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November bushes, berries and seeds

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Picture: hips on dog rose. Click here for more November berry and seed photos.

As foliage tints and falls, one notices shrubs that are still green. Ivy is an obvious example, as is garden privet - the species common in garden hedges. The latter can have some leaves turning yellow (or even slightly maroon) and falling in November and December, but keeps most of them green throughout the winter. The narrower-leaved wild privet gets a lot thinner, sometimes with quite a lot of yellow tint later in November and in December, but it usually retains at least some leaves.

Other shrubs which still have green foliage in November include bramble and buddleia. Bramble continues to lose leaves steadily during the month, with some turning yellow, gold, maroon or even an intense red, but it still retains some green leaves. Buddleia has often done quite a bit of shedding in August and September, and from quite early in October produces the new shoots of next year's leaves. Most of the remaining foliage from this year then sheds during November, sometimes producing muddy yellows in the process, and by the month's end many buddleias only have the new leaf shoots remaining. But some may still retain larger leaves.

Woodland tendrils of honeysuckle can also be showing new leaf shoots from early in November, though generally they do not do this until December. Honeysuckles in more suburban settings may not go bare at all and can even still be showing the occasional flower early in the month.

On other shrubs some foliage can linger on. Hawthorn and blackthorn mostly lose their leaves in October but may hang onto some - tinted or even still green - until well into November. Dogwood can also keep some leaves (green or an attractive deep maroon) into the first half of November, occasionally even later, and once it sheds, its twigs are a bright maroon colour too. Bizarrely, even as it is shedding leaves it can still have some flowers or flower buds.

Also in the first half of the month, spindle can both sport an attractive mix of colours - golds, yellows and pinks - while forsythia displays yellow and some maroon. Mostly these leaves have fallen by mid month, but you may see some later, with a few spindle leaves occasionally even lasting into December. Early in November you may see some remaining reddish leaves on guelder rose or wayfaring tree.

Bracken still has some tint into the first half of November - yellow or gold, maybe even fronds that are still green - though the overwhelming majority has turned brown by now. Elder and traveller's joy can both hold onto some green-yellow leaves right till the end of the month, and Russian vine may stay green all month and keep some foliage well into the winter. Despite losing most of its leaves in October, dog rose also seems reluctant to let go of the last remaining ones and can cling to them all month. Snowberry loses its leaves inconspicuously (and often quite suddenly) as leaf fall comes to an end, mainly shedding them green but with some shrivelling.


Once leaves fall, the remaining berries become very visible and prominent. That is certainly true of snowberry, whose white spherical fruits have been around since late summer and can stay on the plant all winter.

Many other shrubs still have some berries left, though as the month goes on more and more are consumed by birds, mice or squirrels. This is true of haws on hawthorn (a favourite food of redwings) and sloes on blackthorn, though in both cases you can find bushes with quite a lot of berries even late in the month. These tend to be going over, however, turning maroon in the case of haws, and black and even shrivelled in the case of sloes. A few hips also remain, prominent on the bare branches of dog rose. Some will remain there all winter, whether because they are inedible, unpalatable or inaccessible, I do not know.

Other berries you can see include the bright red ones of holly, which are at their best this month, the fluted pink ones of spindle, and the bright red strings of black bryony berries. A few rowan, guelder rose and whitebeam berries may survive even after their foliage is gone, and you can occasionally see the red berries of woody nightshade (aka bittersweet). Black berries that you may just come across include those of dogwood and privet (usually wild privet, though garden privet is possible). Note also the bright orange berries of stinking iris (often, though not exclusively, found on lime soils) on a plant whose fronds look a bit like oversized daffodil leaves.

Ivy is covered with berries, but they are not yet ripe - still green, though with a cap that is brown for much of November but may turn greyer towards its end. In gardens and semi-wild situations firethorn (also known as pyracantha) still sports its bright orange or red berries. Despite having apparently ripened in late August, it is only now they start to be targeted by birds, and a few berries also fall to the ground (possibly as a result of the birds). The same is true of the masses of red berries on cotoneaster. Both species are a particularly popular food with migrant flocks of redwings and fieldfares, though blackbirds, native thrushes, wood pigeons and crows also go for them. The red berries on female yew trees continue to fall to the ground as the month goes on (or get eaten by birds, who can consume the fleshy outer part while passing the poisonous seed through their guts intact), though some may remain on the tree.

On heathland, gorse can sport some yellow flowers, while in gardens winter jasmine shrubs burst into blooms of the same colour - usually later in the month after it has lost its leaves, but sometimes earlier in the month while the leaves are still there. Winter flowering cherry trees also bloom in gardens late in the month, while viburnum continues to flower in its half-hearted way (some flowers out, some going over or not yet open).

What looks like flower buds on rhododendron are probably clusters of leaves waiting to open in spring: these distinguish it from cherry laurel, though very occasionally the latter may start to produce flower buds, something they do not normally do till late December. Draped over hedgerows on chalk soils, old man’s beard, the seed of traveller’s joy, takes on the fluffy appearance that gives it its name, if it has not already done so in late October: it seems much more abundant than the plant's flowers were in July and August.

Seeds and catkin buds on trees

Falling leaves reveal seeds and catkin buds on trees. Hazel has in fact had new catkin buds (1-2 centimetres long, and beige or green in colour) on its twigs since July, but they will not lengthen into the characteristic yellow lambs tails till late January or February. Likewise the catkins buds on alder - also formed in summer and now about 3 centimetres long and either green or brown - will not flower till February. Its new seed cones turn from green to brown in the first half of the month if they have not already done so in late October, matching last year's which are still on the tree (though the new cones are closed while last year's are open). Birch also has catkin buds which do not flower until late March or early April, and may retain some of its dried brown seed cylinders.

Similiarly still on the tree are the spherical seed cases of London planes, which turn brown early in the month if they have not already done so in late October, and the bunches of dried keys on female ash trees. Some limes retain some of their winged fruit, and beech has a few open nut cases still on its twigs. Dried brown clusters of hornbeam seeds may remain even after the leaves have fallen. Likewise sycamore can keep bunches of dried seeds on bare twigs (it is easy to confuse them at a casual glance with ash seeds) and the same is true of field maple and Norway maple.

Early in the month a few fallen acorns and the spiky seed cases of sweet chestnut may be evident on the ground, but they soon disappear, either getting eaten or trodden into the mud. Also early in the month some apples may remain on the bare branches of garden trees, as indeed may a few crab apples on wild ones. Mistletoe is visible, growing on poplar and lime (apparently also on apple and goat willow sometimes): its glassy white berries are supposed to be a favourite food of mistle thrushes, hence the bird's name. You can also see last season's birds nests - it is interesting to see which sites the birds chose.

More November pages:

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