Fruits of Fall

By Andy McIndoe

As the colours of autumn leaves steal the show, the fruits that adorn the branches of so many trees and shrubs contribute variety and another dimension to the display. Some are showy and colourful, others are subtle and strange.

Many provide sustenance for wild birds and small mammals and are quickly devoured when ripe, others persist on the branches well into winter.

Some shrubs, such as Cornus kousa are not grown for their fruits, they are often a surprise when they appear at the end of the year. Dogwoods are associated with midsummer, when their butterfly-like bracts settle lightly along the branches. The showy bracts fall away to leave the tight, flower cluster balls to develop into the strawberry like fruits which ripen as the leaves turn to burgundy red in fall.

Cornus kousa

Cotoneasters on the other hand are all about the berries.This a diverse genus which includes every stature of plant from low, creeping species to spreading, semi-evergreen trees.The tiny white flowers of spring and attractive to bees and pollinators, these develop into the shining berries of autumn which are a welcome winter feast for wild birds. These wonderful shrubs are often overlooked and considered too utilitarian to plant in gardens. However few other plants deliver such a long lasting and valuable display. Cotonester naojanensisis one among many, but one of the best for berries. A medium sized shrub with arching branches and small evergreen leaves it is worthy of a place in any garden.

Cotonester naojanensis

The spindles have some of the most fascinating autumn fruits; tricorn capsules which split to reveal hanging seeds. The British native Euonymus europaeus lights up hedgerows with its deep pink seed capsules which split to reveal orange seeds. The species is variable in the quantity and quality of its fruits. However Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’ reliably delivers a superb display of autumn foliage colour and showy fruits. It is at its best on alkaline chalk soils and excellent for naturalistic planting.

Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’

The sea buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides on the other hand is at its best in coastal gardens, even alongside the seashore. In summer its silver willow leaves and whippy shoots move gracefully in the wind. In autumn golden berries are crowded on the stems of some plants, persisting after the leaves have fallen. Although it is capable of growing into a small tree it often dies out as it gets older and is best grown in thickets.

Hippophae rhamnoides

Spring blossom can be short lived, but the blossom trees that fruit have a second chance to impress.The Himalayan crab, Malus hupehensis is a cloud of fragrant white blossom in late spring. This is one of the best crabs with an attractive rounded head and healthy dark green leaves. The small shining deep red apple fruits are prominent against the foliage and normally persist on the branches well after the leaves have fallen.

Malus hupehensis

As a fruit the medlar, Mespilus germanica may not be to everyone’s taste. Fascinating in appearance as it is, it should be left on the tree until almost rotten before it is eaten.The flavour: something between rotten apple and chestnut. Traditionally the fruits were harvested and stored in earth clamps alongside Bramley apples. It is unlikely that this impaired the flavour.

Mespilus germanica

The sloe, Prunus spinosa is the end product of blackthorn, the white blossom that coincides with cold spring weather. The plum-like fruits look delicious, but are tart, sour and inedible.However these little beauties do a fantastic job when pricked and smothered in gin and sugar. This results in one of the most warming and immobilising liqueurs known to man: Sloe Gin!

Prunus spinosa

The fruits of rhus, commonly known as sumach are quite different. These are seed clusters carried in upright cone-like clusters smothered in a red-brown velvety coat. The one drawback with sumach is its suckering habit, particularly a problem in smaller gardens. Rhus 'Tiger Eyes' is a more compact variety with golden leaves that turn to rich orange in autumn, stunning with the red-brown fruits. Although it produces the occasional sucker it is much better behaved than other varieties.

Rhus 'Tiger Eyes'

Many roses produce attractive red-orange hips if not dead-headed after flowering. Several species are specifically grown for their fruits, their flowers being less significant. Rosa glauca is grown for its steely blue-grey foliage and dark stems. The small cerise, single blooms are attractive in midsummer and these develop into conspicuous red hips in autumn that last well into winter after the leaves have fallen.

Rosa glauca

The guelder rose,Viburnum opulus is a European hedgerow native with maple-like leaves and white lacecap flower heads in spring. In autumn the fertile florets in the centre of the flower clusters give rise to clusters of redcurrant like fruits that shine in the autumn sun. At the same time the foliage colours richly. A vigorous shrub, good on clay and wet ground as well as chalk and dry soils this is a plant worthy of a place in any larger garden; perfect in rural situations.

Viburnum opulus

Fruiting shrubs and trees are worth seeking out, along with those that provide good autumn leaf colour. Autumn is a long and colourful season, one to make the most of.

Andy McIndoe

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