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October berries, nuts, seeds and shrubs

Other October pages: Introduction to leaf fall Tree by tree - the autumn sequence Flowers and fungi Birds Deer rut, insects and farm animalsWeather

Picture: haws. 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 a good number are stripped off by birds, mice and squirrels. Newly arriving fieldfares and redwings (birds which come to the UK from Scandinavia to overwinter) are certainly fond of haws, as are wood pigeons. Blackbirds apparently pick them and then reject around 60% of them because they have fly or moth larvae in: these then get dropped to the ground. Some may also fall of their own accord.

The rate of depletion is very variable, however: even late in the month you can still find bushes thick with haws. As foliage falls off, those that remain are increasingly left on bare twigs. By the end of the month many have turned a darker colour and may be starting to rot, but some remain a brighter red.

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 rowan and Swedish whitebeam, but those on common whitebeam may not turn red till later in the month. All these can still be found on the tree right till the end of the month but increasingly fall to the ground too - 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 on bare twigs throughout the winter. The same is true (until January at least) of the strings of tempting-looking, though poisonous, red berries of black bryony. Equally poisonous are the red (or just possibly still green or orange) berries of bittersweet (aka woody nightshade), 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. Spindle has fluted pink berries that will become more noticeable later in the winter once the leaves have fallen off.

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: it is a sign that they are getting over-ripe), 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, include those of dogwood and cherry laurel, though the latter are generally long gone by now. Weirdly some dogwood also bursts into flower, even as its leaves are turning maroon. Privet (usually the shaper-leaved wild variety, which unlike the rounder-leaved garden type found in hedges has had the opportunity to flower) can have black berries until late in the winter.

Blackberries have generally shrivelled up by the the start of October. An old country saying is that the devil spits on blackberries on Michaelmas Day, 29 September (though you can argue that this would be 11 October today due to the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in 1752...). In very mild Octobers you may just see a flower or two.

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 - generally fairly suburban but also found in the wild sometimes - sports its white globular fruits.

Just occasionally you might still find black berries on tutsan, a garden escapee. Also looking like a garden escapee, but actually quite wild (often, though not exclusively, found on lime), is stinking iris, whose pods of berry-like red-orange seeds emerge from sheaths on a plant with daffodil-like leaves.

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, and September is the best time for it: any ones remaining in October generally seem to be in the first half, though with some later 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 this varies from bush to bush and place to place. In gardens viburnum starts to or continues to have white flowers, as it does all winter, and in the same place you might just see an errant rosemary in bloom (presumably thinking it is spring). What look like flower buds on rhododendron are actually clusters of new leaves waiting to open; it also has green seed cylinders from last year's flowering.

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. Sometime during the month (or even occasionally in late September - it varies widely from plant to plant) they take on the fluffy appearance which gives them their winter name of old man's beard.

Tree nuts, fruits and seeds

Beech nuts have mostly fallen to the ground in September; their nut cases now follow, forming a crunchy carpet underfoot, though some empty ones remain on the tree all winter. Any nuts still left 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, and squirrels will store them as a food of last resort in winter. Mostly they seem to get squashed underfoot on city pavements, however.

The remaining acorns also fall in the first half of the month: for a period walking under oak trees can be quite hazardous as the remaining acorns rain down on your head. As well as squirrels, they 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 can 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 (assisted by squirrels, rats or, in the London area, rose-ringed parakeets), 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. The ones on alder may have already lengthened to as much as 3-4cm long and are mostly green, though some may turn a more brown, maroon or pinkish colour during the month. Hazel catkin buds are mostly 1-1.5cm long and green, while those of birch are up to 3cm long and green or beige.

This year's green cones on alder mix with last year's brown ones early in the month, but they are turning brown towards its end, a slow process, often not finished until mid November, in which they initially are speckled with brown which then slowly takes over. Once fully brown, you can tell them apart from last year's - at least initially - because they are closed while last year's are open. Some of last year's may also fall to the ground.

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, which are all now brown and look more and more obvious as the leaves fall away. 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 or gold, 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. From early in the month (or even in late September) you can also see next year's leaf shoots, which remain on the plant all winter. Just occasionally in the first week or so there are some remaining flowers.

Privet is semi-evergreen too. Both the round-leaved garden variety and the narrower-leaved wild species remain mainly green in October, though may just have a few yellow or yellowy-green leaves (particularly on wild privet). Both then go on to shed some foliage in November and December. Despite being fully evergreen, cherry laurel may occasionally have some yellow leaves in October too.

Some shrubs which do 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 on 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 it is usually bare by mid month, sometimes a week later.

Dog rose and wayfaring tree can also produce red or maroon tints, though dog rose can be nearly bare even at the start of the month. Snowberry leaves remain green throughout the month, the plant identified by its white globular fruits, while traveller's joy sometimes manages yellowy-green tints but equally may remain totally green.

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 there is still some green at the month's end.

Large or hedge bindweed can also produce quite nice yellows on its foliage, as can black bryony, though most of its leaves have disappeared in September. You may also see bright reds and golds on rosebay willowherb as it dies back. Particularly towards the end of October vines (for example on Denbies Wine Estate near Dorking) turn an attractive yellowy-green, and sometimes produce a brighter yellow or a deep red.

More October pages:

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