Berry Buffet

We all know that summer is the time for tasty berries. Blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries just to name a few. Well for wildlife other than us humans, fall is also a veritable buffet when it comes to ripe berries. Many of these berries will persist far into the winter ensure a food source for birds and other animals during lean times. Let’s take a look at some of them!

Spicebush is my favorite native shrub. This guy has 3 season appeal. It is the first native shrub to bloom in the spring and when it does, the branches are filled with light green flowers. They are small, but when view from a distance the plant looks like it is covered in a green mist. Once it leafs out, the Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly can lay her eggs on it, and some of the coolest caterpillars you will see can be found wrapped up in the leaves. Oh, and the leaves when crushed have a very pleasant smell; many people find them to have a lemony scent. Finally come fall, these shrubs will be filled with bright red berries. They often don’t last long as these are a favorite with many birds. People can use these berries too, I have read. After seeding and drying the berries, they can be crushed into a powder and used as a substitute for Allspice.

Next we have Maple-leaf Viburnum.  According to John Eastman, author of Book of Forest and Thicket, this shrub’s berries have a pretty low fat content. So it may not be the first choice of berry for wildlife. He does say though that brown thrashers, cedar waxwings, squirrels and chipmunks will utilize this food source.
These are rose hips from one of our many native roses called Swamp Rose. It’s a wetland shrub that sports really beautiful deep pink flowers. We know its non-native cousin very well, multiflora rose. Rose hips are high in vitamin C, and many people know about brewing tea with them or making jelly. Going back to our John Eastman book, we find out that these too are low in fat and may be eaten last after the better berries are gone. 

This picture shows the rose hip broken open to reveal not seeds but achenes. Pronounced “uh-keen”, all it means is that there is one seed inside of it and it does not split open when it is ripe. A sunflower seed is another example of an achene. To clarify, each whitish looking portion is an achene.

Here is American Holly. These fruits are not ripe yet. When they are, they will be that familiar bright red color that reminds us of the Christmas season. According to the Wildlife Values Chart on USDA Plants, these berries can make up 5-10% of a terrestrial bird’s diet.
Flowering Dogwood is a spring time favorite. In the fall, the ripe berries are a brilliant red. Going back to our Eastman book, we find out some very interesting things about this understory tree. The fruits have a pretty high fat content making them a valuable food for fruit eating birds. Dogwood has a very interesting way of advertising its quality food. Called foliar fruit flagging, the tree’s dark red leaves send out the Bat Signal, sort-of-speak, to birds and other wildlife who will consume the berries and leave the seeds behind in their droppings, often pretty far from the parent tree. Now everybody say “foliar fruit flagging” 5 times fast!

Heading back into blue country, here we have some Greenbrier. You are probably very familiar with this plant if you have walked in the woods at all. Pretty thorny, it can hang onto your clothes rather well! This plant has in my opinion a lot of wildlife value. Birds can nest in it, rabbits and other small animals can use it for cover, deer browse it, and birds can also eat the berries. Although the berries are not exceptionally high in fat, every little bit helps!

These are the fruits of Arrowwood Viburnum. As you can see, they are attached to reddish colored stems making for a very colorful display. I cannot find any specific information on this species of viburnum. However, there may be some similarities with the Maple-leaf Viburnum mentioned earlier.

Virginia Creeper, an often misunderstood plant has some of the most beautiful, and early, fall color. (It is often mistaken for Poison Oak, a plant that does not even grow in Ohio!) The leaves turn a vibrant red then drop to the ground leaving behind bright pink stems with blue-black berries behind. High in fat, Eastman says these berries will often persist into the winter. Good news for our resident birds that need to keep up their energy when it is cold. Eastman goes on to say that Woodpeckers are a frequent diner at Virginia Creeper.

Last but not least, is every one’s favorite…Poison Ivy! We humans tend to think of this as “bad” plant, just because some of us have an allergic reaction to the oils found in the plant. (Now I know that some of you are VERY allergic and that is different.) But, the wildlife value of this plant is quite high. Poison Ivy berries very often persist into the winter providing a much needed source of food for songbirds. During last year’s Christmas Bird Count, I saw a large flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers chowing down on these berries. As a matter of fact, our “leader” in the group took us to this spot, specifically because of the abundance of PI. Over 60 species of birds have been documented to consume the berries. Also of note, when looking at the Wildlife Habitat Values chart on USDA Plant, we see that PI makes up 10-25% of the diet of large mammals. If I still haven’t convinced you that this is a “nice” plant to have around, just remember that it too is a green plant and it makes that nice gas called Oxygen to help you breath!

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