Red berries that grow on bushes

Berries for Year-Round Color

For year-round interest, look to trees and shrubs with showy fruit By Jenny Andrews


A garden really can have something lovely to look at in every season. Just remember the four F’s—flowers, foliage, form and fruit. The last one, fruit, is often the most overlooked and underutilized as a garden-design element. If you’ve been dozing in the flower-filled lushness of spring and summer, wake up! The unexpected beauty of berries can take your garden through crisp autumn days and snowy winter landscapes. They can even give wildlife something to snack on. For any garden anywhere, there’s a berry to suit the site, and with colors ranging from red to orange, purple, pink, white, and blue, any color scheme is fair game. Read on to learn about nine berry-producing plants.

Photo by: J. Paul Moore.

1. Winterberry

‘Winter Red’ is widely considered the top-dog cultivar of Ilex verticillata, a deciduous holly native to the eastern half of North America. The fireworks of glossy, bright-red berries can run from late summer through early spring (depending on how hungry local birds are), making it a must-have for the winter garden. Prefers moist, rich, slightly acidic soils. Berries are more profuse in full sun. Requires a nearby stud holly (male-flowered) such as ‘Southern Gentleman’, ‘Apollo’, or ‘Raritan Chief’ to form fruit. Zones 3-9.

Buy now from Proven Winners.

Learn more about growing holly.

Photo by: Marianne Majerus.

2. Mountain Ash

Underused as a landscape plant, mountain ashes deserve a closer look for fruit, flowers and blazing fall color. Fruits of most species are orange or red, but some are white (Sorbus hupehensis). Here, the pink-blushed pearls of S. hupehensis ‘Rosea’ are set against its burgundy autumn foliage. Most species are hardy in Zones 4-7.

Photo by: J. Paul Moore.

3. Coralberry

Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus) is another low-key shrub that waits until winter to turn on the charm. Small, yellowish summer flowers turn into purplish-red fruit clustered along arching stems beginning in October. Native throughout much of the United States. Prune in early spring. Quite shade tolerant. Zones 2-7.

Buy now from Proven Winners.

Photo by: Howard Rice.

4. Tatarian Dogwood

Blue fruit in summer and bare red stems in winter give this shrubby dogwood (Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’) multiseason appeal. Spreads more slowly than red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), so it works well in small gardens. Ideal for a hedge or shrub mass. Cut back hard to a foot or less in late winter for a flush of new bright red stem growth. Zones 3-8.

Photo by: Marianne Majerus.

5. Beautyberry

One of my all-time favorite plants—ever. A nondescript shrub until late summer, it’s worth the wait when its tiny pinkish flowers morph into traffic-stopping clusters of small, purple berries. The native Callicarpa americana is close to my heart, but other species are also quite nice. Pictured here is C. bodinieri, beloved of British gardeners. Zones 5-8, though C. americana stretches from Zones 6 to 10. Learn more about growing beautyberry shrubs.

Buy now from Proven Winners.

Photo by: Howard Rice.

6. Crabapple

There are hundreds of crabapples on the market and though famous for their dainty spring flowers, their fall show of fruit (yellow, orange, green, and all shades of red) is invaluable for late-season landscapes. Shown here is Malus transitoria. Close kin to the apple, crabapple fruits are 2 inches or smaller. Pruning is usually unnecessary, but if you must, do it in late winter. Zones 4-7.

Photo by: O_Schmidt / .

7. Snowberry

Symphoricarpos albus is native to the West and has arching branches that bear beautiful clusters of white berries that last well into winter. This deciduous shrub tolerates a range of soil types, even clay. It has small white and pink flowers in summer that attract butterflies and hummingbirds and is a critical host plant for the Sphinx Moth. Zones 3-7.

Photo by: Pi-Lens / .

8. Serviceberry

As if the delicious deep blue berries of Amelanchier alnifolia weren’t enough, you’ll also enjoy showy white flowers in the spring and gorgeous yellow foliage in the fall. This shrub is often used to fill the role of a small tree and is adaptable to many garden sites. Zones 2-7.

Photo by: Unkas Photo / .

9. Chokeberry

Native to Eastern North America, Aronia melanocarpa, produces black autumn berries and has attractive purple/red fall color. This is a good selection for wet areas, as it will tolerate soggy soils. Because of its tendency to sucker and form colonies, it is often used for mass plantings. Zones 3-8.

