Charles Day is Wave Hill’s Ruth Rea Howell Senior Horticultural Interpreter.
As the autumn leaves tire and drop from the scene, our attention turns to the colorful fruits and berries found on many of the trees and shrubs at Wave Hill. They are equally as attractive as the flowers of summer and they extend the season of interest for many weeks into winter.
Close to the Perkins Visitor Center, bright-red viburnum berries, such as those of the linden viburnum (Viburnum dilatatum) and the tea viburnum (V. setigerum), shown the first shot here, stand out against the yellowing foliage, and they can remain for long after the branches have become bare.
Across the roadway from the viburnum, the purple fruit of the aptly-named beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’), shown in the next shot, elicits much interest and is deservedly the subject of many photo opportunities.
Elsewhere, cotoneasters, such as Cotoneaster franchetii, display bright-orange berries for month.
All this colorful attention-seeking is really just advertising. Berries are saying to the wildlife “come and eat me.” Plants have evolved many ways to disperse their seeds. Some have adaptations which allow them to drift on air or water or, perhaps, catch a ride by hooking themselves onto an animal’s fur, but a common strategy is to surround the seed with an enticing edible package—a fruit or berry. This juicy flesh is digested but the seed will survive and likely find itself deposited some distance from its parent plant. A win for the plant and a satisfactory meal for the creature lucky enough to eat it.
Indeed, one of our crabapple trees, Malus toringoides, the last shot here, had been displaying a fine crop of tiny, orange-red apples until very recently, but a flock of cedar waxwings swept through and gorged themselves on the decorative fruits. Any they dropped were soon collected by attentive American robins, patrolling the ground below.
Cedar waxwings also love the berries of the red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), which, although called berries, are actually small, fused cones. While we are splitting hairs, note that the red cedar is not a true cedar (Cedrus spp.) but, as its botanical name suggests, a species of juniper. All that aside, the waxwings invariably return here one day during the winter to feast on the berries of the many junipers in our Wild Garden.
No one begrudges the birds their berries. Gardeners and visitors alike love to see them. And after all, what are these fruits for if not to be eaten by our avian friends as winter descends?