Northland Nature: Berry season begins
Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
July is sometimes considered our month of greatest summer. The hottest times normally happen now and thunderstorms are common during these 31 days. Passing the summer solstice, the daylight slowly decreases; sunrises are later, sunsets are earlier.
But it is also the time when we see the results of earlier growths. The nestlings of June become the fledglings of July. A whole new batch of wildflowers bloom along the roadsides. Each day, there are more fireweeds, milkweeds and evening primroses, keeping every walk interesting. A few goldenrods, asters and sunflowers are with them.
In the woods, among the decaying leaves and logs, mushrooms make their quick appearance — few at first, but becoming more common later. And it is the beginning of the seed, berry and fruit season.
The ripe seeds of woody plants began in late May with the fluffy material that drifted throughout the region. Within this cottony stuff were the tiny seeds of aspens and willows. They were being dispersed by the wind. These were followed by the samaras of red and silver maples. Their winged seeds spun in helicopter fashion in a dispersal of their own, again relying on the wind for spreading the seeds.
Looking back to May and early June, we might remember the blossoms of small trees that added colors to the roadsides. With petals and aroma, they attracted attention of insects and were pollinated. Though we no longer saw the obvious flowers after they received pollen, their berries and fruits have been developing. Now, we can see these results.
During a recent woods walk, I noticed some red among the green leaves. Stopping for a closer look, I found a pair of fused berries on the branch of a small plant. This plant, fly honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis), was one of the first shrubs to flower in spring, and now, it is the first one to produce berries. Flowers were borne in close-knit pairs, and now, the berries show this same arrangement.
Seeing this plant told me that the berry season had begun in the Northland. A day later, I discovered and devoured the first wild strawberry. Tiny when compared to the domestic type, it was still delicious and told of more to come. And July tends to be full of wild berries.
The berries of fly honeysuckle and wild strawberry are followed by dewberry (dwarf blackberry) and red elderberry — usually the first tree to leaf out in spring, is quick to form its red berries. Juneberry (serviceberry) and pin cherry — small trees that flowered in the roadsides of May — are next. Some smaller plants of the woods, baneberry and blue-bead lily, produce theirs, too, in red, white and blue.
Most, not all, of the earlier berries are edible, preparing us for raspberries, blueberries and thimbleberries. And there are plenty of domestic ones, too.
Berries vary in their shapes, colors and sizes, but they all have seeds on or within. These berries are another example of plants being able to disperse their seeds. Berries (also could be called fruits) will not drift in the breeze and so another method of spreading seeds needs to work.
Plants make use of the mobile animals. Being brightly colored and tasty, the berries are quick to be discovered and consumed by birds and small mammals (and bears). Following this eating, undigested seeds are deposited at sites away from the start.
We berry pickers also play a role in dispersing seeds, but not quite like birds and other mammals. And we enjoy the products of July.