More About Berries

Care: The most important thing to remember for good berries on your trees and shrubs is not to prune them at the wrong time, which has everything to do with when the plants form their flower buds—no flowers, no fruit. Many plants are just fine with minimal pruning just to clean them up and remove dead branches. For some, “crowd control” is needed to keep them in line with their allotted space, particularly with suckering shrubs. And for others, cutting back can bring on a flush of new growth and a more abundant display of berries. Beautyberry and some deciduous hollies can either be allowed to achieve their maximum size or annually cut back, almost like a perennial, to control size and create multiple stems packed with fruit.

As a general rule, trees and shrubs that bloom early to mid-spring form their buds the previous year, so prune prudently in late winter. Those that bloom late spring to summer, form their buds the same year, so prune in early spring and avoid cutting new growth.

Zones: Hardiness zones for trees and shrubs varies by variety. See individual plant descriptions for zone information.

Exposure: Most berry-bearing woody plants perform well in full sun to part shade. Though some are understory species in their native locales, sunlight generally enhances flower and fruit production. Full, deep shade will make for more open, less-fruitful specimens. However, snowberry and coralberry (Symphoricarpos) are noted for their shade tolerance.

Soil: Average, moderately rich soil will work for most of the plants shown here and their relatives. Some, such as winterberry (Ilex verticillata), mountain ash (Sorbus), and crabapples, prefer slightly acidic soils. Though good drainage is a wise course with most plants, a few trees and shrubs are adapted to wet situations, like mountain ash and snowberry.

Coral berry

Coral berry (Ardisia crenata) is regarded as an environmental weed in New South Wales and Queensland and as a “sleeper weed” in other parts of northern Australia. In Queensland, it is an emerging species in the south-eastern parts of the state and is also causing concern in tropical northern regions. It is on the list of environmental weeds for the Gold Coast and has been reported from bushland near urban areas in this region, particularly near Currumbin Creek. In the Brisbane area it is established in densely forested riparian zones (e.g. along Enoggera Creek) and it is also on the undesirable plant list for Noosa Shire, on the Sunshine Coast. Coral berry (Ardisia crenata) is also naturalised in remnant rainforests in north-eastern New South Wales (e.g. near Mullumbimby) and has been recorded from bushland in the Sydney area. It is particularly invasive in rainforests and other closed forests, largely because its seeds will germinate in low light conditions under a dense forest canopy.In Florida, in the USA, it was first noted to be escaping into moist forests in 1982. It is now naturalised in hardwood hammocks across several areas in northern Florida and has also become naturalised in Texas. In these regions it has been observed to dominate the forest understorey, often in conservation reserves, and may reach densities of greater than 100 plants per sqm. The native plant diversity is substantially reduced by the presence of this weed, regardless of its density or the site history, and it can also reduce the light levels reaching the forest floor by up to 70%, potentially shading out seedlings and preventing the regeneration of native plants. Mature plants are usually surrounded by a carpet of seedlings, which also displace small native groundcovers such as violets (Viola spp.) and wakerobins (Trillium spp.).

Zone 5 Berries – Choosing Cold Hardy Berry Plants

So you live in a cooler region of the United States but want to grow more of your own food. What can you grow? Look to growing berries in USDA zone 5. There are many edible berries suitable for zone 5, some commonplace and some less sampled, but with such an array of choices, you’re sure to find one or more to your liking.

Choosing Cold Hardy Berry Plants

Berries are getting a lot of attention for their nutrient rich compounds, which are said to combat everything from heart disease to constipation. If you’ve bought berries recently though, then you know that this natural health food comes with a hefty price tag. The good news is you can grow your own berries almost anywhere, even in the cooler regions.

A little research is in order before purchasing your cold hardy berry plants. It’s wise to ask yourself some questions first such as:

  • Why am I planting berries?
  • How am I going to use them?
  • Are they strictly for use in the home or are they for wholesale?
  • Do I want a summer or fall crop?

If possible, buy disease resistant plants. Fungal diseases can often by controlled through cultural practices, density of planting, air circulation, proper trellising, pruning, etc., but not viral diseases. Now that you’ve done some soul searching regarding what type of berry you want, it’s time to talk zone 5 berries.

Zone 5 Berries

There are many choices when growing berries in

zone 5. Of course, you have the basics like raspberries, strawberries and blueberries, but then you can get a little off the beaten path and opt for Sea Buckthorn or Aronia.

Raspberriesare either of the summer bearing floricane variety or the fall bearing primocane variety. Edible red floricane berries for zone 5 include:

  • Nova
  • Encore
  • Prelude
  • Killarney
  • Latham

Of the black varieties, cold hardy floricanes include MacBlack, Jewel, and Bristol. Purple raspberries suited to zone 5 are Royalty and Brandywine. The canes of these cultivars grows in one season, overwinter and produces a crop in the second season and are then pruned back.

