Berry bounty: Fruits of season offer splash of color

A Capital Pear tree stands with berries in bloom this week in front of Snow Hall on Kansas University’s campus. Berries help brighten cold, wintry months.

Crab apples hang off a tree on the Kansas University campus.

John Henry/Journal-World Photo A crab apple tree stands with berries in bloom Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2008 in front of Snow Hall on the KU campus.

Colors — the wide spectrum of gorgeous hues and tones, the slight variations of reds, greens, yellows and oranges — is one of Mother Nature’s most admired earthly delights.

The colors of our landscape are truly a show for the senses, with pale pastels emerging in the spring, brilliant bright-hot colors glimmering in the sunshine days of summer, the cool blues and whites of winter … and then there is autumn.

Autumn is a time when we tend to look upward for color on the boughs of trees, but there is a kaleidoscope of color right at eye level that is teaming with life and bursting forth with eye-popping intensity. The tones of fall are on exhibit this time of year on fruit-bearing plants and trees.

The berries are exploding on flora, adding a new and interesting texture to many plants. Flowers and foliage are often quite an obvious attraction but berries add an entirely new dimension in the fall landscape and oftentimes this flaunting stretches well into winter.

There are some fantastic plants that bear berries and are scrumptious to look at in the autumn but pretty darn drab the rest of the year. That makes the placement of many of these fall beauties rather tricky. Situate these plants where they will be a focal point in the autumn but not a draw in the summer. A gardener can achieve this by placing some plants that bear fruit behind perennials that lose their leaves in the fall. Keep in mind that some berry producers have heavy clusters that are quite visible from afar while others are subtler in their berry dispersing and may require closer inspection.

Another aspect to the placement of these lovely, colorful plants is that you may be more comfortable viewing them from the confides of a warm cozy chair, so keep in mind the view from the inside of the home looking out.

Be sure to check the height and width of a mature tree or shrub, a crowded specimen will not ever live up to its full potential. If you plan on placing one of these fruit producers near the home’s foundation, be sure to leave enough room for them to grow in all directions.

Favorite berry varieties

Everyone in this area seems to love winterberry; it is a hands-down favorite among landscape experts Mary Olson, owner of Tomorrow Landscape Design in Lawrence, and Ward Upham, extension associate at Kansas State University.

“I love winterberry — the deciduous holly,” Olson says. When all the leaves fall off they’re stunning.”

“I like winterberry because the bright-red berries make such an excellent autumn show, provided the birds don’t eat them first,” Upham adds.

There are many viburnum varieties that are also a favorite in our community of plant gurus; Upham mentioned wayfaringtree, European cranberrybush and lantanaphyllum as all being extraordinarily lovely for this part of the country.

But Olson has some advice, “The berried viburnum is pretty when it’s allowed to grow to its full height, but it takes a big spot so make sure you have adequate room.”

Two houses

Some gardeners can get rather confused about the male and female berry plants and how to go about getting the fruit that is desired with these types of flora. Upham explains, “Many of the berried plants are dioecious (literally ‘two houses’) rather than monoecious (‘one house’). Dioecious means that you have male flowers on one plant and female flowers on another. This is simply a characteristic of certain species of plants. Named cultivars are normally propagated vegetatively (cutting, for example) rather than from seed. Such vegetative propagation means the progeny are exactly like the parent including sex. Therefore, if you buy a named variety, you know you are getting a male or female. Most people will buy several females and one male (which they can hide behind the females) to insure fruit.”

China berry and American bittersweet are a couple of species that require a male and female plant in order for the fruit to bear.

Berry lovely

• Oregon grapeholly — This plant has a yellow sweet smelling spring flower that is surrounded by leathery leaves. It begins to produce berries in the late summer — midwinter. The berries begin as a greenish-blue color and as the season progresses they become purple-black. The leaves are held all winter and turn a purple-green in the cold.

• Redosier dogwood — This plant dons fiery red stems in the winter, redosier or red-twig, also sports plump, white berries in the late summer. It make a great wildlife cover and birds adore the fruit. It need pruning of the old wood annually to make room for the fresh red twigs to emerge.

• Rockspray cotoneaster — This plant has a cascading shape making it a good choice for sloping areas (Olson particularly likes the cotoneaster). With shiny petite leaves and bright red berries that grow in clusters this is an eye-catcher. Pink flowers bloom in the spring and the berries are visible from late summer through winter.

• Black chokeberry — Has showy, white flowers in the spring as well as shiny leaves and a plethora of clustered black berries. Very hardy and adaptable however this plant is on the larger size so give it room to grow. Birds love to live in the chokeberry but avoid the tart berries until all other food is extinguished leaving the plant full of berries most of the winter.

• American bittersweet — Olson says, “How can you not love Bittersweet? It is tough to grow in town though. When you stumble upon it in the woods, it’s a real treasure.” This vine bears orange berries that peek out from a more reddish colored shell, it can be aggressive, Oriental Bittersweet is a nuisance, quite aggressive and will kill trees. Be sure you get American.

• Hercules club — Has large bunches of small, purple-black fruits on 10- 20 inch long thorny stems. The shrub or small tree dons flowers that are greenish-white.

• Beautyberry — A medium to large deciduous shrub that bears abundant berry-like purple fruits, that grow in clusters. An inconspicuous plant until it’s leaves fall and the fruits appear.

• Crab apple — An ornamental tree in many varieties. Upham likes Prairiefire that has reddish blooms and red, plump berries, as well as Golden Raindrops which has golden berries and red jewell which has white flowers and red fruit.

• Holly — This plant has red or occasionally black fruit, mostly an evergreen shrub. Although, winterberry is deciduous and a prominent fruit bearer. Olson’s advice, “It takes some time to mature and berry up, but if you keep it acidified, it’s pretty.”

• Viburnum — Mostly a deciduous shrub with red, yellow, orange, black or blue fruits. Upham likes the Eskimo variety with its shiny black foliage, the Koreanspice because of the fragrance and the doublefile because of their flowers and beauty as well as the three already mentioned.

• Common snowberry — Has blue-green leaves with white and pink flowers in the spring and fruit in the fall. The fruit may be fatale to pets so beware.

• European mountainash — Has white flowers and large clusters of orange-red fruit, this is a large tree.

• Japanese barberry — Olson love barberry although admits that many gardeners do not. Bears small, red fruit in the fall and winter with lovely fall foliage but it can be invasive and is thorny.

• Washington Hawthorn — Has white spring flowers and bright red fruit all winter. This is a large tree, Upham states, “I like the shape of the tree and the berries but I dislike the thorns and it’s susceptibility to rust.”

• Serviceberry — Has white spring flowers and purple, edible summer fruit. This is a deciduous shrub/tree that can get quite large.

As the leaves fall off of the trees and the ground becomes blanketed with colors long spent, do not fret there is plenty of color, texture and food for the birds to be found among the wonderful world of berries.