August Berries for the Birds

Late in August some of the birds begin to fatten themselves up for their fall journey. At the same time, berries of all kinds have begun to ripen. This, then, is a good time to take stock of what kind of garden buffet is on offer for our avian friends.

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The red berries of Cranberrybush Viburnum (Viburnum opulus var. americanum) are not quite ripe, but they are getting close. Most books say that birds tend not to eat these berries until late in winter, but mine are often gone by December.

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This year the Grey Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) berries seem especially plentiful. They are gobbled up as soon as they turn white. The branches are full of songbirds (especially Robins) gulping down the fruit. Cardinals, Woodpeckers, and Bluebirds are also attracted to the berries (sadly no Bluebirds found in this area).

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When the white berries are gone, the red pedicels remain.

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Black Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) are also ripening. This is another crowd pleaser, as long as the crowd consists of songbirds – about 40 species eat the fruit. This is a rather wild-looking shrub, and it suckers freely, so I keep it in a far corner of the back garden.

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Let’s turn now to herbaceous plants. I’m not sure who exactly eats the black fruits of Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum), but I’ll just assume that someone does.

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The same is true of Solomon’s Plume (Maianthemum racemosum). The berries are bright red when fully ripe.

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American Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) is a wild-looking shrub-sized perennial. It bears tiny inconspicuous flowers in large panicles that yield substantial clusters of berries (technically drupes).  The berries are appetizing to birds but inedible for people. I’m looking forward to the moment when all the fruits have turned bright red.

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The dark purple stems are another ornamental asset of this plant, which ignorant people disdain as a weed.

Are the birds eating any berries in your garden?

37 Comments on “August Berries for the Birds

  1. Lovely pics, as usual, and lots of interesting information for someone from the other hemisphere. I had to look up the difference between a drupe and a berry. I learned something. I didn’t know that a coconut was not a ‘nut’ nor that a brinjal/egg plant was technically a berry, like the tomato. Interesting stuff. I hope the birds have a wonderful time hanging out at your place.

    • You know what else is a berry? A watermelon. But strawberries, despite the name, are actually aggregate fruits – a collection of individual fruits called achenes. Isn’t botany wonderful?

  2. Hmmm, my black elderberry has never suckered. I wonder why??? It is old as the hills. If it was going to do so I would think it would by now. Oh well, that only means I don’t have to deal with it. 🙂 I have hacked on it, I mean trimmed it, many times so maybe that is why. I think the opossoms eat solomans seal. They don’t last any time here. I know the opossoms keep vigil in my garden. The Beauty Berry is ripening in my garden. When they come into full ripening the robins will return and strip the shrubs of their berries. The High bush Cranberry (viburnum) berries will go then too as well as the Hawthorn tree berries. Then the Robins will go on Southward for winter. The squirrels have been eating the Maple seeds from the Japanese Maple. They think they are tasty treats.

  3. There are various viburnum in our garden but I’ve yet to find out what’s what as all were planted by the previous owner. One of them looks very like the cranberrybush – I’ve found a site that gives a description of the difference between the American and European ones, so shall find out soon, I hope.

    Our birds particularly adore the berries of Pheasantberry and Cotoneaster. Everything beaked and winged in our garden (yard) eats the Pheasantberry but it’s the (European) blackbirds that most especially love the Cotoneaster. Do you have either, there?

    • I don’t know what pheasantberry looks like but there is lots of Cotoneaster at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I don’t have any myself, I’m afraid.

  4. So many different berries….your garden is a bird cafe! I love the color of the Cranberrybush Viburnum berries.

  5. Lots of wild-looking shrubs. Glad we have the birds to keep them under control.

  6. Mother Nature encouraged a wild grape vine to grow along our fence. It produces bunches of grapes that sit all winter and get tossed in the yard bag during spring clean up. Does any wild thing out there (bird, varmint, etc.) consume these? Seems like a wasted food source.

  7. No bushes or plants with berries at the little house in the big woods, but by the patio, we have bird feeders, and we just love watching those fluttering beauties come and go. As I’m sure you do at your home.

  8. Elderberries in my garden are not yet ripen, Jason. But Aronia berries are black and juicy and blackbirds eat them every day, as I see that on the garden paths 😦

  9. Your berries look like tempting fare for the birds. I find the snakenard interesting! Is it a takeover artist?

  10. Beautiful berrying plants. I especially like the American Spikenard–not at all familiar with it, but I do love the clusters. I imagine you have some fat-n-happy birds!

  11. Lovely to see so much for the birds in your garden Jason. I shall check on the elderberries when I get home next week, but they usually disappear the moment they are ripe and the birds go mad for them so I may be too late!

  12. The cedar waxwings are going crazy over the silky dogwood berries at the moment, and grapes and pokeweed are just starting to ripen. They seem to have plenty to eat this year in spite of the drought.

  13. Love the American spikenard. Interestingly (considering the distance between our gardens), the berries on mine are just starting to turn color too!

    (I think I need to try transplanting my American spikenard though to a shadier spot this autumn. It’s looking VERY stressed.)

    I didn’t get any blooms or berries on my young Cornus amomum this year. Hopefully next year…

    And I don’t grow the cranberry viburnum, but I do get lots of berries (more each year) on the arrowwood viburnums and the birds sure seem fond of those.

    I’m having great fun watching the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) ripen in the garden. When the berries are fully ripe, I *believe* they’re supposed to be edible for people at least in small doses. I plan to at least try one and see what they taste like.

    (I’ve learned that ‘edible’ and ‘palatable’ are two different things. Chokeberries (Aronia species) are technically edible and supposedly nutritious, but … blech!)

    • I have never tasted chokeberries. The same is true of the Cranberrybush Viburnum, edible in theory, but why would any person want to eat them? Leave it to the birds.

  14. Especially love that first pic. Viburnum ‘Blue Muffin’ is a feast for birds. Cedar Waxwings go for the dogwoods at work but I’ve never seen any here, only a couple of hills over. They are such beautiful birds. The birds are stealthy around here, as the berries disappear without any sightings.

  15. I have blackberries I grow just for the birds. The chipmunks also feast on them. My American Cranberry bush only produces berries when the viburnum next door flowers, which isn’t often since it’s tended by Edward Scissorhands. I actually told my neighbor to stop pruning anything in her yard and to just come get me!

  16. Your berry buffet is a delight to read about Jason. Beauty berry is the only thing like this I can list for my garden and I’ll have do some thinking and planning on that. We have lots of bluebirds here.

  17. I have a few berry bearing plants, but I’ve never really taken stock as to when or who eats the berries…I’ll have to keep an eye out. You have quite the selection….the birds must be in heaven at your house!

  18. You certainly have a good variety of berries for your birds. Your elderberries are way ahead of mine, which are snubbed by our garden birds.xxx

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