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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 (an exception being downland, where it often goes entirely bare).

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 quite a lot of green leaves, particularly in sheltered spots. Buddleia has often done quite a bit of shedding in August and September; it then produces the new shoots of next year's leaves early in October, or even late in September. On some plants (and in some years) the rest of this year's foliage goes on to shed during November, sometimes producing muddy yellows in the process, leaving only the new leaf shoots remaining by the end of the month. But on other plants (and in other years) quite a lot of this year's leaves still remain.

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 in places hang onto some - tinted or even still green - until late in November. Dog rose can likewise be reluctant to let go of its last few remaining leaves. Dogwood may 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: you sometimes even see flowers on bare twigs.

Other shrubs which still have foliage include spindle, which can both sport an attractive mix of colours - golds, yellows and pinks - or still have mainly green leaves, and forsythia, which has yellow and maroon tints till late in the month. Early in November you may see some remaining reddish leaves on guelder rose or wayfaring tree.

Bracken can still have some yellow or gold tint into the first half of November - or even fronds that are still green: mostly it has turned brown by now, however. Elder can both hold onto some green-yellow leaves right till the end of the month, while travellers joy can still have a lot of foliage into December, turning at best a pale yellowy-green. Russian vine also stays green and keeps some foliage well into the winter. 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, 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 blackbirds) 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 going black (if they have not already done so in October) and shrivelling 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. 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), particularly early in the month. 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, with a cap that is usually brown in November but may just 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). Cotoneaster, another garden escapee, has had some of its berries on the ground since mid October, and this continues during November. 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 also 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. Snowberry has white spherical fruits which can stay on the plant all winter; once the leaves fall at the end of November they become very noticeable.

On heathland gorse can sport some yellow flowers, though this varies widely from bush to bush and place placer, 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, 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 clusters of leaves waiting to open in spring: these distinguish it from cherry laurel, though very occasionally the latter may start to produce (very different-looking) 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, brown or (rarely) pinkish - 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 initially 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.

Similarly still on the tree are the spherical seed cases of London planes, which turn brown during the month if they have not already done so in late October. You also see bunches of desiccated brown seeds on female ash trees. Some limes retain some of their winged fruit, and beech has a few open nut cases still on its twigs. Both of these last even after the end of leaf fall, and the same is sometimes true of clusters of dried brown hornbeam seeds, though most will fall with the leaves. 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 you can sometimes see this on field maple or (much more rarely) 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 in trees once the leaves have fallen, usually growing on poplar and lime, though sometimes also on apple or maples: its glassy white berries are a favourite food of mistle thrushes, hence the bird's name, though overwintering blackcaps are also partial to them and apparently quite instrumental in the spread of the plant these days. Roe deer like mistle berries too - when they can get reach them, which is not often: that is why you don't usually find mistletoe close to the ground. Don't confuse mistletoe with the remain of birds nests, which are also visible once the leaves fall: it is interesting to see what sites the birds chose.

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