Add Color to Your Garden with Berry-Producing Plants
Ever since I can remember, I have loved all kinds of berries. In my garden, I carried over my affection to include those that are inedible for humans but are an important part of the diets of many feathered or furred creatures. The term berry as used in this article refers to any small fruit. Berries always contain seeds, are usually round or semi-oblong and can be shiny or dull. Many are brightly colored, and most contrast in color with their background. They come in a seemingly endless palette of hues to add color to your garden well beyond the growing season.
While relatively rare, there are a few plants that produce white berries. The most common is the snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.), a vigorous, deciduous shrub known for its pulpy fruit. White berries can also be found on some shrubby dogwoods such as Tartarian dogwood (Cornus alba) and red osier dogwood (C. sericea), the fruits of which are usually tinged with blue. The drooping clusters of large white berries of mountain ash trees such as Kashmir rowan (Sorbus cashmiriana) and white-fruited rowan (S. glabrescens) remain on the trees until softened by the first frost, after which they’re gobbled up by waxwings and thrushes.
The pulpy-white fruits of the snowberry
Unlike white berries, yellow are quite common. There are several cultivars of crabapple (Malus spp.) with yellow fruit, including ‘Walters’, a cultivar of Siberian crabapples (M. baccata), which is regarded as one of the best producers. Dwarf ‘Lollipop’ and weeping ‘Louisa’ grow apple-shaped amber berries, while ‘Winter Gold’ boasts vibrant-yellow fruit. One of the showiest crabapples during the winter is ‘Harvest Gold’, a vigorous cultivar of the Japanese flowering crabapple (M. floribunda).
Other golden-berried options include ‘Brilliant Yellow’ mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia), with its large clusters of buttercup-yellow fruit. The evergreen American hollies (Ilex opaca) ‘Canary’ and ‘Princeton Gold’ are also interesting options. Yellow and red work surprisingly well together on a woody vine called American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). Initially the berries, from female plants only, are deep yellow and later open to reveal red seeds.
Berries from the American Bittersweet vine
Shades of Orange
Well worth mentioning are the crabapple (Malus spp.) cultivars ‘Coral Cascade’ and ‘John Downie‘. Several mountain ashes (Sorbus aucuparia) including ‘Black Hawk’ produce large orange berries. In my opinion, the best orange-fruiting plant is an evergreen spiny shrub called firethorn (Pyracantha spp.). Its cultivars ‘Teton’, ‘Orange Glow’ and ‘Mohave’ grow clusters of pea-sized berries in such abundance that they cover nearly all of the glossy foliage. The bright-orange berries of sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides), which appear on female plants only, are amazingly persistent. Deciduous European spindle tree (Euonymus europaeus) is known for its reddish-pink berries that open in early fall to reveal bright-orange seeds.
A harmony of fuchsia and orange is seen in the berries of the European spindle tree.
Pink and Red
Pink is a rarity in the berry color palette; however, there are two species of mountain ash with pink fruit. The Chinese kite-leaf mountain ash (Sorbus oligodonta) has clusters of pale to dark pink berries on red stalks, while the pink fruit of the dwarf mountain ash (S. reducta) is diminutive yet still quite ornamental.
Two evergreen, shade-loving groundcovers to mention are wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), which produces bright-red, fleshy, capsule-like berries, and bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), the smallest member of the dogwood family, which produces diminutive shiny red fruit. In addition, many larger deciduous dogwoods, such as flowering dogwood (C. florida) and kousa dogwood (C. kousa), have eye-catching red berries. The fruit of flowering dogwoods is shiny, pointed and held in clusters, while kousa dogwood’s berries resemble raspberries on long stalks. Unfortunately, the fruit of both trees seems to be a real favorite of birds and squirrels.
Berries from flowering dogwood
Holly (Ilex spp.), of course, is well known for its red berries. In addition to dark-green, lustrous, spiny foliage, evergreen hollies offer stalkless, long-lasting, glossy-red berries on female plants only. Several deciduous holly species, such as winterberry holly (I. verticillata) and Japanese winterberry (I. serrata), display fruit that is even more impressive simply because it’s usually not hidden by foliage.
There is an endless list of crabapple cultivars that produce fruit in all shades of red, although sargent crabapple (M. sargentii) and zumi crabapple (Malus x zumi var. calocarpa) and their cultivars are regarded as the best performers. The tiny, spring flowers of the semi-evergreen shrub cotoneaster are attractive, but the cranberry-red berries that follow are its most ornamental feature in my opinion. Unlike cotoneasters, viburnums are mainly grown for their beautiful, fragrant white blooms, but their display of bright-red fruit is also impressive. Old favorites include two cranberry viburnums, V. opulus and V. trilobum. The list of red-berry producers must include the spiny barberry (Berberis spp.). My personal favorite is ‘Rose Glow’ (Berberis thunbergii), which has attractive bi-colored foliage and bears shiny bead-like berries.
The glossy red berries of the Rose Glow barberry
Lavenders and Blues
Beautyberry (Callicarpa spp.) is a deciduous shrub with a truly appropriate name. Its showy summer flowers give way to even showier berries in shades of rich lavender and purple. The luminous fruit appear in heavy clusters and their iridescent color is truly breathtaking.
Blue is not a rarity in the berry color palette. One of the best blue-fruit producers is the compact evergreen David viburnum (V. davidii). Its white spring flowers are followed by metallic-blue, bead-shaped fruit on red stalks. Another evergreen shrub in this group is the picturesque Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium). In early fall, the raisin-sized berries ripen to crown the branches with waxy, dark-bluish fruit.
The vibrant blue berries on the red stalks of a David viburnum make for a spectacular display
Abundant black berries are produced by trees such as the pagoda dogwood (C. alternifolia) and the nannyberry (Viburnum lentago). Both trees send creamy white flowers in spring followed by clusters of black fruit on red stalks. If space is limited, try the Japanese holly (I. crenata), the females of which offer pitch-black berries.
These suggestions are only a few of the long list of berry-producing plants. I hope they inspire you to find some room in your garden for one, or even two, of these colorful season extenders. Perhaps like me you will dedicate a bed to these fruiting wonders, or maybe even the whole garden.
Black berries from the Pagoda Dogwood tree
Gina Dobrodzicka is a freelance writer and trained horticulturist who lives on Vancouver Island.