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October berries, nuts, seeds and shrubs

Other October pages: Introduction to leaf fall  Tree by tree - the autumn sequence Flowers Birds Deer rut, insects and farm animals • Weather

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

There are still plenty of berries to be seen in October, though as the month goes on they start to fall or be eaten.

For example early in October hawthorns are thick with red haws but as the weeks go by many are stripped off by birds and squirrels. Female yews are also covered with pretty (though poisonous) red berries, though some are found on the ground. Guelder rose has red berries too, as does whitebeam, while on rowan they are orangey-red and on spindle fluted and pink. All can still be found throughout the month but become scarcer as it goes on.

Other red berries include hips on dog roses, which can last long after all the foliage has fallen away. In addition you can see strings of the tempting-looking (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 hedgerows or verges. Just occasionally you may see red honeysuckle berries too and sometimes even an isolated honeysuckle flower. Holly berries shine bright red throughout the month, reminding us that Christmas is on the horizon.

As blackthorn loses its foliage its blue-black sloes are revealed (more black than blue as the month goes on), 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). Other black berries you may see, most likely early in the month, are those of dogwood, cherry laurel or privet (both the garden hedge and sharper-leaved wild variety). Also at the start of the October there may still be some blackberries on bramble but most have shrivelled up by now. Weirdly, both dogwood and bramble can also put out the occasional flower this month.

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. Snowberry sports its white globular fruits. Looking like a garden escapee, but actually quite wild, is stinking iris, whose prominent orange berry heads appear on a plant whose leaves are like those of a daffodil.

Ivy is still flowering in places 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.

Also tentatively starting to flower can be gorse bushes, though they do not really get going until November. In gardens viburnum puts out white flowers that can bloom all winter.

On chalk soils, a prominent sight in hedgerows is old man's beard, the seeds of traveller's joy (the wild clematis plant which produces wonderful white flowers in summer): later in the month it starts to take on the fluffy appearance which gives it its name.

Tree nuts, fruits and seeds

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.

Sweet chestnuts likewise have mainly fallen by mid month and litter the ground with their spiky seed cases. Apples and crab apples 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 they can remain on the tree and turn yellowy gold, contributing quite a bit to the autumnal tints of the tree. Some even stay 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.

In addition you can see the buds of next year's catkins on birch, as well as on hazel and alder: on the latter tree this year's green cones mix with last year's brown ones early in the month, but they are turning brown towards its end. The bobble-like fruits of London plane remain on the tree, though in October are generally concealed by the foliage. The most noticeable seeds of all by the end are those of ash, some of which may still be a bit green early in October, but which are soon all brown: they then hang in big desiccated bunches on the tree all winter.

Shedding shrubs

As well as hawthorn, blackthorn and elder (see The autumn sequence), other shrubs are slowly losing their leaves in October, though not all will go entirely bare. Bramble, for example, sheds some leaves but retains others, particularly on its new shoots. 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 leaves, they are putting out next year's new leaf shoots, so that by the end of the month they can be all new foliage and no tint.

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 rich 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. Early in October the foliage of wall and fence climber Virginia creeper is an eye-catching bright red (a semi-wild plant of suburban areas), but by the third week it is usually bare.

The often overlooked cherry plum displays a mix of yellow and green leaves. Snowberry leaves remain green throughout the month, the plant identified by its white globular fruits.

Bracken continues to turn brown as the month progresses, sometimes first going yellow and then gold. But it is quite variable about this and in some places can be brown quite early in the month while in others it is still fairly green by the month's end. Some climbing plants in hedgerows produce quite nice yellows, in particular large or hedge bindweed and sometimes traveller's joy. Early in the month fading rosebay willowherb plants can produce bright golds and reds.

More October pages:


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