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August fruits, berries, nuts and trees

Other August pages: Downland and seaside flowers • Wayside flowers • BirdsButterflies and insectsWeather

Put your cursor over any photo to see its caption, or click here to see more August fruit, berry, nut and seed photos.

August is the month of harvest, the season of gathering in. It is the month when berries, fruits and nuts start to ripen in the hedgerow. Apples (including wild crab apples) groan on branches and from early in the month are even scattered on the ground. Blackberries are at their best and by the end of the month they can even be going over, though in many places they last well into September. (You also continue to see the very occasional bramble flower, useful late summer food for insects and butterflies.)

Berries are in fact everywhere you look in August. Most obvious are the red haws on hawthorn, some of which may look ripe early in the month but most of which ripen in the second half. (If spring is hot, some may even ripen earlier in the summer). Note also the berries on rowan trees, which have for the most part reached their full red colour (with a slight tinge of orange) by the start of the month.

Hips (the fruits of wild rose bushes) mature in the second half, and throughout the month you can see the characteristic blue blush of sloes on blackthorn bushes: hard and unripe at the start of the month, they start to soften towards its end. Their more palatable relatives wild plums (red or purple-blue) and greengages (yellowy-green) can also be found ripe in August, but damsons (purple-blue, oval, like a large sloe on a bush without thorns) and bullaces (rounded, purple-blue or yellowish with a pink blush) tend not to be ripe until September.

Cherry plums, which look like a cherry but taste like a plum and can be yellowy-orange or red, are ripe in the first half, though in some summers they are not found at all. These are edible, but if you see what looks like tiny black cherries on a bush with large rubbery leaves, they are definitely not: this is the cherry laurel and its fruits are poisonous. They ripen in the first half of August, creating a pretty kaleidoscope of colours as they turn from green to maroon and then black

Other berries might catch your eye - and provide a useful aid to identifying the shrubs they grow on. The wayfaring tree – a common shrub on downland – has berries that turn red and then black in August: the two colours are often mixed up on the same cluster. Guelder rose berries are reddening or already red in the first half of the month, while the berries of the whitebeam may be starting to turn from green to red near the end of the month. Dogwood berries ripen to black at the same time (it can also occasionally still have flowers in August), and the distinctive snowberry continues to produce both flowers (tiny pink ones) and the white globular berries after which it is named. You can also see the characteristic fluted berries of the spindle tree (a bush) turn a dull maroon colour in the second half: later in September they will ripen to pink.

Black clusters of elderberries are ubiquitous from the second week onwards, though their ripening is staggered - that is, on any particular bush some are ripe and some remain green a bit longer. They are edible but don't taste of much. Where it has been allowed to flower, privet (both the garden hedge variety and its longer-leaved wild cousin) produces green berries that will ripen to black in September, though this is a shrub with rather variable timing, and some can still be flowering at the start of the month. Two garden plants that occur in semi-wild locations are firethorn (often called by its Latin name of pyracantha), whose plentiful clusters of berries turn orange (or very occasionally red) as the month goes on, and cotoneaster, whose berries turn an orangey-brown colour and then go red. You can also see the black berries of tutsan, a relative of St John's wort and another garden escapee.

If you see a climber trailing red berries across the hedgerow towards the end of the month, it is quite likely black bryony (a member of the yam family) or white bryony (a member of the marrow family), though in both cases the berries can still be green at this time too. White bryony may even still be flowering earlier in the month. Once the berries come out, both plants often lose their leaves so it can be hard to tell them apart, but black bryony berries look more luscious while white bryony's are duller. Both are poisonous.

Honeysuckle also may continue to flower right until the end of August, but you can start to see its red berries quite early in the month (to have both at the same time on the same plant is not uncommon). Yet another hedgerow climber that can be both flowering and producing berries in August (which ripen from green to red, both being seen throughout the month) is bittersweet (otherwise known as woody nightshade). The lurid orange seed heads of cuckoo pint continue to provide a striking sight on verges.

Less noticed on the berry front are the ones of the yew and holly. Holly berries remain green all month, and so are almost impossible to spot amidst their foliage. Yew berries are like tiny green acorns, but from quite early in the month start to ripen to red, their number increasing toward its end.

One other plant - ivy - is only just starting to think about flowering, with the buds it started to produce at the end of July growing slowly larger throughout August. By the end of the month they may be fully formed: in 2017 some even started to flower at this time.

