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!
It’s berry time, and some of the loveliest berries to be seen at this time of year are those of the enigmatic Rowan tree (Sorbus aucuparia) or Mountain Ash, as it’s also commonly known.
Why enigmatic? Well, the Rowan is surrounded by millenia of myths and legends. In Ancient Greek myth, Hebe, the beautiful young goddess who served ambrosia to the gods, lost her cup to demons and, when the gods sent an eagle to recover the cup, each one of the eagle’s feathers and drops of blood that fell to earth during the ensuing battle produced a Rowan tree. This also explains the Rowan’s red berries and its feather-shaped leaves.
The ancient Norse people believed the first woman was created from a Rowan tree, and a Rowan rescued the god Thor from drowning in a river in the Underworld. The Rowan also features in the ancient wisdom of the Celtic people. Fid na ndruad, its ancient Celtic name, means wizard’s tree; the Irish planted the Rowan near houses for protection against evil; the Scots believed that felling a Rowan would bring bad luck; and the Welsh planted Rowans in their graveyards to keep evil spirits at bay.