Tom's Blog

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Plants with berries

This is the time of year when berries are ripe on a lot of berry-forming plants. Many of these are colorful and stand out. Among those I saw today were spikenard (Aralia racemosa), bittersweet (Celastris scandens), prickly ash (Xanthoxyllum americanum), and carrion flower (Smilax herbacea). Photos of the last three are shown here.

Carrion flower does not have an especially attractive name, but its clusters of intensely blue-black berries are fairly attractive. I once had a florist ask me where he could find plants that he could collect, as he thought they would be attractive additions to floral arrangements. Carrion flower is a monocot, in the cat-brier family. According to Cochrane and Iltis, carrion flower is very rare in Wisconsin. That certainly is not our experience, as it is widespread at both Pleasant Valley Conservancy and Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie. It is a vine but if there is nothing vertical nearby it will sprawl out on the ground.

Bittersweet is a vine which will climb any vertical surface. Before our south-facing slope was cleared of trees, we used to see it climbing buckthorn, honeysuckle, or other exotic shrubs. Our south slope is shrub-free and constitutes a short-grass prairie, but we still have bittersweet, although now it sprawls all over the ground. It is another plant that flower arrangers like, since both its leaves and berries are attractive. There is also a nonnative Oriental bittersweet which is fairly invasive. Fortunately, we do not have that species here, although it has invaded many areas. (You can distinguish the two species by the position of the berries. The native species has the berries at the ends of branches, as the photo here shows, while the invasive exotic has them along the stems.)

Prickly ash is a native shrub that is a fierce clone-former and potentially invasive. Even though it is native, we consider it undesirable because of its tendency to dominate an area. (Interestingly, it is considered ENDANGERED in several southern and eastern states!) Its berries are favorites of giant swallowtail butterflies as well as some bird species, so we have intentionally left a few clones at the edges of the Conservancy.


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