81226thumbIn milder climates of California, where many of us expect at least a few flowers to bloom right through winter, autumn foliar color and colorful winter berries are not appreciated quite as much as they are where autumn and winter arrive earlier, and are cool enough to prevent lingering bloom. Coincidentally, the same mild weather that allows winter bloom here also limits autumn foliar color.

However, mild autumn and winter weather does not inhibit the production of the various winter berries. Such berries can either provide extra color while bloom might be scarce, or at least keep migrating and overwintering birds well fed while trying to do so. Many of us actually grow colorful berries more to keep wildlife happy than to provide color. Some enjoy using them like cut flowers.

It is no coincidence that most colorful berries that ripen in winter are small, red, and profuse. Just like flowers use color to attract pollinators, many types of fruits use color to attract the birds that eat them and subsequently disperse their seed. Bright red happens to work best for that purpose, although there are other options. Small berries happen to be easy for birds to grab and go with.

Most of the specie that provide winter berries are related, within the family of Rosaceae, and most are evergreen shrubs. Of these, firethorn, which is also known by its Latin name of Pyracantha, is the most familiar and most prolific with berry production. The various specie and cultivars of Cotoneaster are not nearly as bold with their berries, but provide a bit more variety of plant form.

English hawthorn and related hawthorns happen to be small deciduous trees that defoliate in winter to leave their ripe berries exposed. Incidentally, as their names imply, both firethorn and the various hawthorns are unpleasantly thorny. The native toyon is a big evergreen shrub that can get almost as big as the smaller hawthorns, and has the potential to be pruned up as a small tree. Hollies are not related to the others, and although very traditional, are unreliable for berry production locally.


8 thoughts on “Berries For Color In Winter

  1. I think pyracantha is lovely. Now and then, I see some that’s orange. I’m not sure if it’s a natural variation or a cultivar, but whether the berries are red or orange, they’re beautiful. A few times, I’ve seen birds get tipsy from fruit that’s fermented. From what I’ve read, robins and waxwings are most likely to overindulge.

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    1. For us, almost all pyracantha is red. The only orange pyrcantha are either old or grew from seed. Orange used to be more available decades ago. Yellow was available too, but unpopular because yellow pyracantha are weak. In other regions, orange is the standard color, and red is uncommon. Yellow seems to be rare everywhere.

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    1. Because I like the colorful red berries, it annoys me that birds sometimes take them so quickly. However, most of us enjoy the birds more than the berries. Every year is different. No one seems to be interested in the English hawthorn berries so far. There are still quite a bit of cotoneaster and firethorn berries at work too. The birds must be eating something else out in the forest.

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    1. You know, I did not like them when I lived in town. They are at their best with plenty of space. Now that there is plenty of space, I dislike how they naturalize. I just can not win with them! The bright red is still my favorite, but I would like to eventually find an orange cultivar, and maybe even a yellow one! I know the yellow ones are weak, but I think they would be a nice contrast for berries that are cut and brought in.


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