Nature Menu

Introduction Beginner's Guide Where to find wild flowers Where to find butterflies Week by Week SWC_Nature

Nature and Weather in South East England

September berries, fruits, nuts and seeds

Other September pages: Leaf fallFlowers and fungiBirdsInsects, butterflies and animalsWeather

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 blue 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 haws as a way of fattening up before migration (the seeds inside the berries pass through the birds' guts undigested and so get spread to new locations), and they are also attractive to robins, wood pigeons, mice and squirrels. Sloes can become blacker as the month goes on, a sign that they are getting over-ripe.

Birds, rodents and insects also feast on blackberries, which still linger throughout the month, though they are increasingly now over-ripe. 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 could 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.

Red hips on wild rose bushes are ripening to their eventual deep red early in the month (and sometimes later). Other trees and shrubs with red berries include guelder rose and yew, some of the latter still turning from green to red earlier in the month: a few then fall to the ground, but plenty remain on the tree. Rowan berries are usually red by now, but some remain orange, while holly berries may already be showing a faint red blush at the start of September and mostly turn full red as the month goes on.

Common whitebeam berries may start to turn red around mid September, though in some years they remain green, but those on Swedish whitebeam are often full red quite early in the month. The distinctively fluted berries of spindle ripen to bright pink via an intermediate stage that can either be brick red or an attractive light pink blush.

Early in the month a few black elderberries (another favourite food for migrating birds) may still be seen. Otherwise black berries are to be found on dogwood (which may also sport an occasional rogue flower), and wayfaring tree, a shrub of downland whose berries are mostly now black, though some red ones (an earlier stage of ripening) may still survive.

Cherry laurel is thick with its black fruit at the start of September, but these fall to the ground around mid month. Privet berries (both on the narrow-leaved wild bushes and the rounder leaved garden variety, if it has been allowed to flower) mostly start the month green but turn black later.

Not really berries, but like a cluster of berries in appearance, the garish red seedheads of cuckoo pint can sometimes still be seen on shady verges, though they seem to disappear (falling over?) by mid month. Equally garish, and also looking like a cluster of berries, are the red-orange seedheads of stinking iris, mainly but not exclusively found on chalky soils, which emerge from their green sheaths during the month.

Two climbing plants - black and white bryony – leave long strings of berries in hedgerows. On both species they may still be ripening from green to red via yellow and orange in the first half to two thirds of the month, though in many 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, while white bryony berries are duller, smaller and more spaced out. Both are poisonous.

White bryony berries seem to fall quickly once they have ripened, however, as do their leaves. In fact, considering how common their flowers are in summer (just occasionally surviving into September), the berries are remarkably hard to spot. Black bryony foliage may also wither once the berries are ripe, but in places 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 (also 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, and much more rarely you may see this on honeysuckle too. Very occasionally - particularly in parts of Kent - you can see ripe hops sprawling across hedgerows, the wild offspring of former crops.

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, hoverflies and the occasional butterfly (particularly red admirals) swarming around 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 sometimes red) berries, while cotoneaster is also covered with red berries which turn from dull to shiny during the month. You also sometimes see tutsan with its black berries. In similar locations, as well as in wilder spots, snowberry sports white globular fruits 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 to produce new flowers (tiny pink ones) well into September.

From mid month onwards you may see gorse starting to put out yellow flowers on heathland (not to be confused with the ground-hugging dwarf gorse you may still see in flower in the same habitat at the start of the month). It will continue to flower all winter. The same is true of viburnum, strictly a garden shrub, which can start to set forth its white blooms in the second half: both it and gorse are very variable in their timings, however. Buddleia may still have some blooms early in the month, though most of them have gone over. by now. Rhododendron has buds that look like the flower buds it produces in spring, but which are actually new clusters of leaves about to open. It also has green cylindrical seed pods.

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. Very occasionally you might still find hazelnuts on the ground right at the start of the month, but generally they are long gone by now. At the same time you can see fallen acorns, and by the end of the month woodland paths can seem covered with them. However plenty of brown or even green ones usually remain on the tree. Acorns are food for deer, and both squirrels and jays hide them to eat later in the winter. They don't always remember where they put them, meaning oak saplings get to grow in new places. But lots of acorns 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. This is something else that crunches underfoot on woodland walks. In the second half you get splayed cases on the ground too, but even at the end of the month (and throughout the winter) you can see some empty cases still on the tree.

You may see a few fallen horse chestnuts (known colloquially as conkers) quite early in the month, but it is from mid month onwards that they fall en masse. Once this conveniently coincided with children going back to school, so they could play conkers in the schoolyard, boring holes in the nuts and putting them on strings, then taking turns to use them to hit their opponent's conker until one of the two was smashed to bits. But I doubt this happens in these safety-conscious days.

Some sweet chestnuts may also fall during the month, though most remain on the tree. Despite their name, they are not related to horse chestnuts. The latter 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 an important autumn 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 yellowy-green and then brown (ash) and others remaining green. You can see green hornbeam seeds on the ground all month, sometimes as individual seeds and sometimes as full clusters, though plenty still remain on the tree. Squirrels feeding on them, and in London also parakeets, seem to be mostly (or possibly entirely) to blame for this. For example, parakeets pick a bunch of seeds with their beak, transfer it to a claw, peck out the seeds, and then drop the still intact remains of the bunch to the ground.

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 are probably being shed naturally, having increasingly turned brown (especially on sycamore, where the wings are generally brown from late August, with the actual seeds following in mid September). Norway maple seeds also fall as the month goes on, some while still green, though patches of brown also start to appear on them too. 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: a few more fall in September, though some still remain on the tree. Some of those left may turn yellow or brown. 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 and hazel also have the buds of next year's catkins, 1-1.5cm long and green, while on alder they are as much as 3cm long by the month's end. Alder has new green cones too, though you also see some brown ones from last year.

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. London plane has green seed balls, though some brown ones may remain from the previous winter.

More September pages:

© Peter Conway 2006-2023 • All Rights Reserved

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice article! Very helpful

Post a Comment