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August fruits, berries, nuts and trees

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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 right from the start of the month can be found 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 may very occasionally even see a bramble flower or two, 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, a few of which may be ripe in the first half, with the rest following in the second. Note also the berries on rowan trees, which have for the most part reached their final orange-tinged red colour by the start of the month. Hips (the fruits of wild rose bushes) start ripen to red in the second half, though are often not yet finished with this process until September.

Sloes on blackthorn bushes have their characteristic blue blush right from the start of the month, but are hard and unripe: 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 later in August, but damsons (purple-blue, oval) 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 found in the same cluster. Guelder rose berries are reddening or already red in the first half of the month, while dogwood berries ripen to black in the second half (this shrub can also occasionally produce flowers in August). The fluted berries of the spindle tree may start to develop a slight blush of their ripe pink colour, though they do not mature fully till September. Whitebeam berries usually stay green, though I have occasionally seen them starting to turn red at the very end of the month.

Black clusters of elderberries are ubiquitous from the second or third 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 narrower-leaved wild cousin) produces green berries that will ripen to black in September, though this is a shrub with rather variable timing and just occasionally you may find some still flowering at the start of the month.

Garden plants that occur in semi-wild locations include 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 a dull orangey-brown colour and then go red. The berries of tutsan, a relative of St John's wort and another garden escapee, usually start the month a mix of red and black, and go fully black as the month progresses. Snowberry continues to produce both flowers (tiny pink ones) and the white globular berries after which it is named.

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 or orange at this time too. White bryony may even still be flowering earlier in the month. Once the berries ripen, both plants can lose their leaves so it can be hard to tell them apart, but black bryony berries look larger and more luscious and are more closely packed on the stem, while white bryony's are smaller, duller and more widely spaced. Both are poisonous.

Honeysuckle also may continue to flower right until the end of August, but you can also see its red berries right from the start of the month - to see both flowers and berries 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-red seed heads of cuckoo pint continue to provide a striking sight on verges.

Less noticed are the berries of holly and yew. Holly berries remain green all month, and so are almost impossible to spot amidst their foliage, though a few may be showing a slight flush of red towards the very end of the month. Yew berries are like tiny green acorns, but from quite early in the month you might see the occasional one ripening to red, their number increasing toward its end: there will usually still be plenty of green ones on the same tree or bush, though.

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. At the very end of the month some may even be starting 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, though they are soon snapped up by squirrels and dormice. 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 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). The majority of the seeds stay on the tree, however, and most of these on sycamore and some on field maple turn brown as the month progresses. Squirrels are also the reason you find green hornbeam seeds under some trees, and again, some of the ones that remain on the tree may be yellowing a bit towards the end of the month. 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, while 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. This year's larch cones now look very similar to the ones from previous years, which can also still be seen, though the old ones have open scales while the new ones are still closed up. London plane has green seed balls. 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 colour and fall. You may also 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 dislodge leaves from trees, but they do also seem to fall of their own accord. This happens in a very small way as early as May but seems to increase a bit in August, at least in some years. However 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.

Whatever the reason, lime, birch, elder, crack willow, goat willow, wild cherry, sweet chestnut and hornbeam can all see some tinting in August, as can buddleia (even as it continues to flower), dog rose, dogwood, blackthorn, hawthorn and bramble. On blackthorn occasional tinted leaves act as camouflage for female hairstreak butterflies, who lay their eggs on this plant. On both this plant and hawthorn the falling foliage also seems to highlight the presence of the berries as they ripen, making them more obvious to birds.

In 2016 and 2017 rowan also tinted, while in 2016, 2017 and 2019 hazel did later in the month, and in 2014 and 2019 beech. Poplar, white willow, alder, and ash may shed some leaves without any tinting, as can oak and sycamore, though they occasionally see some tint too. Weeping willow tints very inconspicuously (you have to look closely) and sheds a few leaves, but only in a very minor way. Some leaves on cherry laurel also yellow and fall to the ground, part of a renewal of this evergreen shrub's foliage that has been going on since May.

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 has been attacking them since 2006. It 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, however. In 2019 many (though not all) trees seemed relatively unaffected, however.

In addition, sycamore can develop a black spot on its leaves due to a fungus - remarkably, this is a sign of clean air) - and on the South Downs in 2012 and 2019 many also had part-withered leaves from an 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. As mentioned above, black bryony leaves can also start to wither as its berries ripen and this sometimes produces yellow tints. You can also see leaves yellowing on large or hedge bindweed and stinging nettles, and attractive orangey tints on rosebay willowherb plants that are dying back.

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