Fall bearing raspberries also come in red as well as gold and are cut down to the ground in late winter or early in the spring, which then forces the plant to grow new canes and produce a crop in the fall. Red primocanes suited for zone 5 include:

  • Autumn Britten
  • Caroline
  • Joan J
  • Jaclyn
  • Heritage
  • Autumn Bliss

‘Anne’ is a gold variety suited to zone 5.

Strawberry varieties for zone 5 run the gamut. Your choice depends on whether you want June bearers, which only produce once in June or July, ever bearers or day neutrals. While ever bearers and day neutrals are smaller than June bearers, they have the advantage of a longer season, with day neutrals having the better fruit quality and longer fruiting season.

Blueberriesare also edible berries suited for zone 5 conditions and there are many cultivars that are suited to this region.

Grapes, yes they are berries, of the American varieties do quite well in USDA zone 5. Again, consider what you wish to grow them for – juice, preserves, wine making?

Other edible berries for zone 5 include:

  • Elderberry – A heavy producer that ripens late in the season is Adams elderberry. York elderberry is self-fertile. Both pollinate with other native elderberries.
  • Sea buckthorn – Sea buckthorn is packed with vitamin C. Berries ripen in late August and make excellent juice and jelly. You need to plant one male for every 5-8 female plants. Some available varieties include Askola, Botanica, and Hergo.
  • Lingonberry – Lingonberries are self-pollinating but planting another lingonberry nearby to cross pollinate with will result in larger fruit. Ida and Balsgard are examples of cold hardy lingonberries.
  • Aronia – Dwarf aronia only grows to about 3 feet tall and thrives in most soil. ‘Viking’ is a vigorous cultivar that thrives in zone 5.
  • Currant – Because of its hardiness (zones 3-5), the currant bush is a great choice for cold climate gardeners. The berries, which may be red, pink, black or white, are packed with nutrition.
  • Gooseberry – Bearing tart berries on woody shrubs, gooseberries are especially cold hardy and well suited for zone 5 gardens.
  • Goji berry – Goji berries, also known as ‘wolfberries,’ are very cold hardy plants that are self-fertile and bear cranberry sized berries that are higher in antioxidants than blueberries.

Edible Landscaping – Unusual Edible Berries

Goji berries are the latest health craze to sweep the nation. The easy-to-grow plants produce orange berries loaded with protein, vitamin C, iron, and beta-carotene. Plus, they taste good.

By September most of the common berry fruits have finished their production (though you you may continue to harvest a few everbearing strawberries and raspberries). Tree fruits, such as apples and pears, dominate the fall fruit harvest. However, don’t put berries out of your mind just yet. Fall is a good time to do a little research and plant some unusual berry crops for next year.

There is more to berry gardening than planting the usual strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and grapes. Although I love growing all of these, it’s the unusual fruits that get my attention. I’m not going to rip out my hedge of raspberries or my blueberry shrubs and replace them with goji berries or sea buckthorns, but there are spots in the yard where I may try a few berries of a different shape and color. Plus, many of these unusual berry shrubs are attractive ornamentals, so you get the benefit of beautiful landscape shrubs with something to eat as well.

Here is a sample of eight unusual berry shrubs to try. Check out the mail-order companies below for sources. Good luck on your berry exploration!

Aronia (Aronia melanocarpa)

Sea berries are large, rangy shrubs that produce an abundance of orange fruits that make a nutritious and tasty juice.

Aronia, also called black chokecherry, is an extremely hardy shrub that can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 8. It grows 3 to 6 feet tall and wide, depending on the variety. This vigorous shrub is self-fertile, generally insect- and disease-free, and produces an abundance of blue-black berries in summer. The berries make a strong-flavored wine, juice, or jam, and have one of the highest levels of antioxidants of all the berry crops. ‘Viking’ and ‘Nero’ are two good selections.

As an added benefit, the glossy green leaves of this deciduous shrub turn fire engine red in fall. Instead of planting burning bush, why not grow aronia for fall color and edible berries? The plants sucker freely and can be used as a hedge plant along a wall or building.

Chilean guava (Ugni molinae)

This Chilean native shrub grows about 3 to 6 feet tall at maturity. It’s a slow-growing evergreen that is hardy only to 18 degrees F, making it suitable for edible gardens in USDA hardiness zones 9 and 10. However, it makes a great container plant and can be brought indoors for the winter in colder areas. Chilean guava produces small, fragrant, white flowers in spring and summer. The purple-red, blueberry-sized fruits have a mildly spicy, guava-like flavor and can be eaten fresh or made into jams and jellies. Chilean guava grows best in full to part sun on well-drained soils. It makes a great foundation shrub or focal point in a perennial flower border.

