Berries, berries, berries! It’s what some flowers ripen into in order to make more flowers.
We especially noticed berries this past fall at Badoura Jack Pine Woodland Scientific and Natural Area (SNA). Most flowers were already bloomed out, but berries were plentiful—blueberry, bearberry, eastern teaberry (also known as wintergreen), snowberry –all thrive in the sandy soil under the open canopy of jack pines. We’ve also seen both large and small cranberry this past year, the large cranberries in a bog and the small cranberries growing abundantly along a trail in the Superior National Forest.
What exactly is a berry? We got as far as learning that all berries are fruit but not all fruit are berries before getting lost among pomes, stones, and aggregates. So we decided that for the purpose of this blog (and definitely unscientifically), berries are native fruit found in the wild with “berry” in their name.
Here are some of the berries we’ve seen in Minnesota this past year.
Two kinds of blueberry, lowbush and velvet-leaf, grow in Minnesota, both with delicate bell-like flowers that ripen into tasty fruit. Blueberries are widespread in northern forests and especially abundant following a fire. A word of warning: it’s best not to fill your hat with blueberries, then, as you hurry not to be left behind by fellow canoeists, clap your hat onto your head, resulting in a net loss of delicious fruit. Trust me. I know.
Minnesota also has three kinds of edible cranberry, and we’ve seen the two low-growing ones in bogs and swamps. Both large cranberry and small cranberry ripen richly red and tartly tasty. Large cranberries, especially, gleam like fat red jewels on a rainy boggish day.
Snowberry comes by its name honestly–small white flowers ripen into small white berries.
Bearberry flowers look like small, delicately pink bells. They grow in dry, sandy, or rocky places over much of the northern half of the state and ripen into red berries. Bears are said to like them, but we can’t testify to this: the only bear we’ve seen lately was in a hurry to cross a road in Wisconsin and not stopping to eat anything. Why was the bear crossing the road? You know the answer.
The app on our phones identified a plant as eastern teaberry, but we’ve always known it as wintergreen when we’ve seen it in the north woods. Its flowers, like other members of the heath family, are bell shaped, and the red fruit when it ripens stands out against the plant’s shiny green leaves.
Bunchberry’s white blossoms, which are actually bracts (modified leaves) with tiny flowers in the center, ripen into bunches of red berries in the forests where it grows throughout much of the state. It’s not a member of the heath family like cranberry, blueberry, eastern teaberry, snowberry, and bearberry, but it is the world’s fastest plant. When a pollinator or wind disturbs its flowers the pollen shoots out in half a millisecond. Luckily for wildlife, the berries hold still.
Winter is here now, and the berries that haven’t been eaten will soon be buried berries, deep under snow. In the dark days before solstice, while we wait for the light to grow longer and next year’s wildflower season to grow nearer, we send you all a wish for joy, peace, an abundance of wildflowers…
…and a berry merry holiday.