Berried Treasures

If you are familiar with Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens, you’ve surely delighted in the spring display of azaleas, mountain laurels, and rhododendrons. You have probably also witnessed the summer wildflowers and the corresponding menagerie of bees, butterflies, and birds of all kinds. Then, of course, comes fall and its vibrant collage of colors unmatched by any other
season, but what on earth is there to see in the winter? There is more than you might realize.

Many have written about plants with winter interest ranging from those with beautiful bark and interesting form, to evergreen foliage and yes, even flowers. There is more of course; mother nature frequently graces us with a blanket of snow or thin coating of ice, and though it doesn’t make getting to the Arboretum very easy, the view of the untouched winter landscape makes it worth the effort. This article, however, goes beyond the beautiful and into the functional as the Arboretum becomes a sanctuary for overwintering birds.

Winter is a fragile time for birds; most do not migrate and, without insects to feed on, food gets scarce. They still need enough fat and calories to keep themselves going through winter and the Arboretum provides for them a much-needed smorgasbord. Scattered throughout the gardens are hundreds of plants that provide an abundance of seeds and berries for these overwintering birds. Many of these berries are, in fact, quite beautiful.

The bright red berries of American holly contrasted against its dark, evergreen foliage is a striking, classic landscape feature. The waxy blue berries of red cedar and bayberry create a subtle blue haze as seen from the distance. Winterberry holly berries, with all of their forms and color variations are lovely covered with cardinals and a thin layer of snow. Red and black chokeberries as well as highbush cranberries can be seen all through winter as they sweeten with time and give the birds something to snack on only after they’ve plucked the bounties from all of the others. Bright purple beautyberries and bright pink coralberries form in clusters along long, arching stems. Hawthorns and crabapples are adorned with hundreds of small red fruits that dangle from their branches like holiday ornaments. Rose hips can be found on several of our native beauties and sumacs display much underappreciated clusters of fuzzy red berries.

The fruits, the bark, the forms and the flowers, all against an evergreen backdrop of rhododendrons and hollies makes Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens a special place to visit in wintertime. While you are here, watch for the birds through the deciduous forest. The cardinals, nuthatches, finches, wrens, chickadees and titmice will lead you to their favorite winter fruits. We hope you’ll enjoy them as much as they do.

– Steve Wright, Director of Horticulture/ Curator of Plant Collections

Photo: Yuri Timofeyev / Flickr