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September berries, fruits, nuts and seeds

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Picture: sloes. Click here to see more September berry, fruit, nut and seed photos.

September is a great month for berries and they can be a useful aid to identifying shrubs. For example, there are red haws on hawthorn and juicy blue-black sloes on blackthorn, both of which become more noticeable as their bushes shed foliage. Both can also be found on the ground as September goes on, though it is not clear whether this is because they have fallen of their own accord or been dislodged by birds or rodents feeding on them. Birds such as whitethroat, willow warbler, chiffchaff and blackcap certainly eat sloes and haws as a way of fattening up before migration (the seeds inside the berries pass through the birds' guts undigested), and haws are also eaten by mice.

All of these creatures also feast on blackberries, which still linger throughout the month, though many by now are over-ripe, and by the end of the month most remaining ones are shrivelled. (An old country saying has it 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...) Amazingly a very occasional bramble flower may also still be seen.

You also see red hips on wild rose bushes - in the first half of the month they are still ripening to their eventual deep red - and early in the month maybe a few elderberries (another favourite food for migrating birds). Bizarrely, dogwood can produce the occasional flower during September, but mostly it displays black berries. Cherry laurel also has black berries but as the month goes on they fall to the ground. Wayfaring tree (a shrub of downland) ends up with black berries but can still have some red ones (an earlier stage of ripening) even late in the month. Likewise privet berries (both on the narrow-leaved wild bushes and the rounder leaved garden variety if it is not too closely trimmed) can still be green earlier in the month but turn black later.

Other trees and shrubs with red berries include rowan, guelder rose and female yews (the latter still ripening to red earlier in the month: by mid month some may be falling to the ground), while the distinctively fluted berries of spindle ripen from dull to bright pink as the month goes on. Whitebeam berries turn from green to red around mid month (at least this is true of common whitebeam: Swedish whitebeam berries may turn earlier) and holly berries do likewise. The garish red seed heads of cuckoo pint can sometimes still be seen on shady verges, though they seem to disappear (shrivelling or falling over?) by mid month. Equally garish are those ones of stinking iris, mainly but not exclusively found on chalky soils.

Two climbing plants - black and white bryony – leave long strings of their red berries in hedgerows. On both species they may still be ripening from green or orange to red during the month, though in places they are fully red from its start. Black bryony berries have a more luscious look than those of white bryony, and are more thickly clustered on the stem. White bryony berries are duller, smaller and more spaced out. Both are poisonous. White bryony berries seem to fall quickly once they have ripened, as indeed do their leaves. Black bryony foliage may do likewise, but in places its lasts till late in the month or even into October, turning an attractive yellow as it dies away. Its berries then remain on their tendrils long into the winter.

In addition you can see red berries on honeysuckle even as it sometimes continues to produce flowers, and the same is true of bittersweet (otherwise known as woody nightshade) whose poisonous berries look alarmingly seductive. Because it can be so late flowering, some bittersweet berries can still be green even late in the month.

Another shrub that is in flower in September is ivy, though its blooms look so unconventional that you may not recognise them as such. It is their sickly sweet smell that usually alerts you to their presence, and the summery sight of bees (including a specialist ivy bee), wasps, flies and the occasional hoverfly or butterfly attracted to this important late source of nectar. Timing varies widely from bush to bush and year to year: typically ivy flowers some time in September but it can happen as early as late August or last in places until late in October.

In gardens and semi-wild places firethorn (aka pyracantha) bushes are aflame with great sprays of orange (or very occasionally red) berries; cotoneaster is also covered with red berries which turn from dull to shiny by mid month, and you sometimes see tutsan with its black berries. In similar locations (and also sometimes in wilder spots) snowberry sports white globular berries which will stand out in midwinter on its otherwise bare twigs, though at this time of year the shrub still has green leaves. This is another plant that also may continue produce new flowers (tiny pink ones) well into September. You may also see some viburnum (strictly a garden shrub) starting to put forth white flowers, while rhododendron has buds that look like the flower buds it produces in spring, but which are actually new clusters of leaves about to open.

Particularly in the first half of the month, you can still find wild plums of various kinds (including damsons, which look like large sloes, and bullaces, which are oval and purple blue or yellowish with a pink blush). Plenty of apples and crab apples also remain on branches, though large quantities of both litter the ground right from the start of the month. In suburban streets, fallen berries and fruits can make a squashy mess on pavements: plums and cherry laurel berries are popular candidates for this.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts have already started falling in August and this continues in September. Right from the start of the month you can see acorns on the ground, and by the end of the month paths can seem covered with them, However, some brown or even green ones still remain on the tree if you look carefully. They are food for squirrels and deer, but lots seem to remain uneaten and just crunch underfoot, a very autumnal experience. Beech nut cases splay open on their twigs from quite early in the month, with the nut segments and fragments of case making a bitty mess on the ground, though squirrels, wood pigeons, mice and voles soon devour them. Late in the month some beech nut cases are still on the tree, but if you look closely they are usually empty.

You may see a few fallen horse chestnuts (known colloquially as conkers) quite early in the month, but it is towards its end that they fall en masse. Some sweet chestnuts may fall at this time, though most remain on the tree. Despite their similar names, they are not related. Horse chestnuts are eaten by deer and wild boar and used as an emergency food source by squirrels, but they are mildly poisonous to most British mammals. Sweet chestnuts, by contrast, a member of the beech family, are food for deer, boar, squirrel, badger, fox and wood mouse, among others.

Some seeds on trees turn colour as the month progresses and from a distance can look like tinted leaves. You can see this with ash and hornbeam, both of which sport big clumps of seeds, though in both cases it is rather variable, with some seeds going yellow, gold (hornbeam) or brown (ash) and others remaining green. It is not unusual to see green hornbeam seeds on the ground quite late in the month, forming a thick carpet, though plenty still remain on the tree. Squirrels feeding on them are to blame for this.

Squirrels also eat sycamore and field maple seeds while they are still green in July and August, leaving carpets of them under the tree (look closely and you can find the slit where they cut the seed out of its winged casing). You see fallen seeds under these trees in September too, but by now they have increasingly turned brown (especially on sycamore, where they are generally brown from late August), so may be being shed naturally. Norway maple seeds also fall as the month goes on, some while still green. Some seeds of all three species remain on the tree at the month's end, however.

Winged seeds litter the ground beneath limes, having fallen off during July and August, though some still remain on the tree. Some of those left may turn yellow but others do not. Birch has fat cylindrical fruits, some already brown at the start of the month, some turning as the month progresses, and some still green at the month's end. If you look closely birch also has the tiny buds of next year's catkins and the same is true of hazel. On alder the new catkin buds are already as much as 2.5cm long.

The new cones of larch are now brown and almost indistinguishable from last year's ones, which are also still on the tree (the new ones are now open to release the seeds, but not quite as splayed as last year's). On alder this year's cones are still green but sit among desiccated ones from last year. London plane has green seed balls.

More September pages:


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