In recent days, on my regular walks, whether in suburban streets or in the local parks and nature reserves, wherever I see berries there are birds, usually thrushes, gobbling down as many berries as they can find.
A Song thrush found its golden treasure trove in a tiny, but well-planted-for-wildlife garden amongst the apartments of Penarth Marina, and, below, this thrush, at Cosmeston Lakes Country Park, looked to have chosen a berry far too big for its beak but it persevered and, eventually, by applying a little pressure to squash the berry a fraction, down the hatch it went.
They may look luscious and juicy but Cotoneaster berries contain toxins, which means that many people consider them poisonous. (There’s a good article about whether or not they really are poisonous on the Poison Garden website.) Yet the blackbirds, thrushes and woodpigeons seem to enjoy them and, when the more desirable berries like rowan have been consumed, these nutritious berries help to sustain the birds through the lean winter months.
Roath Park has several cotoneaster trees that are covered in bright red and dull yellow berries at the moment so, as I walked home from the train station this afternoon I kept an eye out for feeding birds. And I got lucky.
The hefty woodpigeons were easy to spot as their clambering made the branches shake a lot. The blackbirds were more delicate but also more entertaining, as they performed their aerial trapeze, clinging to branches and stretching as far sideways or upside down as they could to reach the furthest fruit. The bonus of the day was a group of about five redwings also feeding spasmodically in these trees. They were more skittish, flitting quickly on to the very top branches for some rapid pecking but, always watchful, flitting away again to higher nearby trees as people walked past along the pathway.
You’d think with the shortest day fast approaching that the landscape would be dull and grey and completely lacking in colour. But it’s not! If you look around, you’ll find the cotoneaster trees loaded with red berries, and holly trees, too, bursting with shiny red fruit. In my local park, the Mahonia bushes are flowering in brilliant yellow starbursts, and the Callicarpa shrubs are covered in stunning lilac berries that seem almost unreal and man-made, rather than something Ma Nature created. I thought I’d put some of Nature’s beautiful baubles together to make my very own ‘unreal’ Christmas tree!
I’ve been planning a ‘berry’ blog for a while and have been photographing all the lovely berries I’ve seen while out on my wanders but then, in the process of collecting together my various photos for this blog, I began to wonder what actually is a berry? Is a berry a fruit? Should I include hips and haws? Should I only include the fruits of those plants that have berry in their name? At that point, I gave up and decided a berry by any other name would look as pretty and I would include all the lovely reddish-coloured things I’ve seen growing on assorted trees, bushes and plants, whether they be berries, drupes, hips, haws, pomes, or just plain fruit. So here you go …
It’s toxic! If the sap touches your skin, it can burn. If you ingest the leaves, you might suffer a severe reaction. If you think these berries look delicious, think again – they will poison you. I think you get the picture – but what a beautiful picture it is, don’t you think? I am just entranced by the colours and shapes of the berries.
This is Phytolacca americana, the American pokeweed or American nightshade or just plain pokeweed, and I found it growing alongside the hydrangeas and rhododendrons in Cardiff’s Bute Park. It’s a herbaceous perennial that grows to a height of about 8 feet (2 metres) and is native to the USA, where it’s apparently considered a weed by the agricultural community. However, several species of bird and some small beasties are unaffected by its toxicity so enjoy an autumn feast on the berries. And, according to Mrs M. Grieve’s 1931 A Modern Herbal, various parts of the plant can be used for a range of natural remedies, from drenching cattle to treating chronic rheumatism and haemorrhoids. I think I’ll stick to admiring the berries!