Sunday, January 27, 2013

Berries for Winter Life!

     Yesterday we had a winter weather event and today it is a black and white world outside.  Dark tree trunks stand in stark contrast with white on the ground.  That is quite often what people really think of when they think of the great outdoors in the winter.  Even when there is no ice or snow on the ground. they think of barren trees and brown leaves.  Winter does not need to be all dark and white.  There are ways to brighten things up, and they don't have to be by using non-native and thus cold sensitive flowering plants.  Non-natives have their place and can be very pretty, but their flowers tend to be brown in this weather too.
     Consider adding plants that produce berries to your site.  In this area there are a sizable number of berry producing plants.  For winter color I like to focus on those that produce berries that are brightly colored and not hidden among leaves.  Evergreens help provide a nice bit of green, but their leaves hide the berries.  Thus use them for the green and use deciduous plants for the show.  Use both for wildlife activity though!

     One great choice is Deciduous Holly, sometimes called Possumhaw.  It's a lovely small tree native to the Southeast.  In the wild, it grows on the edges of swamps and in wet areas.  Over time it will grow to be thirty feet tall and will often have several trunks in a cluster.  In the spring and summer, it has delicate little leaves and is a lovely understory bit of green, but in the winter it really shines with brilliant red berries on bare branches.  The berries are a favorite of songbirds and game birds alike as well as opossums and racoons.

     Sumac is another small tree or large shrub that makes for some lovely winter color.  Depending on the variety, sumac will range from five feet in height at maturity to thirty.  It produces cone-shaped clusters of bright red berries which it holds through the winter and well into the spring.  The large compound leaves are an added attraction both for their visual texture and their brilliant red fall color.  These plants love to be in a moist but sunny and open area and thus can provide color in areas where Possumhaw struggles.  It should be noted that smooth sumac, Rhus glabra, is the only shrub or tree that is native to all 48 contiguous states.  Sumacs are not a favorite of most wildlife, with the exception of deer who browse the leaves in summer, but they are an important source of late winter to spring food.  Because they are not eaten initially, the berries persist into late winter when there is little else for wildlife to eat.  They are a high source of vitamin A and are a major late season food source for a large number of songbirds and game birds and well as small mammals.

     Beautyberry is an American favorite shrub that normally grows to be around five feet tall and six feet in diameter.  It does well in well-drained upland soils, and under ideal soil moisture conditions can reach ten feet.  In the spring it produces small delicate pink flowers and in the fall yellow leaves , but its most magnificent feature is the large clusters of berries.  These berries can be pink, iridescent purple or white depending on the variety of the shrub.  They cling to the branches in tight clusters that surround the leaf buds.  The berries of this plant are a favorite to a number of songbirds and the foliage is desirable to deer.
     Each season has its own attraction and can be a joy to experience.  Even winter when everything seems to be dead and dormant can have color and beauty.  Berry producing plants work well to provide that color and to provide the excitement that attracting wildlife brings to your site.

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