Goji Berry (Lycium barbarum)

Every few years a plant rocks the edible plant world, and for the last few years it’s been the goji berry. This deciduous, 10-to-12-foot-tall, rangy shrub is native to Tibet and the Himalayan mountains and bears raisin-sized berries from summer until fall. The berries are reported to contain 13 percent protein and are loaded with antioxidants. They also contain more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges, and more beta-carotene than carrots. Goji berries are used in Tibet to treat a variety of ailments and to increase longevity.

Goji berries are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9 and readily adapt to most soils. In spring, the attractive white and purple flowers form. By late summer, fresh, juicy, and sweet orange-red goji berries begin to ripen. Since the plant forms such as rangy shrub, goji berries don’t fit well in a formal garden and are best grown on their own as a hedge or a mass planting.

Honeyberry is related to honeysuckle. These sweet fruits are produced on shrubs that grow well in moist and partly shady locations.

Goumi (Eleagnus multiflora)

This Far East native is a deciduous shrub hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8. The plants grow to 6 feet tall and wide. The backs of the leaves are an attractive silver-green, contrasting with the darker green upper surfaces. The fragrant flowers bloom in spring and are a favorite of bees. The abundant cherry-sized tart red fruits ripen in summer. Although they can be eaten fresh, they are mostly used to make pies and sauces.

This relative of autumn olive is a nitrogen-fixing shrub and so is a good choice on poorer soils, as long as it gets full sun. It’s best to plant at least two varieties since they are only partially self-fertile.

Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea)

This honeysuckle relative produces sweet, 1- to 2-inch-long, blueberry-like fruits that can be eaten fresh or made into pies and sauces. The shrub grows 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, is generally disease- and insect-free, and is extremely cold hardy (USDA zones 3 to 8). Honeyberry grows best in moist, shady soils, making it a good choice in difficult landscapes. Plant at least two different varieties for good cross-pollination. Since the plants bloom and fruit early in the season (sometimes before strawberries), gardeners in cold areas should protect the shrubs from late spring frosts.

Jostaberry (Ribes nidigrolaria)

This shrub is a cross between black currant and gooseberry. Jostaberry looks like a gooseberry, but the plant has no thorns and the fruit is sweeter. It has the vigorous growth and disease resistance of a black currant, and the 1/2-inch-diameter black fruits are loaded with vitamin C. A mature, 6-foot-tall and wide deciduous shrub can produce up to 12 pounds of fruit. The berries have a flavor similar to grape, kiwi, and blueberry. Plants are hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8, and are widely adapted. The beautiful bushes make excellent foundation plants.

Lingonberry is an evergreen ground cover that grows well in moist, acidic soils. The berries are great in jams and preserves.

Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea)

This small, evergreen shrub grows to a height of about 1 foot, making it a good ground cover. The bright red berries of this blueberry relative are popular in Scandinavia for making jams and juice. The plants flower twice a year and produce berries in mid summer and fall. They are self-fertile. Like blueberries, they grow best in an acidic soil and full sun. In hot areas they require dappled afternoon light. They can slowly spread by their roots and need an evenly moist soil. Plant them in the front of a low border or in a rock garden. Planting in groups produces the most attractive ornamental effect.

Seaberry (Hippophae rhamnoides)

This Russian native is a great conservation plant. It fixes nitrogen and grows on a wide variety of poor soils. It’s hardy to USDA zones 3 to 7 and produces berries that birds and humans can enjoy. Seaberry fruits have seven times the vitamin C as lemons and have been used as an orange juice substitute in many countries. In Europe you’ll find seaberry juice in grocery stores.

The rangy, deciduous shrub grows 6 to 18 feet tall at maturity. Some varieties, such as ‘Amber Dawn’, stay relatively small. There are male and female shrubs, so select least one of each. The plant is salt-and drought-tolerant and prefers full sun. The attractive, narrow, gray-green leaves make this shrub excellent for hedges. In fall, clusters of currant-sized, orange berries appear; the berries persist through winter, attracting wildlife. Mature plants can produce 50 pounds fruit.

More Great Stories on unusual berries:



The Mighty Lingonberry

Some good sources of these berry shrubs:

One Green World

Raintree Nursery

Edible Landscaping

Photos courtesy of One Green World

We’re at the end of August now, a fantastic time to forage for the many edible fruits and berries that nature provides us. What’s the difference between fruits and berries I hear you say? Botanically speaking, fruits are the seed bearing structure of flowering plants; berries are a type of fruit, ones where the fruit is produced from a single ovary. For most of us the definition of whether something is a berry or a fruit is much less important than how it tastes, and even less important than whether it’s edible or not!

