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October berries, nuts, seeds and shrubs

Other October pages: Introduction to leaf fall  Tree by tree - the autumn sequenceFlowers and fungi BirdsDeer rut, insects and farm animalsWeather

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, mice and squirrels - or fall of their own accord. As foliage falls off, those that remain are increasingly left on bare twigs. By the end of the month they have turned a darker colour and are starting to rot.

Female yews are also covered with pretty (though poisonous) red berries, though some have fallen to the ground. Guelder rose has red berries too, as does whitebeam and rowan, while on spindle they are fluted and pink. All can still be found throughout the month but become scarcer as it goes on - in the case of whitebeam and rowan sometimes ending up squashed on suburban pavements.

Other red berries include hips on dog roses, which can last long after all the foliage has fallen away. The same is true of the strings of the tempting-looking, though poisonous, red berries of black bryony. Equally poisonous are the red (or sometimes still green) 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, though this varies from bush to bush), 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 version and the sharper-leaved wild variety). Also at the start of October there may still be some blackberries on bramble but most have shrivelled up by now (an old country saying is that the devil spits on blackberries on Old Michaelmas Day, 11 October). Weirdly, both dogwood and bramble can also flower this month: on bramble the flowers are only occasional, but dogwood can sometimes flower en masse even as its leaves are turning maroon.

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, some of which may start to fall to the ground mid month (because birds start to eat them?). Snowberry sports its white globular fruits. Looking like a garden escapee, but actually quite wild (often, though not exclusively, found on lime), 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 October, attracting the last of the summer butterflies and insects (particularly wasps, if you look closely). These are very unconventional flowers and it is often the sickly-sweet scent and the feeding insects that alert you to their presence. The timing of the flowering is very variable from bush to bush: it mostly seems to be in the first half, though with some still out late in the month. But in general the berries (green with a brown cap) have formed 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 and rhododendron may start to put out flower buds, though they will not open until the spring

Draped over hedgerows on chalk soils, a prominent sight is the seeds of traveller's joy, the climbing wild clematis which produces wonderful white flowers in summer. Later in the month they start to take on the fluffy appearance which gives them their winter name of old man's beard.

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. The nuts on the ground are food for mice, voles, squirrels and wood pigeons. Horse chestnuts (conkers) are also mainly or entirely on the ground in early October. They are mildly poisonous to most British mammals, though deer and wild boar will eat them, as will squirrels if really pushed. Mostly they seem to get squashed underfoot on city pavements on city pavements, however.

The remaining acorns also fall in the first half of the month. As well as squirrels, these are cached by jays, who can hide up to 5,000 and remember the location of 75% of them (the remaining ones get a chance to grow into trees). Sweet chestnuts likewise have mainly fallen by mid month and litter the ground with their spiky seed cases, though some may remain on the tree a bit longer. Unrelated to horse chestnuts (the tree is actually part of the beech family), these are an important food source for deer, boar, squirrel, badger, fox and wood mouse, among others.

Apples and crab apples sometimes remain on branches till late in October, even after the leaves have fallen, though many are on the ground even at the start of the month: under crab apple trees the carpet of fallen fruit can be particularly dense.

Tree seeds are also falling, but for lime, sycamore, field maple and Norway 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, brown and dessicated, after the leaves have gone, something that is also true of some of the seed cylinders of birch, most of which have turned brown by now but some of which may be green early in the month.

In addition you can see the buds of next year's catkins on birch, as well as on hazel and alder: sometimes they also lengthen during October as if they are about to flower, but they will not do so until late January (hazel only) or February. Also on alder, this year's green cones mix with last year's brown ones early in the month, but they are turning brown towards its end, a slow process in which they initially are speckled with brown which then slowly takes over. Once fully brown, you can tel them apart because this year's are closed and last year's are open.

The spherical seed cases of London plane remain on the tree, though in October are generally concealed by the foliage. They are still green but start to go brown later in the month.

The most noticeable tree seeds of all by the end of the month 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. The leaves that are to be shed can go a surprisingly bright yellow and sometimes a vibrant red.

Buddleia is another plant which does not lose all its leaves in winter. It often has almost entirely green foliage in October, having shed some leaves in August and September, sometimes producing muddy yellow tints, sometimes not. Ones growing by rail tracks tend to have some yellow leaves throughout the month, however. From quite early in October the shrub also produces next year's leaf shoots, which grow a little bit: these will then remain on the plant all winter. In the early part of the month it can even still have a few flowers.

Other evergreens include privet. The round-leaved garden variety tends to remain mainly green in October, though may have a few yellow leaves. The narrower-leaved wild species produces more yellow leaves but usually keeps some green foliage throughout the winter.

Other shrubs which do eventually lose all their leaves produce good tints while doing so. These include guelder rose, which can go a gorgeous maroon colour which nicely complements the red of its berries, and spindle, which can produce fine maroons, reds and oranges to set off its bright pink berries, though mottled yellow and green is its more normal tinting pattern.

Dogwood leaves turn a rich maroon and once the foliage has fallen the plant's stems are similarly vividly coloured. Forsythia has maroon tints in mainly yellow leaves. Early in October the foliage of wall and fence climber Virginia creeper (a semi-wild plant of suburban areas) is an eye-catching bright red but is usually bare by mid month, sometimes a week later. Dog rose and wayfaring tree can also produce red or maroon tints. 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. Large or hedge bindweed can also produce quite nice yellows on its foliage and vines (for example on Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking) turn a bright yellow in October and sometimes a deep red. You can also sometimes still see bright reds and golds as rosebay willowherb plants die back.

More October pages:


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