The Power of Berries

by Barbara Walvoord

(First published in the Lathrop Lamp Post Oct. 22, 2016)

Our Lathrop berries are powerful forces in nature. Through the fall and winter, the sweet fruit provides critical  nourishment for our birds, chipmunks, and bears.  But to the plant, a berry is a seed with an enticement–a sweet treat that gets some creature to eat the berry and pass it out the other end, in some distant place, with a nice little blob of fertilizer. Berries are a plant’s wings–they allow it to spread beyond its rooted place.

For that very reason, the berries of invasive plants are really bad news.  Berries eaten and then excreted spread invasive burning bush, barberry, and honeysuckle from our landscaped areas into our forests, where they crowd out native plants, but fail to provide the insects, cover, and nesting areas that our wildlife needs. Birds that eat these berries unwittingly spread their own destruction.

One of the worst berries is the alien invasive buckthorn berry, because it gives birds diarrhea, thus weakening them as winter approaches.  Nineteenth-century European settlers brought buckthorn with them, but they didn’t bring the enemies and competitors that limit buckthorn’s spread in its native land. Buckthorn’s heavy thickets crowd out our native plants and change the composition of the soil, making is less hospitable to natives.

Another bad berry is invasive bittersweet vine, whose orange berries are popping out now, as the vines smother our trees.

bittersweet-berries-img_2297

As we have been removing these bad berries at Lathrop, we have saved and nurtured our good berries: pin cherry berries cascading from their branches (top of this page)  black cherry; arrowwood vibernum; red mulberry; high-bush blueberry, whose popular berries are almost all eaten by now; grey dogwood, with its unusual waxy white berries; winterberry, which some of us have planted in our gardens for a fall and winter show of brilliant red berries lining every branch; and, pictured below,  wintergreen berries nestling one by one on our forest floor.

wintergreen-april-2016

We are making our land a feast of powerful berries.

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