Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Winter Berries

Red Chokeberries from my yard.

American Holly with berries.

    As you may know, the purpose of a ripe berry or fruit is for it to be eaten by the right frugivore (fruit eater) for its seeds to hopefully be dispersed to the proper site for germination (and with built in fertilizer). That is why berries and many fruits change color, to advertise when they are ripe and at their best to be eaten. In fact, many seeds actually germinate better after traveling through the digestive system of an animal. 
    But not all berries are preferred the same. For example, many winter fruits and berries are not well liked and stay on the plants for extended periods of time, serving instead as starvation food. That is why such plants as chokeberries, sumacs, coralberries, and hollies hold onto their fruits well into the winter season, providing color to dreary landscapes and gardeners. They certainly are not favorite foods, but have adapted themselves to being necessary and not having much competition when seeking to be eaten and spread during this season.
    Many of these fruits and berries are thought to be affected by the cold weather, perhaps tasting better as the cold breaks down or changes their chemical properties. By the time birds are desperate enough to eat them, they may taste better anyways. Regardless, to flocks of robins and such in March, these berries may well be life savers. This year however, I've noticed that many of these have already been consumed when they would normally still be hanging on the bushes and trees. This may be due to shortages of other foods or severe cold weather, or may be its just something very local. But what worries me is that we still have a ways to go and more potential bad weather coming. Hopefully the birds and other animals will find other foods or move elsewhere if need be.


  1. Alonso, the berries on my Beautyberry bushes are still waiting for the birds to get desperate here in the mountains of central Virginia! Keep up the good work, I'm enjoying your posts!

  2. Which native berrying shrubs are the favorites? Viburnum? Blueberry?

  3. I tested your theory today. My chokeberries are darker than they were in fall and do taste slightly more palatable. Have you noticed birds eating Callicarpa.

  4. Most winterberries are not favored and thus are found well into winter. Some fruits like persimmon also taste better once the winter sets in, but are usually favored and gone well before some of the berries and fruits mentioned are eaten. By the way, in Scandanavia, chokeberries are grown for their vitamin content, among the highest in vitamin C of all plants. They are often mixed with other fruit juices (or liquor!) though to cut down on their taste...