Fall is a berry good time of year in Chesapeake gardens. These shrubs with small flowers in spring and run of the mill green foliage in summer, burst into color in fall like fireworks. And, wow, is it good for the native birds. These shrubs provide food through fall and into winter. They all take a range of soils, tolerate dampness, fruit best in full sun and are medium size shrubs which can be kept smaller with pruning.
Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) is new to me, purchased recently from Herring Run Nursery in Baltimore. I was drawn to clusters of pale pink berries at the tips of branches. Not knowing much about its growing habits, this is information from the Missouri Botanical Garden, Morton Arboretum and Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. All agree it is a dense shrub with a suckering habit that can take sun, part shade or shade. The Missouri Botanical Garden describes its leaves as a dull green. So, berries may be the main attraction of this shrub. It is a good shrub for woodland edges and winter color. Berries morph from pale to dark pink and attract birds.
Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a tried and true favorite. Branches laden with clusters of bright red berries will dazzle you once a shrub in full sun reaches three to four years. Over time, it is possible to train these into small trees if you like to practice your pruning skills. A fresh snowfall on a winterberry is truly beautiful. The berries will not last all winter though as birds will eat them. Berries fruit on female plants. To get berries, it’s necessary to plant a male plant nearby. It’s very common for nurseries to sell both females and males. The Missouri Botanical Garden recommends one male for every six females. A male plant can easily be tucked away in a corner if you prefer shrubs with berries to be more visible.
Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a shrub you may love or leave. Purple berries in fall astound. The rangy habit of the shrub above on the right is less appealing. The shrub flowers on new wood so you can prune it fairly significantly, down to 6″ or so, each year to keep the rangy growth in check. Of course, you could also place it where it isn’t too visible, perhaps at the back of a border.
There is also an Asian beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) commonly sold by nurseries. It has the same purple berries and a bit less rangy growth pattern. To differentiate the two, look closely at the berry clusters, technically called drupes. On native beautyberry, above left, drupes are clustered on the branch. On the Asian beautyberry, above right, drupes are clustered on a slim stem from the branch.
Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) is a tidy shrub with red berries and spectacular fall color. This is an easy to grow shrub that tolerates a range of soils, sun and moisture. The shrub above is fairly young. These grow in a pleasing fairly vase shape.
These shrubs all provide a profusion of berries and color on more mature specimens. Totally worth the wait!
For more information:
A succinct overview of coralberry from the Morton Arboretum.
A thorough list of the cultivars of winterberries from Clemson University.
A list of birds that are enthusiastic about beautyberries from the USDA.
Information and four season photos of red chokeberry from the Mt. Cuba Center.