Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Berry Interesting

So far, I've posted many entries focusing on animals, but this time I want to highlight some plants you can find at the Virginia Living Museum.  Specifically, I'll show off some brilliantly colored berries found on the Museum's grounds during the fall and winter.

But first, the safety message:  Although berries are pretty to look at, please do not touch, pick, or eat any of these kinds of berries!!!  Most of these berries are edible by wildlife--indeed, they're an important winter food source for many animals--but they can make people very sick.  Enough said....

If you are interested in a quick botanical definition:  a berry is a fleshy fruit developed from a single ovary (a reproductive part) that helps produce the plant's seed.  Technically, some of the "berries" listed below aren't true berries--but all are basically some type of seed-bearing fruit.  (For example, rose hips are classified as "accessory fruits" because the fruit develops not only from the ovary, but from surrounding plant tissue as well.)  Anyway....

In September I took photos of American Beautyberry shrubs (also called American Mulberry.)  Their berries are tightly clustered in clumps along the stem, and the weight of the berries lets the stems drape in graceful arcs of vibrant purple color.:
A lot of berries on the Museum grounds are bright red in color.  There is the familiar Holly berry (which can be found in many different varieties or "cultivars"):
Pictured next is the bright red fruit of the Hawthorn tree, which is a member of the rose family:
You can see how similar the hawthorn berry looks to its rose counterpart--these are rose hips from the Virginia Rose:

Perhaps my most favorite red-colored berry is from the Winterberry shrub.  In the fall, berries form and present a lovely contrast with their still green leaves.  When the leaves drop in early winter, the berries stand out with their vivid color, and in the photo below makes a nice accent next to our waterfall--which got cold enough to freeze during the first week of January.:

Last, but not least, are the tiny (1/8th of an inch) blue-grey berries from the wax myrtle shrub that form in lumpy clusters along the stems (of female plants only.)  These berries, along with their evergreen leaves, are aromatic when crushed--very similar to bayberry, hence its other name "southern bayberry."  The shrubs grow near salt marshes and freshwater wetlands along the Atlantic coast and provide a food source for many animals, especially birds.  During colonial times, candle makers would to use wax myrtle berries as a source of wax (granted, a much more labor intensive task compared to using the larger bayberry!)

So there you have it--some brilliant spots of winter color from the Virginia Living Museum!  I love to watch plants as the seasons change--so in the spring, I'll post a blog on the many native wildflowers blossoming at the Museum.  If you enjoy "plant watching" as much as I do, then I highly recommend the US-based Project Budburst whose goal is to get people (everyone!) involved in ecological research by sharing their observations of plants as they change through the seasons.  Many thanks to Chris Lewis for turning me on to this wonderful "citizen science"-based website!

More from off the beaten path in two weeks....


  1. Lisa, it was such a pleasure to meet you on Tuesday at the VLM! I am truly impressed with your images. Beautiful shots - you've certainly got a great eye! Best wishes with your continued photography endeavors, and thanks for the work you do at the VLM. This is a delightful blog!

    Patti Brown

  2. Must not forget to watch out for Pokeweed and Emetic Russula popping up in the animal exhibits. These may cause the animals upset tummies.