I’ve written this post to explain which fruits and berries are edible and which aren’t; it isn’t intended to be an identification guide, although I’ve included tips on where it grows and photos. Use good tree and plant identification books to help you out.

A note on berries: I know that many people say that you should never eat red berries but that is a myth, a myth that is both misleading and potentially dangerous. On the one hand there are many red berries that are edible (see below) and by following this mantra you would miss out on them. But the flip side is that people often assume that you can eat berries that aren’t red; this is entirely false and could prove fatal. So rather than rely on twee sayings, I’d suggest putting in the time to learn which are edible and which aren’t!

Crab apples

Crab apples (Malus sylvestris) grow throughout the British Isles, usually singly, and has a preference for heavy, well drained soils. The apples are very tart and generally not considered suitable for eating raw. We tend to use them in jams and jellies, such as in this apple and blackberry jam. Or you could use them in a wild marjoram jelly.


These are the red berries found on wild roses. They can be found across the British Isles and are often found in hedgerows. Here in Kent the species we come across most frequently is probably dog rose (Rosa canina). Rosehips contain high quantities of Vitamin C, indeed during the 2nd World War people were encouraged to scour the hedgerows and collect them up. They need to be processed ideally, such as in this recipe for rosehip and crab apple jelly, but certainly make sure that you remove the seed before eating as the microscopic hairs on the seed will cause irritation if swallowed.

Also note in the photo below the berries of black bryony (Dioscorea communis sometimes referred to as Tamus communis); these are the ones on the right hand side of the photo that are more spherical and glossy.


Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) is a small tree found throughout the British Isles although it is most common in the north and west. Often it’s known as mountain ash due to its liking of high places and the similarity of the leaf to ash, but they aren’t related. The berries grow in bunches and vary between orange and red. They are delicious when made into a jam .


Whitebeam (Sorbus aria) is a close relative of rowan with a paler berry, sometimes slightly orangey. They are rare in the wild but we are fortunate to have lots of them in and around our ancient woodland camp. The berries are edible but need to be cooked before eating. The tree is relatively easy to identify from its leaf, which is pale green on top and silvery white on the underside (from which the tree derives its name).


Elder (Sambucus nigra) is another common small tree found all around the British Isles. Whilst it prefers chalky soil, it will grow pretty much anywhere, in fact Nicola and I had one grow through a crack in the pavement at the front of our house. The berries are about the size of a petit pois and very dark purple. Be cautious as they can have a laxative affect. They work well as a syrup or mixed with blackberries to make a cordial.


Haws are the red berries that grow on hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna), which is regarded as either a shrub or small tree; with that said, I’ve seen several hawthorn that approached 10m in height. They’re probably best consumed as a fruit leather or as a sauce. We’ve also used them to make a hawthorn tincture, an alcohol based herbal remedy, which has been shown to strengthen the heart muscles.

Sea buckthorn

A shrub or small tree found on the coast, the berries of Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) can be eaten raw but I find them to be too astringent (think cheeks sucked in!). Another that is probably best turned into a jam or jelly for consumption.

Wild cherry

We’ve got lots of wild cherry (Prunus avium) in and around our ancient woodland camp. The fruits are somewhat smaller than their cultivated cousins but the main issue is getting to them before the birds. Wild cherry tends to fruit earlier than other trees, often in June. The photo below is of unripened berries.

Wayfaring Tree

The Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana) is a small tree common in hedgerows in the south east of England, becoming less common as you move north or west. I’ve come across a couple of accounts of people eating the berries in famine situations but the perceived wisdom seems to be that they are mildly toxic and cause vomiting and diarrhoea. I’ve never tried them so have no first hand experience on the matter!


Sloes grow on blackthorn (Prunus spinosa), a common hedgerow tree. They can be found across the British Isles although in my experience more so in the west, where they tend to be used to keep livestock in. The berries are somewhat sharp and are best used in either a jam or for sloe gin or vodka. After the last batch of sloe vodka we made, Nicola squeezed the pips out of the fruit and coated them in chocolate, a fantastic liqueur.


Plums (Prunus domestica ssp. domestica) aren’t native but are found all around the British isles, generally near past or present human settlement. We’ve recently made this delicious plum ketchup.


The origins of damsons (Prunus domestica ssp. insititia) is uncertain, It isn’t a native but certainly has been cultivated in the British Isles for a very long time. Some argue that it is a cross between a sloe and plum, others that it is a variety of sloe alone. Whatever might be correct, they are worth keeping an eye out for. Some are often sharp and need to be cooked, some are sweeter and can be eaten raw.


