Other October pages: Introduction to leaf fall • Tree by tree - the autumn sequence • Flowers • Birds • Deer rut and insects • Weather
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October is a good time to spot and identify berries. Holly berries shine bright red during the month, and female yews are also covered with pretty (though poisonous) red berries, though plenty are also to be found on the ground. In the hedgerows you can fun identifying shrubs by their berries – for example the large red hips of rose bushes, the strange pink berries of the spindle tree, the black berries of dogwood, cherry laurel or privet (both the garden hedge and sharper-leaved wild variety), or the red berries of guelder rose, rowan or whitebeam. At the start of the month there may still be some blackberries but most have shrivelled up by now.
As blackthorn loses its foliage, its blue-black sloes are revealed, and as the leaves fall away, its side twigs also turn into the sharp thorns that give the plant its name (once the blossom appears in spring, they turn back to soft twigs). Early in the month hawthorns are thick with red haws but during the month many are stripped off by birds and squirrels (though some can survive into November). You also see strings of the tempting (though poisonous) red berries of the climbers black bryony and white bryony, which persist after their leaves have gone (those of black bryony are more shiny, while those of white bryony are duller).
Equally poisonous are the red berries of woody nightshade (aka bittersweet), which you may spot on verges. Just occasionally you may see red honeysuckle berries too and sometimes even an isolated flower. In gardens and urban green spaces, firethorn (also known as pyracantha) continues to sport clusters of bright orange (or occasionally red) berries, while cotoneaster is thick with red ones. As its foliage thins, the white globular fruit of the snowberry become more prominent.
Ivy is still flowering early in the month, attracting the last of the summer insects and butterflies: these are very unconventional flowers and it is often the sickly-sweet scent and the feeding insects that tell you the shrub is in flower. Some ivy may still be in bloom at the month's end, but in general its berries (green at this stage, though with a darker tip) are forming by this time.
Another prominent sight on hedgerows is old man's beard, the seeds of traveller's joy (the wild clematis plant which produces wonderful white flowers in summer), which generally take on the fluffy appearance that gives them their name during October but sometimes wait to do so until November.
Beech nuts have all fallen to the ground by the start of the month, though some empty nut cases remain on the tree all winter. Horse chestnuts (conkers) are also mainly or entirely on the ground in early October, and get squashed underfoot on city pavements. Most of the remaining acorns also fall in the first half of the month, though some may remain on the branches until its end. (In 2012 there were no beech nuts at all, presumably due to them not fertilising in a very wet spring, while acorns were also very scarce).
Sweet chestnuts take a bit longer to fall, but litter the ground with their spiky seed cases by the end of the month. Apples and crab apples also sometimes remain on branches till late in October, though many are on the ground even at the start of the month: under crab apples the carpet of fallen fruit can be particularly dense.
Tree seeds are also falling, but for lime, sycamore and maple it seems to be a fairly gradual process, with some still remaining on the tree at the end of the month. Some of the seed clusters of hornbeam also fall during the month, but many remain on the tree and turn yellowy gold, contributing quite a bit to the autumnal tints of the tree. Some even remain on the tree after the leaves have gone, something that is also true of some of the seed cylinders of birch, turned brown by now.
On alder this year's green cones mix with last year's brown ones, while next year's catkins buds lengthen somewhat. The most noticeable seeds of all by the end of the month, however, are those of ash, which finish turning from green to brown during October and then hang in big desiccated bunches on the tree all winter (assuming they have formed - some years they do not).
As well as hawthorn, blackthorn and elder (see The autumn sequence), other shrubs are slowly losing their leaves in October, though not all go entirely bare. Bramble, for example, sheds leaves from its older shoots, but retaining them on new growth. Buddleia and privet keep some leaves, even as some go yellow and fall. In the early part of October some buddleias can even be still in flower, and even as they are shedding they are putting out next year's new leaf shoots.
Bramble leaves can turn a surprising red, and other shrubs whose leaves may do the same include guelder rose, dog rose and wayfaring tree. Dogwood leaves turn a vivid maroon and once the foliage has fallen the plant's stems are similarly vividly coloured. Spindle can also produce fine maroons, reds and oranges, though mottled yellow and green is its more normal tinting pattern, while forsythia has maroon tints in mainly yellow leaves. The often overlooked cherry plum displays a mix of yellow and green leaves.
Bracken turns brown as the month progresses, sometimes going yellow and then gold first. But it is quite variable about this and in some places can be brown (possibly from drought) quite early in the month while in others it is still fairly green by the month's end. Early in October the foliage of wall and fence climber Virginia creeper is an eye-catching bright red, but by the third week it is usually bare. Another common climber, bindweed, can also produce nice yellows as its foliage dies away, while early in the month fading rosebay willowherb plants can produce bright golds and reds.
In what can seem like a peverse defiance of the season, gorse bushes put out flowers (having started in some places in September) and can be quite covered with them by the month's end. Dogwood can occasionally also put out one or two flowers in October.
More October pages:
- Introduction to leaf fall
- Tree by tree - the autumn sequence
- Deer rut and insects
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