Nuts and seeds

The presence of seeds or fruits makes August a good time to identify trees. Beech nut cases, for example, are visible, with some falling to the ground and splitting open from quite early in the month, though plenty still remain on the tree. Early in the month, when the cases are all broken, one wonders if squirrels are a factor: later one sees splayed cases, suggesting they have fallen naturally. Either way the nuts themselves disappear fairly quickly. Meanwhile, acorns grow to full size during the month on oak trees, and increasing numbers are to be found on the ground as the month goes on, though plenty also remain on the tree.

You can also find hazelnuts on the ground right from the start of the month. The round nut cases of sweet chestnuts (spiked) and horse chestnuts (smooth) become increasingly prominent as the month goes on, and some of the latter start to fall to the ground at the end of the month. Early in the month the ground under sweet chestnuts is still littered with its fallen flower tassels.

The winged seeds of Norway maple, field maple and sycamore can also be found on the ground during August, but this is usually due to squirrels feeding on them (look to see if the pod with the actual seed in has been neatly slit open): most stay on the tree. Squirrels may also be a factor in the hornbeam seeds which are found under some trees but not others. The ground under lime trees is littered with rejected winged seeds (the ones that did not fertilise?), though again plenty still remain on the trees.

Ash seeds (keys) continue to hang in larger green bunches, though they can sometimes be yellowing a bit at the month's end. On birch trees there are fat seed cylinders (looking a bit like catkins) - mostly green, though more and more of them turn brown as the month goes on. If you look closely you will also see that alder, birch and hazel have tiny buds (which in fact appear in July) that will grow into next year's catkins.

Look down and you find seeds stuck to your socks at the end of a walk. These are the seeds of cleavers (also known as goosegrass), a sprawling verge plant, agrimony (which has distinctive conical seeds) and also enchanter's nightshade and wood avens (aka herb bennet).

The start of leaf tint

It seems a bit incongruous in high summer, but if you look closely you can already see some yellowing of leaves on trees and shrubs in August – usually just a few that turn and fall, scattering the ground below. Around other trees you may see leaves that have fallen without any apparent tinting.

Several factors may trigger this, including drought, cool August weather, or perhaps the aggregate amount of stress the trees have been under over the whole spring and summer. Storms can also sometimes dislodge leaves from trees, but whether they were going to fall anyway is an interesting question. It does seem, though, that some species are just making a quiet start to their autumn leaf fall, though in some years - 2012 being an example - there is hardly any such activity at all.

Whatever the reason, lime, birch, elder, crack willow, goat willow and hornbeam can all see some tinting in August, as can buddleia (even as it continues to flower), hawthorn, blackthorn, dog rose, dogwood and bramble. Poplar and oak may shed some leaves without any tinting.

In 2016 and 2017 wild cherry, sweet chestnut and rowan also tinted, while in 2016 hazel did at the end of the month. In 2017 there was quite a bit of tinting on sycamore, while in 2016 it shed without tinting. Alder also shed without tinting in 2016, and weeping willow did likewise in both years. In 2017 ash shed without tinting right from the start of the month, and in 2016 and 2017 some ash leaves developed brown shrivelled tips to their leaves. (I am told that this is NOT a symptom of ash-die back disease, even though this was also taking hold in southern England during these years.)

In 2016 dry weather seemed to be a factor in all this, with the tinting ceasing once wetter weather came in September. However 2017 was a middling sort of August with reasonable amounts of rain and the tinting continued into an equally changeable September that year. Whatever the reasons for it, this early tint and shed is not an indicator of an early autumn: there seems to be correlation at all. It is not until later in autumn that trees and shrubs lose their leaves in earnest.

Special mention has to be made for horse chestnut leaves withering or turning brown in August, which is due to a leaf-mining bug that started attacking them in 2009. This seems to be less intense in wetter years, at least in the summer months, and in July is largely confined to lower levels of the tree. In August it can creep higher until the tree is affected right to the top.

In addition, sycamore can develop a black spot on its leaves (remarkably, this is a sign of clean air), and on the South Downs in 2012 many also had part-withered leaves from some other unknown cause. In 2011 some leaves of virginia creeper - an imported climber that is semi-naturalised - turned their characteristic reddish brown in August, and this also happened in places at the very end of August 2017: normally, though, it does not happen until September.

More August pages:


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