Yew (Taxus baccata) is one of 3 conifers native to the British Isles and is most common in the south; it’s also common in churchyards throughout the British Isles. Whilst we refer to the yew having a berry, it isn’t a true fruit but in fact a modified cone called an aril. All parts of yew are toxic with the exception of the berry – but not the seed inside, which is toxic. The aril is glutinous and quite sweet.

Guelder rose

Guelder rose (Viburnum opulus) is common throughout the British Isles preferring heavy soil; it’s scarce where we are but there are the odd one or two about. The berries contain Vitamin C but they must be cooked before you eat them. Even then there are some reports of people suffering from diarrhoea and/or vomiting after consuming.


Not much to say about blackberries really, other than that they are delicious!

Toxic berries

It would be remiss to not include toxic berries, here’s some of them.


Honeysuckle (Lonicera) is a vine like plant and consists of around 100 species that are found in the northern hemisphere.

The berries aren’t always red and can vary in colour including white, yellow, blue and black.

The berries on some species are toxic and can cause vomiting, diarrhea, sweats, dilated pupils and increased heartbeat. If ingested in large quantities, the berries can cause respiratory failure, convulsions and coma. According to the Toxicological Centres in Berlin and Zurich, you need to eat around 30 berries for the minor symptoms to appear.


Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) is a UK native tree, although the name Dogwood is given to around 60 species in the family. They can be found in most temperate zones of the northern hemisphere.

I’ve read mixed reports on the toxicity of Cornus sanguinea, with claims that they are toxic and can cause vomiting to claims that they’ve been eaten with no ill effect, although they are very bitter (this later claim is confirmed in The Colour Atlas of Poisonous Plants by Frohne and Pfander, which also notes that there are no reports of poisoning from eating the berries).

I’ve never tried them and due to this uncertainty put them in the ‘leave alone’ category.


Tutsan (Hypericum androsaemum) is a member of the St John’s Wort family. All parts of the plant are toxic due to the presence of hypericin which can cause nausea and diarrhoea; the berries are especially toxic.

Lords & Ladies

Lords & Ladies (Arum maculatum) contain calcium oxalate crystals which can irritate the skin and cause inflamation and blistering. I’ve bitten into a leaf to see what would happen; immeadiately my tongue and lips started to tingle so I spat it out again. But the tingling lasted for several hours before fading away with no other effects. I’m led to believe the same thing happens with the berries. Eating large quantities of this plant can cause severe gastro-enteritis ending in coma and death.


Bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara) creeps and crawls its way through the hedgerows.

The berries contain solanine, a toxic alkaloid. Symptoms of solanine poisoning include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and burning of the throat; these symptoms can take up to 19 hours to manifest. In more severe cases, hallucinations, paralysis, fever, jaundice and death have been reported. You can die from eating moderate quantities of solanine (6mg/kg body weight).

It’s worth noting that the amount of solinine is highest when the berries are green and decreases as the berries ripen until they only contain traces of solinine. Fatal cases are extremely rare.


Holly (Illex aquifolium) is a deciduous tree that retains its leaves in the winter. Most of us are familiar with its spiny leaves and red berries. It’s a member of a large genus of around 480 species that have a wide distribution. Eating of the berries has been most frequently reported in children. I’ve seen a few claims that eating more than 20 berries is fatal in children but have been unable to find the source of this claim and in fact information on the toxicity of holly berries is scarce. It is thought that the berries contains a digitalis like chemical as well as triterpene compounds. Symptoms are abdominal pains, vomitting and diarrhea; there are no recorded cases of death in modern literature.

Black Bryony

Black bryony (Dioscorea communis sometimes referred to as Tamus communis) conatin calcium oxylate (similar to Lords & Ladies discussed below) and touching the leaves and stems can cause irritation of the skin. Eating the berries can induce severe irritation of the stomach and intestines, seizures and kidney failure. See the section above on rosehips for a photo.


Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) will grow all over the British Isles but has a preference for chalky soils and seems to like the edges of woods and hedgerows. It‘s leaves are similar to Dogwood but the fruits are unmistakable.

Due to the colour and shape of the berries they are especially attractive to children and many cases of eating them have been recorded. Fortunately in recent times only cases involving mild poisoning have been recorded. Symptoms include severe diarrhea and fever; these symptoms can take 8 – 15 hours to manifest themselves.

As a reminder on berries you can and can’t eat:

I haven’t included photos of all of these trees and plants so you’ll need to do a little more identification still, but as a summary this should be useful.

