Tuesday, August 23, 2016

More berry beauty

I'm still picking some blueberries in my woods these days.  I've just noticed recently that the blackberries have also begun to ripen, which is lovely, but is also a sure sign that the summer is coming to an end.  I hope to gather some blackberries for freezing perhaps, if there are enough.

There are still carpets of red berries sported by the Cornus canadensis plants in my woodland spaces.

Another "berry" of sorts that is turning red right now is the flowering crab apple fruit.  These aren't really berries, but they sort of look like berries.  They will provide much-needed nourishment to winter birds.

I was talking to my mother about crab apples when she visited recently, and she was saying how crab apples in the United Kingdom, where she grew up, are much larger than the ones here.  I thought this was intriguing so I did a bit of research and found out that UK crab apples are generally Malus sylvestris species, which is the European crab apple.  The fruits are much larger and more useful for humans, often being made into cider, jellies and used in desserts and other recipes.  Here in North America, we have 3 native crab apple species.  Malus coronaria, M. fusca, and M. ioensis.  These are much smaller-fruited and are mostly eaten by wildlife.  Many ornamental crab apples that we see here in Canada and the US are cultivars derived from those species.  However, there are 34 (!!) crab apple species listed on the Wikipedia page about the apple genus (Malus).  Since they are all called crab apples, its a bit of a confusing subject.  No wonder the things my mother knew as crab apples are different to the ones I know!

When I was out looking at the berries, I thought I'd take a picture and write about another berry with a plethora of common names.  This is a picture of Gaultheria procumbens growing in my woods.  It's a low-growing forest plant with oval, glossy leaves and small red berries.  I put my hand in the picture to isolate the berries and leaves from the other plants.

The plant forms a sort of carpet amongst the moss and other woodland scrub plants.

It has an odd mix of common names, but many know it as "American wintergreen."  This name is used because the leaves produce the very characteristic wintergreen smell when you crush them, which makes it an easy plant to identify. Some people do actually use it to make a type of tea.  The berries are mildly minty and slightly sweet.  I learned that the berries are a favourite food of the chipmunk, which is probably why mine keep disappearing very quickly as soon as they ripen!

Seriously though, this plant highlights the problem of common names, because here is a list of the other common names by which G. procumbens is known: American mountain tea, boxberry, Canada tea, canterberry, chickenberry, chinks, creeping wintergreen, deerberry, drunkards, gingerberry, ground berry, ground tea, grouseberry, hillberry, mountain tea, one-berry, partridge berry, procalm, red pollom, spice berry, squaw vine, star berry, spiceberry, spicy wintergreen, spring wintergreen, teaberry, wax cluster, and youngsters.  No wonder I prefer the proper scientific or Latin names of plants - there can be no confusion that way!

Here's a photograph of the rowan tree berries at the Sackville Waterfowl Park, near where I live. They are looking plump and healthy, and will provide a great food source for all the non-migratory birds later this fall and winter.  There are many rowan trees at the park, and one in my front yard as well, although the berries on mine aren't looking quite as good as these!

Last but not least, here are some berries on Prunus virginiana, also at the waterfowl park.  This is another important source of food for birds.  You can see that there are some ripe (dark) fruits on the left, while the ones on the right are still red.  They will all turn a purplish-black eventually.  The common names for this tree include chokecherry, Virginia bird-cherry, bitter-berry, black chokecherry and western chokecherry.  This one is safe for humans as well, and some people make it into jelly or jam.  I'll just be watching it for avian visitors!

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