The weather has been terrible here since last Sunday with pouring rain almost every day, so I’ve had to break open my hoard of nut, berry and seed photos for this post. As the above photo shows the winterberry bushes (Ilex verticillata) are heavily laden with fruit this year, and that comes after a barren winter last year when they hardly showed a single berry. Many trees and shrubs will have a barren year after exhausting themselves with a year of heavy production and some, like certain species of oak, can take several years to recover from a heavy fruiting.
If you are trying to attract wildlife to your yard and have a pond or a swampy area on your land then winterberry is an excellent choice of native shrub. They like very wet soil and, like other hollies, need male and female plants to produce berries. Because the berries have a low fat content birds and animals eat them quite late in the season, so the berries will color the landscape for most of the winter.
Wild grapes are a favorite of everything from blue jays to black bears but the wildlife doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to eat them this year. This was a great year for all types of fruit, nuts and seeds and I suppose they know what they’re doing better than I do.
Pokeberries (Phytolacca americana) are also withering on the frost killed plants. I found out last fall that birds usually snap these up just as soon as they ripen. I wanted to get a photo of the ripe berries but every time I went to take one the birds had eaten every one. I’ve read that birds can get quite drunk from fermented pokeweed berries so maybe that’s why they’re avoiding them. I ran into a drunken cedar waxwing one day and I’ve never forgotten how it flew right at my face and then pulled up at the last second. It seemed to be a bit of a lush because it did this over and over until I moved away from the berries it wanted.
The seeds of eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are eaten by small birds like black capped chickadees and pine siskins, and several species of warblers like to nest in the dense foliage. Bigger birds like turkeys, owls and grouse will often roost in the branches. Hemlocks are very good at shedding rain because of the way their branches grow. I’ve stood under them in quite heavy rains and barely felt a drop. That’s a good thing to keep in mind if you’re out with a camera and it starts raining.
Aster seeds get eaten quickly, it seems. Goldfinches and other small birds will land on the plants and in the process of eating their fill will knock enough seeds to the ground to take care of the bigger ground feeders.
Though we have been conditioned by seed and feeder salesmen to believe that birds won’t make it through winter without our help, nature takes care of her own. There is nothing wrong with feeding birds but unless we have an unusually harsh winter they will do just fine without our help.
Milkweed seeds apparently aren’t eaten by anything, which seems odd. Or if they are we don’t know much about it because I’ve searched and searched and haven’t found a single reference to these seeds being used as food by anything. It must be because of the toxins in the plant. Though I don’t know how much toxin is in the seeds I do know that the seeds in some poisonous plants carry some of the highest concentrations.
Bull thistle seed (Cirsium vulgare) is another favorite of birds like goldfinches, but how they get them without being stabbed by all of those spines is a mystery to me. In Europe part of the Latin name of the European goldfinch Carduelis means “eats seeds of thistle.”
We all know how burdocks (Arctium) get their barbs into our clothes, but what we might not think much about is how those same barbs can also catch on the feathers of small birds when they land on the plants to eat the seeds.
The orange berries and yellow bracts of oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) are pleasing to see, but when birds, mice, voles, rabbits, squirrels, and an army of other berry eaters eat the fruit, they help it spread. These berries seem to be loved by all including humans, and that’s why it has become so invasive. This vine is so tough it can choke trees to death and I’ve seen it do just that numerous times.
Here’s an example of what oriental bittersweet can do to a young beech tree.
I haven’t seen many beechnuts this year but we have plenty of acorns, hazel, and hickory nuts like the one in the above photo. Nuts are important foods for many birds and animals including wood ducks, woodpeckers, foxes, squirrels, beavers, cottontails, chipmunks, turkeys, white-tailed deer, black bears, mice, and raccoons. The name hickory comes from the word pohickery which, according to Captain John Smith of Jamestown, is from the Algonquin Indian word pawcohiccora, a drink that the Native Americans made from the crushed nutmeat.
If you seek the kernel, then you must break the shell. And likewise, if you would know the reality of Nature, you must destroy the appearance, and the farther you go beyond the appearance, the nearer you will be to the essence. ~Meister Eckhart
Thanks for stopping in.