Edible red berries

Toxic red berries

Edible black berries

Toxic black berries

Hawthorn Bittersweet Elder Ivy
Rowan Bryony Damson Tutsan
Whitebeam Holly Sloes Nightshade
Rosehips Wayfaring Tree Billberry Dogwood (inedible)
Cherry Spindle Blackberries
Sea buckthorn Honeysuckle (some species)
Guelder rose (when cooked) Lords & Ladies
Yew (but not the seed inside)

We look at many of these fruits and berries on our 1 day foraging course.

You can see loads of photos from the day, as well as from all of our courses, on our Facebook page.

Like Loading…

Advice on Growing Strawberries

I want to plant some strawberries in my garden. This will be the first time I have grown strawberries in my zone 5 garden. Can you give me any advice?

Proper soil preparation is always critical for gardening success. This is even more important when growing perennial plants that live for several years in the same location. Add two to four inches of organic matter to the top 6 to 12 inches of soil. You can also mix in a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer when preparing the soil prior to planting.

Select strawberries suited to your climate. June bearing strawberries produce berries for 2 to 3 weeks in June followed by lots of runners. Sparkle, Honeoye and Kent are June bearing types. Everbearing strawberries such as Ozark Beauty and Ogallala produce a spring, summer and fall crop of fruit and very few runners. The Day-neutral plants such as Tristar and Tribute bear fruit throughout the summer and send out very few runners. The Everbearing and Day-neutral types are good choices for small space gardeners.

Next decide on the growing method. Some gardeners prefer the matted row system. They find it low maintenance and suitable for June bearing strawberries. With this method you will plant the strawberries 14 to 24 inches apart in rows 36 inches apart. Allow the runners to develop creating rows 12 to 15 inches wide. The hill method works well for the Everbearing and Day-Neutral plants. This system allows you to maximize the harvest in a small space. You will create small beds of strawberries by planting three rows 12 inches apart in each bed. Leave 30 to 36 inches between each bed. Remove the runners as soon as they appear. Over time you allow new plants to take over as the older plants decline with age.

1. Biloxi (Zones 8-10)

4 2-Inch ‘Biloxi’ Plants, available on Amazon

This Southern Highbush type is a relatively new cultivar, developed at Mississippi State University. And it’s great for low-chill or even no-chill environments.

That’s right – even if you live in a growing zone without enough nights with temperatures below freezing to grow other types of fruit, ‘Biloxi’ may do well in your climate. It actually grows better with under 150 chill hours per season, though you can still expect some fruit if you plant it in a cooler climate.

With a vigorous growth habit and medium-sized berries that are ready to harvest early in the season, plant in acidic soil amended with pine mulch and peat, in an area with full sun.

2. Bluecrop (Zones 4-7)

Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Bluecrop’ in 5-Inch Containers, available from Nature Hills

The most popular variety in the world!

An upright, open growing, spreading Northern Highbush variety, you can expect ‘Bluecrop’ to grow at a medium speed, with a mature height around 5 to 6 feet and a spread of 4-6 feet.

With a medium growth rate, green leaves that change to red on red stems in the fall provide ornamental appeal through the winter. Most importantly, the firm, medium-sized light blue fruit is known for its excellent flavor, and berries are resistant to cracking.

You can expect consistent yields and continuous production from this mid-season cultivar, which produces flowers starting in May, and a harvest by early August.

This type prefers organically rich soil, with constant moisture and good drainage, and is known to succeed in areas of the garden where other edibles struggle. Known for its disease resistance, ‘Bluecrop’ is drought tolerant when mature.

This variety is known for having shallow roots, so work carefully if you are doing any cultivation or tending to other plantings in the area.

3. Blueray (Zones 4-7)

2 ‘Blueray’ Plants in 4-Inch Pots, available on Amazon

With sweet, light blue berries that begin to ripen in early to mid-July, this Northern Highbush cultivar is known as a great type to plant with other highbush types for cross-pollination.

Green foliage turns scarlet in the fall, with a 5-6 foot maximum height and 3 to 4-foot spread.

The mid-season ‘Blueray’ berries are known for being crack resistant, with a strong blueberry flavor and aroma, and firm flesh. This variety is known for overproducing, which means it will naturally set an abundance of fruit that can stress the plant, so it needs to be pruned regularly and carefully.

4. Brightwell (Zones 6-9)

V. virgatum ‘Brightwell’ in #1 or #5 Containers, available from Nature Hills Nursery

This is one of the larger cultivars, growing to a max height of 8-10 feet with an almost equal spread, and large berries. A rabbiteye type, meaning it has berries that change in shade from pink to blue as they mature.

You can expect large harvests from this self-fruiting variety – so you can plant just one if you wish, though you can always expect higher yields with a buddy to cross pollinate. Tifblue or Climax are recommended.

