile peppers, persimmons, pears you name it. If it is ripe today I probably won’t see it tomorrow. A situation which is just fine by me.

  2. Right now my favourite berries are the ones on my new Rowan Tree (Sorbus Autumn Spire) – in fact, they are drupes. Thanks to your botany class, I now know that. Everyday’s a school day!
    Glad the birds are enjoying your fare Jason, birds here haven’t quite started taking notice of the berries etc. as they are just not quite ripe enough.

  3. Well, I now know what a drupe is! I was laughing about your botany class, at least we are reaping the reward!!! Good to hear how the birds are enjoying your berries, funnily enough they are leaving the elderberries alone here and are feasting on beech nuts as it has been an excellent year for them.xxx

  4. Maybe some birds have different tastes! The birds stripped our elders this year too, before I had a chance to pick any. The yew berries are often left until later, but have been very popular with a couple of blackbirds recently. Most other berries are still around though. I love to see the spindle berries and rose hips in the hedgerows.

  5. There are still plenty of drupes around here. I love them at this time of year. One can never have too many drupes, I always say.
    There must be lots of other things for the birds to eat. They are even leaving my late raspberries alone.( Clusters of drupes.)

  6. Interesting how they’re all disappearing early this year. I hope the birds will find enough nourishment during the winter. I’ll have to check out my Cranberrybush
    Viburnum. Last year, the fruits remained on it until springtime. That is one of my favorites, along with the Chokecherries, which I don’t seem to find in the forest this year. Maybe they didn’t form fruits (or, ahem, drupes) this year. 😉

  7. Most of my berries are gone and those not will be. My blue viburnum berries are a favorite but long gone as are the elderberries for the most part…uncovered some winterberries so those will be gone along with rose hips and no honeysuckle berries left…I am shocked when I find anything left but rose hips this time of year…birds load up before leaving.

  8. My berries have disappeared too quickly too this year. I was just looking at my hawthorne and it has only a couple berries left on it.The Robins have been moving in large flocks elsewhere, but maybe they came to my yard and cleaned it out. I have never seen the crabapples ripen on my tree, they are always gone, I think it’s the squirrels…

  9. Here in California we have a native shrub whose common name is “Christmas Berry”. Its proper name is Toyon. We have a couple of mature plants on our back hill. The berries are bright scarlet and are quite attractive against the dark green foliage. Some years we get a flock of Cedar Waxwings that hangs around and grazes on our bushes as well as others in the area. Lovely!

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