Sunday, November 3, 2013

Fall Fruit

Plants create fruit to further the survival of their species but in doing so they create some very tasty treats for the rest of us. Not all “fruit” is fleshy - some are seed capsules, some are nuts and some are small seeds attached to wispy bits of fluff designed to carry them away. Here I want to talk about fleshy fruits and in particular the attractive fleshy fruits that appear in fall.

Red chokeberry (Photinia pyrifolia)
The fruits of fall are very pleasing to the eye and very much appreciated by the wildlife that feeds on them. Some are eaten right away while others are “squirrelled” away for later. Sometimes they are not retrieved from their hiding places, allowing the seeds in the fruit to sprout and become new plants. I’m pretty sure that was part of the plant’s plan all along. 

Of course even those that are eaten come out the other end where the seeds are now even better prepared to sprout and grow!
If you like to have plants with fruit, whether for show or for the birds and critters, let’s talk about the possibilities, starting with a few shrubs.

Juicy fall berries of Viburnum acerifolium
Viburnums – native viburnums offer a bounty of fall fruit that is almost unparalleled in beauty and in juicy flesh. By late summer and early fall the fruits have aged from green to yellow or pink and then to blue. At my house the first to disappear are the bright blue berries of Viburnum dentatum ‘Blue Muffin.’ The pinkish berries of Viburnum nudum var. cassinoides almost don’t make it to the blue phase. The final berries to ripen are Viburnum acerifolium; they hang in heavy clusters into November. Once a squirrel camped out in the branches and ate great quantities of them. Birds get their fair share.

Callicarpa americana

Beautyberry is a delight for humans as much as it is for mockingbirds. The electric-purple berries of Callicarpa americana get a lot of attention when they ripen in September. This full sun shrub is a carefree native that is also deer resistant and drought tolerant. In a partial shade area, use the white berried form instead.

Hearts a bustin’ is one of the common names for Euonymus americanus. The outrageous fruits of this shrub make it one of the most asked about plants on identification forums in the fall. Lumpy raspberry-colored pods burst open to reveal round red berries dangling on thin strings. An unremarkable plant is suddenly transformed into a thing of beauty.

Euonymus americanus

The following trees provide fruit that both humans and wildlife enjoy.

Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) are delicious when ripe but ghastly when they are not. Somehow animals get a pass on the taste because opossums and raccoons routinely eat them before they are ripe by human standards. Still, finding a scat pile full of the big glossy seeds is one way to get seeds already prepped for sowing. Just be sure to wash your hands afterwards.

Crataegus viridis

One way you know you’ve found a hawthorn (Crataegus) is when you see the thorns. The other way is to recognize the fruit with its distinctive apple-like bottom that is formed from the remains of the flower’s calyx. 

Like apples, hawthorns are members of the rose family. Hawthorns with the most attractive fruit display are those with small fruits like Washington hawthorn (Crataegus phaenopyrum) and green hawthorn (Crataegus viridis). If you want fruit for eating, choose one of the ones with larger fruit. Mayhaw jelly is made from the fruits of Crataegus aestivalus and the fruit is celebrated at an annual festival in Colquitt, GA.

Crabapple (Malus angustifolia)
Not all thorns lead to hawthorns, however. I have seen many a thorny crabapple (Malus angustifolia) in wild fields (the more you mow them down, the thornier they seem to be!). The rose family resemblance is evident in the sweet smell of the flowers and the same dimpled bottom of the fruit. 

Unlike ornamental crabapples, the fruit usually does not turn red, just a greenish-gold. Collect enough of the small fruits and you could make jelly.

Sumac fruit lasts a long time
Some fruits are not eaten right away – they become tastier with age or with a cold treatment. Nature has planned this delay very well, ensuring that some fruits are still around in the winter months for those that need them. Chokeberry (pictured earlier) is one such plant. Another one is sumac (Rhus spp.).

I love the way that nature has a way to provide food for the critters while packaging it up in a beautiful wrapper for us to admire.


  1. I have been wanting to add some viburnum to our landscape so I appreciate you profiling a few here. Can you believe I don't have any of these beauties yet?!

  2. Thanks for the info. These are some great suggestions. I'm trying to propagate beautyberry and need to get my hands on some of the others you mention.