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Nature and Weather in South East England

July hedgerow, fruits and berries

Other July pages: Downland and seaside flowersWayside flowersBirdsButterflies and insects Weather

Picture: unripe holly berries. Click here for more July hedgerow, fruit and berry photos.

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 they can simultaneously be sporting green or even ripe red berries.

Other climbing plants that can be starting to produce green unripe berries in the second half even as they continue flowering are white bryony, which has greeny-white flowers, and bittersweet, otherwise known as woody nightshade, whose flowers are distinctive inverted purple trumpets. In both cases the berries may be turning red in places at the end of the month (with an orange or yellow intermediate stage on white bryony), so you may see flowers, green and red berries all on the same plant. Black bryony also has unripe green berries in July.

The most dramatic show in the hedgerows, however - at least on chalky soils - comes from the white flowers of traveller's joy - wild clematis - which has 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 can be out in places early in July and is seen widely from mid month, but occasionally in cooler 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 widely found sprawling over other plants in hedgerows and on verges 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 fences, for example alongside railway lines. Equally eye-catching is broad-leaved everlasting pea, which climbs over fences, hedgerows and grassy banks (such as railway embankments), with its large pink - sometimes pale lilac - flowers. Both of these tend to be found near habitation, but can very occasionally crop up in wilder spots.

Fruit and berries

This is the height of the strawberry and raspberry seasons, and the shops are full of delicious English varieties. You can find wild raspberries (smaller than cultivated ones) growing in the countryside, but it is easy to miss them as they are smaller than the commercially grown ones, and to a casual glance they look like unripe blackberries. The latter, the fruit of the bramble plant, are mostly still green in July but some can start to turn red or even ripen to black towards the end of the month. 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. You may only notice them when they start to fall to the ground and are squashed underfoot. You may also see damsons - wild plums that look like large sloes - and the more circular, yellowy-green greengages, another type of plum, but neither are yet ripe. Also by the second half apples are full-sized in orchards and gardens, and the (inedible) crab apple is the same in the wild: some might even be on the ground by the end of the month.

Rowan berries continue to ripen, turning from brown to bright orange during the month, and towards its end even reddening a bit. Sloes on blackthorn bushes start to take on their characteristic blue blush as the month goes on, but they are not yet ripe and remain rock hard. Berries on the wayfaring tree (a bush not a tree and particularly found on chalk downland) start reddening early in the month: some will ripen to black in August and can be starting to do this at the end of July. The berries of guelder rose start to redden from mid month.

Haws on hawthorn are also mostly green in July but may start to redden near its end; the same is also true of yew. The berries of lots of other species remain green and go largely unnoticed. These include clusters of elderberries, hips on wild rose, and the berries of dogwood, whitebeam, holly, cherry laurel and spindle.

There are green berries on firethorn (aka pyracantha), 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, may just still be in flower in the first half of July and produces initially very tiny green berries once it has finished.

Snowberry, yet another semi-wild plant, has tiny inconspicuous pink flowers and by the month's end is 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. Tutsan, a shrubby relative of St John's wort, is usually found near gardens too but may be wild in damper woods: its berries may start off the month being yellow and but quite quickly turn red. At the end some may be black.

Gorse has brown pods which open to show the grey seed inside, which later in the month are starting to fall out, while broom has black pea pods and rhododendron has green seed cylinders. The rather alien-looking clusters of berries that you can see on stalks on shady verges (they ripen from green to orange and then red as the month goes along, sometimes with a brief yellow stage in between) belong to cuckoo pint.

The most obvious shrub still in flower in July is buddleia, for which this is the best month. It already has a few blooms in the first week and then builds to a peak in the third or fourth week. This bushy plant, a native of stony deserts in northern China, finds odd bits of urban dereliction and the sides of railway tracks the perfect habitat, though it also can crop up on rural verges and even in woodland clearings. It is is a popular nectar plant for butterflies, bees and other insects.

