Late Summer Berries


Late Summer Berries

Unlike the most commonly planted exotic shrubs such as lilac, forsythia, and spirea, our native shrubs bear bountiful crops of berries in late summer or early fall.  The colorful fruit is a delightful feature in itself, but even better, it attracts a myriad of fruit-eating birds.  Birds need a diet of high fat berries for energy as they begin their flight to the south.

The Dogwood (Cornus) family is exceptionally attractive to many kinds of birds.  The Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) is well known throughout the Midwest for its striking red stems in the winter landscape.  We don’t take much notice of the inconspicuous white berries that it produces in summer, but birds devour them quickly.

gray dogwood berries

Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa), common along fencerows and woodland edges, has white berries on red pedicels (stalk of a single flower in a cluster) in August.  The berries are relished by an abundance of birds, especially robins and bluebirds.  When the berries are devoured, the conspicuous pedicels remain on the shrub until late fall-early winter.

Another shrubby dogwood, the Silky or Blue-fruited Dogwood (Cornus obliqua) produces showy, lustrous cobalt blue fruits in late summer.  A common inhabitant of wet areas, along stream banks, and in marshes and fens, it grows up to 8’ tall.  Its fruit is a choice food of robins, thrushes, brown thrashers, and catbirds.

The creamy white, flat-topped June flowers of the Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), a small tree, produce clusters of blue-black fruit in August, which is soon devoured by bluebirds, catbirds, northern flickers, robins, wood thrushes, veeries, and red-headed woodpecker,

elderberry berres

The summer-blooming, showy, lacy, creamy white flat-topped blossoms of Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) turn into luscious purple berries in August.  The ripe berries can be made into preserves, jellies, pies, or wine, as those of us old enough to remember “Arsenic and Old Lace” know.  Plant this near a window where you can view the many birds it will attract in late summer such as brown thrasher, thrush, veery, cedar waxwing, and many species of woodpecker.

Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina), a tree, and Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana), more shrublike, are commo.n in woodlands and woodland edges, and along fencerows and roadsides.  The fruit of both begin scarlet in mid-August; then quickly turn to purplish black.  Both are extremely popular with a myriad of birds—bluebirds, robins, bobwhites, cardinals, catbirds, crows, northern flickers, grosbeaks, ruffed grouse, blue jays, orioles, white-throated sparrows, starlings, brown thrashers, wood thrushes, veeries, vireos, cedar waxwings, and various woodpeckers all consider the fruit to be choice.

rose hips

Clusters of shiny red hips adorn native roses–this is Illinois Rose (Rosa setigera).  Rich in vitamin C, rose hips have been, and still are, used to make teas and syrups.  Persistent through the winter, they attract returning robins in the spring.

rioe gooseberriesA bird planted this unknown Gooseberry (Ribes) species next to my south-facing front porch where it is thriving.  The berries start out green, then urn red in August.  They are a choice food of robin, brown thrasher, and cedar waxwing.

arrowwood berries

 The berries of the native Viburnum genus are a choice food of eastern bluebird and cedar waxwing, and  a fair food of cardinals, robins, and starlings.  This is Arrowwood Viburnum (Viburnum dentatum).
Black Haw

Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium) berries turn from  green to pink to black.  While the trees are dioecious and flower abundantly,  they need two or more trees in order to produce berries.  Cardinals and cedar waxwings are particularly fond of the fruit.

virginia creeper berries 2

Virginia Creeper or Woodbine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) berries.  Many people look upon Woodbine as  a weed, but numerous species of birds  are attracted to the fruit such as eastern bluebird, catbird, yellow-shafted flicker,  eastern kingbird. mockingbird, robin, yellow-bellied sapsucker, brown thrasher, and many species of woodpecker.


All the information on bird preferences came from Attracting Birds: from the Prairie to the Atlantic by Verne E. Davison, published in 1967.




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8 Responses to Late Summer Berries

  1. Marcia August 28, 2016 at 6:38 pm #

    Thank you for this compact reference to native shrubs. You have helped with my next shrub buying spree!!

  2. Patty August 28, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

    Although I witnessed several types of birds as well as our chipmunks feasting on our service berry scrub earlier this summer (the berries have no chance to ripen due to the race by these competitors to eat them, ripe or not), I really had no idea of how many different berries from native plants attract and nurture such a variety of birds! It is fascinating. Thank you very much for enlightening me.

    • PatHill August 28, 2016 at 10:00 pm #

      Living in a wooded area with a stream, you should have a lot of birds. Maybe you should add some more berried shrubs in sight of your windows.

  3. sue Harney August 29, 2016 at 11:49 am #

    I’ve never noticed berries on Virginia Creeper. I think the birds take them before they are ripe…just like the Pagoda Dogwood.

  4. sharon cross August 29, 2016 at 6:49 pm #

    Both my Virginia Creeper and Pagoda Dogwood had lots of berries this year.
    Caution: Virginia Creeper is poisonous to people.

  5. Suzanne Massion August 30, 2016 at 11:54 am #

    Pat, thanks for the “berry” blog. We’ve got the pagodas,thanks to the 4″ plants Day Waterman dug up for us years ago. Now I’m finding them occasionally throughout the woods. Lots of grey dogwood colonies (have to control them), some blue-fruited clumps. We’ve let groups of Elderberries alone for the birds, but they can take over also. I have to pay more attention to Virginia Creeper because I’ve never seen their berries. We planted the Nanny Berry viburnum in some open areas of the woods and they’re spreading. I’m already seeing the migrating warblers passing through on their way south. Female American Redstart showed up yesterday at the bird bath. Yaaay Autumn!

  6. Jason August 31, 2016 at 9:22 pm #

    It’s amazing how fast the Gray Dogwood berries disappear. I planted two chokecherry this spring – I hope they grow fast!

    • Pat Hill September 1, 2016 at 9:45 am #

      I think they will.

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