Blackberries linger well into September
During a couple of walks I took on cool days this week, I was very impressed with the large amount of mushrooms and other fungi on the forest floor. Small, bright red waxy cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe) were mixed with the huge yellow-capped Amanita, ...
During a couple of walks I took on cool days this week, I was very impressed with the large amount of mushrooms and other fungi on the forest floor. Small, bright red waxy cap mushrooms (Hygrocybe) were mixed with the huge yellow-capped Amanita, the latter having caps as big as dinner plates. Each kind was growing here abundantly in the hundreds. Nearby were big white Russulas poking up through the dead leaves of the woods. Clusters of tan and gold corals as well as the white spherical puffballs were here, too.
As I continued to wander among the forest fungi, I saw a bright red sight. Another member of this woods community was showing its color. The spring flower, jack-in-the-pulpit, is now ripe with berries. This cluster of red berries on the end of a stem looks far different from the greenish spathe (leaf hood, or pulpit) of May. Berries of other spring flora were present as well. I noted the blue berries of blue-bead lily (Clintonia) and the red clusters of bunchberry sitting on the six-leaf plant.
But looking down at these berries was only part of the story. In trees I also found several kinds still holding their berries and fruits that have matured through the last few months. Red fruits of hawthorns, highbush cranberries, mountain ashes and crabapples were hard to not notice. None of these were being eaten too quickly and I expect to continue to see them for much of the fall. Some purple chokecherries were hanging along the roadside and woods edge, but I don't think these will be here much longer.
However, when it comes to wild berries, many of us do not look at the plants of the forest understory growing since last spring or the trees at the edge. We instead go for the products of shrubs and bushes. Earlier this summer, I collected many quarts of these berries as I picked among the blueberries and raspberries. And though I discovered a few still lingering last week, the season for both of these juicy delights is over. Two other bushes now hold berries that tend to grab my attention: rose hips and blackberries.
Rose hips have been swelling up at the tip of branches of wild roses for the last several weeks. Now with developing seeds, they take on a bright red color that will last through fall and often into winter. Scattered about the region that I walk, I locate lots of ripe blackberries. Blackberries, along with several other berry bushes - raspberry, dewberry and thimbleberry - are closely related and belong to the genus Rubus. This is a large and diverse group of bushes in the state and specific identification can be quite difficult. Most of us refer to all the ones with dark berries as blackberries. This should not be confused with a plant growing in the southern part of the state that has dark berries and is known as black raspberry.
Raspberries in the Northland have red berries that are about half the size as our blackberries. The fruits of all of the members of this group are clusters of tiny berries called drupelets, with seeds inside. For the most part blackberries, as we know them, grow more commonly to the south of the Twin Ports.
I'm glad that I live in an area where they thrive. They add a delightful encore to the berry-picking season that began with the minute wild strawberries in June. I have been able to pick them through much of the last several weeks and I'm still finding some with each walk. They make the already wonderful month of September even more so.
It was back in June and July that the blackberries opened their large five-petaled white flowers in the woods edges and roadsides. They bloomed at about the same time as the smaller and less-showy raspberry blossoms. Both caught the attention of insects and got pollinated.
During subsequent weeks, raspberries formed and matured their red berries before those of blackberries. I typically pick raspberries in July and blackberries in August. But with a slower start to our warming season, berry time was late this year. Berries are full of seeds and plants use these attractive fruits with excellent taste as a way of getting animals to spread the seeds. And birds and mammals do just that. Ripe berries usually do not last long.
As we begin the new season of autumn, I'm glad to be able to still pick these berries of late summer, despite the thorns on each branch that the plant is well-known to have. And as I pick, I'm also treated to the bright red glow of their leaves, a final tribute of September blackberries.
Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o firstname.lastname@example.org.