Many cultivars require attentive mulching and soil amendment, but this variety isn’t as picky, and is hardy in the face of late freezes.

‘Brightwell’ can tolerate partial sun, though full sun is always best for fruit-bearing plants. It produces attractive pink flowers, and green foliage that will turn shades of red and orange in the fall.

5. Legacy (Zones 5-8)

4 ‘Legacy’ Rooted Starts, available on Amazon

This Northern Highbush variety is known for the sweetness and excellent taste of its large berries, according to the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station of the USDA.

Leaves turn crimson in the fall, and the disease-resistant plants can reach max heights over 6 feet at maturity, with a spread of 3-6 feet.

With high yields and a late mid-season harvest, ‘Legacy‘ fruit stores well, and plants exhibit vigorous, upright growth. It will even keep some of its leaves through mild winters, for added garden interest.

6. Pink Icing (Zones 5-10)

Vacinnium ‘ZF06-079’ plants in 2-Gallon Pots, available on Amazon

With a mature height of 3-4 feet and an upright mounded spread 4-5 feet, the blue berries are ready for harvest mid-season, and known for their robust flavor.

New growth in the spring adds ornamental interest, with leaves in varying shades pink, mixed with blue and dark green, and an attractive turquoise blue hue in winter.

‘Pink Icing’ grows best in full sun, but can tolerate some shade. Relatively low maintenance, you won’t have to do a lot of pruning with this self-pollinating dwarf variety. And grown under the right conditions, the fast-growing plants can live for 20 years.

7. Pink Popcorn (Zones 4-8)

V. corymbosum ‘MNPINK’ in 3.5-Inch Containers, available from Nature Hills Nursery

One of the more unusual cultivars, these blueberries are actually pink when mature, with the same flavor that you’re used to. And they freeze well, too.

Reaching 4-5 feet in height and spread when mature, ‘Pink Popcorn’ is a compact Northern Highbush variety that prefers peaty, acidic soil and even moisture. This cultivar grows at a medium speed, with white flowers and dark green foliage that turns red in the fall.

Fruit is ready for harvest early to mid-season, and you can expect a lot of berries from these hardy plants. They are easy to care for, disease resistant, and self-pollinating.

8. Powder Blue (Zones 6-9)

V. ashei ‘Powder Blue’ in #1 containers, available from Nature Hills

With a mature height and spread of 6-10 feet, ‘Powder Blue’ is a hardy cultivar with an upright growth habit and medium growth rate.

White flowers bloom in late spring to early summer, which provides added protection from late freezes. And green foliage changes to red and yellow in the fall.

This is a rabbiteye type is regarded as sweeter than other varieties, with harvests later in the season than you’ll find with other cultivars. Expect a high yield of large, light blue fruit in clusters of up to 50 berries each, perfect for canning. They also hold up well to freezer storage.

Generally long lived, plant ‘Powder Blue’ with other cultivars for cross-pollination.

9. Sunshine Blue (Zones 5-10)

V. corymbosum ‘Sunshine Blue’ in #1 Containers, available from Nature Hills

This cultivar stands out in terms of ornamental value, with pink flowers in the spring, and attractive blue-green foliage that turns burgundy red in the fall. Not to mention the sweet and delicious medium-sized fruit that’s ready for a mid- to late season harvest in late July and August.

A dwarf Southern Highbush variety, ‘Sunshine Blue’ grows to a maximum height and spread of 3-4 feet. It’s easy to prune, and can even be grown in containers, so it’s perfect for small space gardeners).

‘Sunshine Blue’ can tolerate a variety of soils (as long as they drain well) and even some shade, though full sun is preferred for maximum yields. Plant with another variety to keep your bases covered, for cross-pollination.

This cultivar is said to tolerate soil with a high pH better than other varieties, and it’s known for vigorous growth in warmer climates, with an upright, compact habit.

10. Top Hat (Zones 4-7)

Vaccinium ‘Top Hat’ in 5-Inch Containers, available from Nature Hills

Developed at Michigan State University with a half-high growth habit, at maturity you can expect ‘Top Hat’ to reach a total height of 18-24 inches, with a spread of 1-2 feet. With white flowers in the spring, its leathery green leaves turn shades of bronze in the fall.

These petite plants are great for small spaces, and can be grown in pots – we’ve even heard that some gardeners have experimented with trimming this cultivar into a tidy decorative bonsai! ‘Top Hat’ can also be grown as a border plant.

Though they prefer full sun, ‘Top Hat’ plants can tolerate partial shade, and they will grow at a medium speed in well-drained soil.

This self-pollinating dwarf variety can be grown on its own, and despite its small size, it produces full-size berries that are ready for harvest in July and August.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *