The Berry Truth

by | Nov 1, 2003 | Native Plants

ALTHOUGH MANY NATIVE PLANTS PRODUCE BERRIES that are highly sought out as a food source by birds and other wildlife, not all retain their fruit throughout the winter season, a time when food may be scarce for most species. Including plants with lingering fruit will not only add interest and structure to your winter landscape but will provide an inviting natural habitat for many winter residents.

“Native shrubs provide a great benefit to wildlife,” explains Rose Paul, director of science and stewardship with the Vermont chapter of The Nature Conservancy. “This is food they have adapted to and prefer.” Since the berries of exotic species often provide birds little or no nutritional value, incorporating plants native to your area and suitable for your site is better in the long-run. “When you have alien plants in your yard, you are essentially offering birds junk food,” Paul says.

Native berry-producing plants also provide an interesting design element to a new or existing landscape. Although the primary reason many people include these plants is to attract wildlife, like other ornamental trees and shrubs they have secondary value as an accent or focal point, or for function, such as shade or to create a privacy screen.

“If you are interested in expanding your plant palette to incorporate fruit or berry-producing plants, aesthetics are not separate from that which makes any garden pleasing,” says Jill Nokes, owner of Jill Nokes Landscape Design in Austin, Texas. “An interesting garden has something going on at all times of the year “berries, flowers, fruit, or foliage.”

Choosing Your Plants. “Choose plants adapted to your location, conditions, and rainfall,” Nokes says. “That’s where native plants have the advantage. These plants can be incorporated into a formal- or naturalistic-style garden and will have more impact if used in groupings with plants with similar water and soil requirements. You can layer them from tall shrubs to ground covers with fruit.”

When selecting plants, always consider the planting site and the space the shrub or tree will take up when fully mature. Generally, these berry-producing plants are not xeriscape plants, according to Nokes, but are more suited to a woodland-type garden. Although they can be planted in all parts of the country, in areas like the arid Southwest they will do best when planted in riparian areas.

“When purchasing plants, it’s important that you buy from a local grower,” Nokes adds. “If you are planting in Texas, you don’t want to buy from Florida, which has a different ecotypic variation.”