With few exceptions, the blustery winds of October have stripped leaves from deciduous trees and shrubs here in the north central region of the country. The gaudy days of early autumn have faded and, for the most part, subdued shades of tan and brown now dominate the landscape.
All of which showcases fruit. From blueberries to chokeberries, bayberries to winterberries, pretty berries are everywhere.
But I don’t think they’re all berries. Apples aren’t and roses have hips. Wait! What’s a hip?
Fruit facts. To get to the bottom of this “berry” business, we need to understand some basic botany.
Plants reproduce by either spores or seeds. In Botany for Dummies, Dr. Renee Kratz writes, “Spores are nice but seeds are better. Seeds have protective coverings and food reserves, helping them to survive away from the parent plant.”
Seed-producing plants are either gymnosperms that don’t produce flowers and fruits (such as ginkgo trees and cone-bearing evergreens), or angiosperms, which do produce flowers and fruit.
Still with me? Here’s the last distinction.
Angiosperms produce two types of fruits: fleshy and dry. Dry fruits include achenes, capsules, grains, legumes, nuts and samaras. The only dry fruit type involved in this essay is a capsule which is produced by the genus Euonymous.
Fleshy fruits can be simple, aggregate or multiple. Below are examples of each.
Fleshy/Aggregate roses, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries (not berries!)
Choose pretty shrubs. Now that you’re a fruiting body expert and know a dry from a fleshy and a berry from a drupe, let’s consider options. Following is a list of shrubs with very showy fruit. Cultivars are available for each species, sometimes numbering in the hundreds and, in the case of roses, thousands. (Or click for DazzleGardensSimpleShrubFruitChart.pdf)
• Bayberry, Northern (Myrica pennsylvanica), grayish white drupe with a waxy coating. Fun Fact: wax makes the lovely fragrant bayberry candles. • Blueberry, highbush (Vaccinium corymbosum), bluish lack, bloomy berry. Caution: plant multiple cultivars for good cross-pollination. • Blueberry, lowbush (Vaccinium angustifolium), bluish black, bloomy berry. Caution: plant multiple cultivars for good cross-pollination. • Chokeberry, black (Aronia melanocarpa), purplish-black pome. • Chokeberry, red (Aronia arbutifolia), bright red pome. • Chokeberry, purple-fruited (Aronia x prunifolia), purplish black pome (“lustrous” according to Dirr!) • Crabapple (Malus), virtually every shade of red and yellow pome. Fun Fact: ‘Harvest Gold’ is beautiful. Caution: need multiple crabs or apples for cross pollination. • Dogwood, gray (Cornus racemosa), flashy white drupe borne atop bright red pedicels or stems. • Eastern Wahoo (Euonymous atropurpureus), four-lobed crimson capsule opens to brown and scarlet. • Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), purple black drupe; cultivars available with red fruit. Fun Fact: cooks into excellent pies, jams and wine. • Indiancurrant, coralberry, buckbrush (Symphoricarpus orbiculatus), purplish red to coral red drupe. • Inkberry (Ilex glabra), black to purplish-red drupe changing to black; some cultivars have white fruit. Caution: Hardiness Zone 4/5. • Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma), warm, rich purple drupe. Caution: Hardiness Zone 5 but definitely worth trying. Fun Fact: a truly stunning shrub and one of my favorites. • Rose (Rosa), shades of red and orange aggregate. Caution: be sure to choose plants that actually produce persistent fruit. • Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) , creamy white drupe. Fun Fact: tolerates shade. • Sumac, staghorn (Rhus typhina), bright crimson drupe turning dark red. Caution: Plant is dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). Only females produce fruit so be sure to purchase at least one male for a group of females. Fun Fact: famous ‘Tiger Eyes’ cultivar is a staghorn sumac. • Viburnum, arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum), blue or bluish black drupe. • Viburnum, cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum), bright red drupe. • Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), bright red drupe. Caution: Plant is dioecious (male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). Only females produce fruit so be sure to purchase at least one male for a group of females.
Design ideas. Here are four simple, charming and elegant design ideas.
#1. Plant the right plant in the right spot. (Dazzle Gardens Rule #1.) This is always critical but even more so when the objective is to cultivate a nice crop of fruit. Wouldn't it be silly to prune off flowers and fruit because the plant was overgrowing its intended space?
#2. Incorporate into herbaceous gardens. Shrubs can provide two design principles: focal points (planted singly) or repetition (planted repeatedly to provide cohesiveness).
#3. Plant in a massive shrub border, surely one of the great design concepts. Not only can it be beautiful to view for oneself but it can provide the perfect screen from a neighbor's house, garage or driveway.
#4. Even better, plant a shrub border against the backdrop of evergreens. The effect is dazzling!
Finally… Growing plants that are pleasing in all seasons is another basic rule of Dazzle Gardens (Rule #2, in fact). And by choosing shrubs with showy fruits, the plants are not only pleasing to look at for several months during fall and winter but the fruits provide food for gardeners and wildlife alike.
Photos by Chris Mathan of the Sportsman's Cabinet, www.sportsmanscabinet.com. From top: Crabapple, Cranberrybush viburnum, Winterberry.