Also still in bloom in a few places in the first half of 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). After flowering it produces sprays of tiny green berries. Later in July (very occasionally earlier) 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, hazelnuts have now reached their mature size. They may even be found on the ground at the very end of the month, sometimes from mid month. Some of this may be natural shedding by the tree, but squirrels and dormice are playing a part too, since if you examine them you find many have been nibbled.

Beech nuts may start the month looking green (green with brown hairs, if you look closely) but become increasingly brown as the month goes on. They mostly stay on the tree, but towards the end of the month their split cases may be found on the ground, again suggesting squirrel activity. Acorns are at a much earlier stage, starting the month as balls about the size of a marrowfat pea. These grow bigger during July, becoming a sphere with the circumference of a mature acorn. Some then may start to elongate at the very end of the month.

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 buds that will form next year's catkins, which are one centimetre long by the end of the month on alder. London plane has green seed balls, and possibly still some brown ones from last year, while ash sports sprays of its green "keys" and hornbeam has hanging clusters of its green seeds.

Conkers on horse chestnuts grow to full size during the month. The tree shows some signs of the leaf blight which has affected it since 2006 and which is due to the larvae of a leaf-mining moth. But in July the effect seems to be relatively muted, often confined to lower branches.

Other trees are earlier in the cycle. Sweet chestnut is still flowering in the first half July, and mid month the ground under trees is covered with its long tasseled blooms. Some of the tassels remain on the tree and morph into the spiky nut cases, so you can see all three stages (flowers, morphing and nuts) on the tree at once.

Limes can still be in flower at the start of the month but they soon drop their blooms: they then develop their small green seeds on winged stalks. Quite a lot of the wings end up on the ground, some falling during flowering and others once it is over, so that by the end of July they look an autumnal skirt of fallen leaves. Despite this the tree retains plenty of winged seeds into the autumn (and even the winter): the fallen ones seem to be rejects.

Also contributing to an autumnal look are the fallen 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. If you find the seeds are falling on your head as you walk, look up and you will see the squirrel at work. Some sycamore seed wings also turn brown as the month goes on (though with the actual seed staying green, if you look closely), and the same can be true in the second half for field maple.

Look down and there are hairy seeds sticking to your socks after a walk. These come from cleavers (also known as goosegrass), wood avens (aka herb bennet) and also agrimony, a common downland and rough grassland flower, which has very distinctive conical seeds.

Fallen leaves and leaf tinting

Even as early as late May there can be a few fallen leaves on the ground. Wind, heavy rain or drought might be a factor, but some leaves do seem to just fall of their own accord - perhaps the tree just decides they are surplus to requirements. Evergreen plants - for example holly, ivy and cherry laurel - also slowly shed and replace leaves in May, June and July, with ones they shed yellowing both on the twig and on the ground (ie falling green and yellowing once fallen). There can also be some browning and fall of needles on yew trees.

During July - and particularly in its second half - there does seem to be an uptick in leaf shedding, however. Mainly this is shedding without obvious signs of tint, but crack willow, weeping willow, lime, birch, wild cherry, blackthorn, elder, buddleia, bramble, wild privet and dog rose do sometimes have a very few yellowing leaves on the tree. Guelder rose foliage can also take on maroon tint, as can dogwood on downland

In addition, you sometimes get rusty red or maroon tints on the end-of-twig leaves on hornbeam, hazel and field maple. Trees which shed leaves without tinting include alder, ash, oak, sycamore, hybrid black poplar and London plane.

Some of this may be weather-related. Certainly in 2022 there was extensive tinting and leaf fall on many of the species listed above due to high temperatures and drought. Birch, hawthorn and sycamore were especially affected, with some sycamores suffering heavy yellowing, browning and loss of leaves. This caused people to remark that autumn was coming early.

But even in relatively wet summers - such as 2023 - there seems to be some leaf fall towards the end of July. That suggests that this is in fact the start of the slow shedding of leaves that carries on throughout autumn (see Introduction to leaf fall).

More July pages:

© Peter Conway 2006-2023 • All Rights Reserved

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