Other July pages: Downland and seaside flowers • Wayside flowers • Birds • Butterflies and insects • Weather
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July is a good month for plants that climb or sprawl across hedgerows. Most notably you can see the curving white-yellow blooms of honeysuckle throughout the month, and by its end the plant can simultaneously be sporting green or even ripe red berries.
Other climbing plants that can be starting to produce green unripe berries at the end of the month even as they continue flowering are: white bryony, which has greeny-white flowers; black bryony, the only native member of the yam family, which has inconspicuous tiny green flowers; and bittersweet, otherwise known as woody nightshade, whose flowers are distinctive inverted purple trumpets and whose berries are initially green.
The most dramatic show in the hedgerows, however, comes from the white flowers of traveller's joy - wild clematis - which have a lovely scent and whose fluffy seeds - known as old man's beard - are such a prominent sight in the bare hedgerows of winter. It usually comes out in mid July but in wet summers may be delayed till the end of the month, or (in 2007) even until mid August.
Other hedgerow climbers include large bindweed and hedge bindweed, whose enormous white trumpet flowers are nevertheless very fetching and ubiquitous in hedgerows and on wasteground in July. (The two species are almost indistinguishable, the difference being in the green flaps - the bracts - at base of the flowers.)
July is also a good month for Russian vine, which produces cascades of white flowers as it sprawls over hedgerows and wasteground in semi-urban areas. Equally eye-catching is broad-leaved everlasting pea, which climbs over fences and hedgerows near gardens with its large pink flowers.
Fruit and berries
This is the height of the strawberry and raspberry seasons, and the shops are full of delicious English varieties. You can occasionally find wild raspberry bushes growing in the countryside sometimes but it is easy to miss them as to a casual eye the red berries look like unripe blackberries. The latter, the fruit of the bramble plant, are mostly still green in late July but can start to turn red or even ripen to black. At the same time the bushes can still have some flowers.
Other ripe fruit to be seen in the second half include cherry plums - which are exactly like their name: a cherry-like fruit which tastes like a plum, and which can be red or a yellowy-orange. At the same time you can see full-sized pears and apples in orchards and the (inedible) crab apple in the wild.
Rowan berries also continue to ripen in bright orange clusters and towards the end of the month are reddening (their final colour is a sort of orange-tinged red). The berries of lots of other species remain green and go largely unnoticed. These include clusters of elderberries, hips on wild rose bushes, haws on hawthorn, and the berries of dogwood, whitebeam, holly, spindle and cherry laurel - a rubbery-leaved shrub easily mistaken for rhododendron.
Sloes on blackthorn bushes may start to take on their characteristic blue blush in the second half, but they are not yet ripe and remain rock hard. Berries on the wayfaring tree (a bush not a tree) start reddening early in the month: they will eventually ripen to black in August. The berries of guelder rose also redden from mid month.
There are also green berries on firethorn, a garden and semi-wild shrub whose berries will ultimately turn orange and be a useful food source for birds in midwinter. Another plant is the same category is cotoneaster, which can be still in flower in the first half of July and produces green berries later in the month. Snowberry, yet another semi-wild plant, has tiny inconspicuous pink flowers and by the month's end is also starting to produce the white berries that will go on to be prominent on its bare twigs in winter. This is yet another plant that has flowers and berries at the same time.
Still flowering early in the month - its flowers giving off a sickly sweet smell - is privet (both the wild and garden hedge varieties, the latter only if it is not trimmed). This is a very variable shrub, however, and in places does not flower until late July or even into August. Later in July ivy starts to put out the very tiny buds which will develop into its flowers in autumn, with its berries appearing in midwinter.
Nuts, seeds and the last tree flowers
Nuts and seeds on trees continue to develop in July. For example, one can see hazel and beech nuts, both of which have reached their mature size. Hazelnuts may even be found on the ground at the very end of the month. Acorns are at a much earlier stage, appearing like small buttons.
Alder has new green cones (though it keeps some of last year’s dried cones too). The new cones on larch trees that were a bright maroon colour in the spring are now a smooth chocolate brown. Birch has fat green cylinders that look for all the world like catkins, but are in fact its seed cylinders. If you look closely you can see that birch, alder and hazel are also putting out tiny buds that will form next year's catkins.
Conkers on horse chestnuts grow bigger during the month. The tree shows some signs of the leaf blight which has affected it since 2002 and which is due to the larva of a leaf-mining moth, but in July the effect seems to be relatively muted, perhaps confined to lower branches, with the blight not really taking hold till September.
Other trees are earlier in the cycle. Sweet chestnut is only just finishing its flowering in early July, and mid month the ground under trees is covered with its long tasseled blooms. As soon as the flowers fall, the spiky nut cases appear: you can see both on the tree at once.
Limes are also in flower at the start of the month but soon drop their blooms and develop their tiny green fruits in the second half of July, both being held on distinctive winged stalks. Quite a lot (though by no means all) of the wings end up on the ground, however, some falling during flowering and others once it is over, to the extent that by the end of the month they look an autumnal skirt of fallen leaves. Despite this the tree retains plenty of winged seeds into the autumn: the fallen ones seem to be rejects.
Also contributing to an autumnal look are the fallen winged seeds of sycamore or field maple, which can form quite intense carpets under particular trees. Squirrels seem to be responsible for a lot of these: if you inspect the bulbous end of the fallen wings you can often find a neat slit where they have extracted the seed, and if you find the seeds are falling on your head as you walk, look up and you will see the squirrel at work.
Some leaves also fall from trees during July, particularly later in the month - for example under lime, weeping willow, crack willow and poplar. This may be due to wind or heavy rain (eg from thunderstorms), but some does seem to be spontaneous leaf shedding by the tree: you sometimes even see some tinted leaves (eg on lime and blackthorn in 2015). What factors may trigger this is not certain. Drought or other stress may be a factor, and supporting this theory were 2004, 2011 and 2012, particularly wet summers when the effect was quite muted. However, it was also muted in 2013, which saw a hot dry heatwave. In 2014 some of the leaf fall was definitely due to sharp downpours, but in 2016, a relatively fine summer, I saw leaves falling on windless days.
One other reminder of the autumn to come are tiny hairy burrs sticking to your socks. These are the seeds of cleavers (also known as goosegrass), a sprawling verge plant, and possibly also wood avens (aka herb bennet).
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