We all know the old adage, “April showers bring May flowers,” but what do May flowers bring? Berries! Each summer, longer days and lots of rain transform southwest Florida’s woodlands and urban landscapes into a colorful cornucopia thrilling the palates of dozens of species of birds and other animals.
Berries are the mechanism used by many plants for spreading their seeds. The soft, fleshy covering of the seed, also known as fruit, is usually tastier than the seed itself, which is how some plants brilliantly lure unsuspecting assistants in dispersal. When the fruit is consumed, seeds within pass through the consumer, often generating a new plant wherever it “goes.”
Many species of native plants are fruiting right now. American beautyberry (Callicarpa Americana) is one of Florida’s showiest native plants. Shiny purple berries grow in clusters along the plant stems from July through year’s end, providing a food source for mockingbirds, brown thrashers, and several small mammals well into winter.
Vines climb from low to high, and ripening now is Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). This vine is often mistaken for poison ivy, and while it doesn’t cause skin irritation the berries are toxic to people. Conversely, northern cardinal, Eastern bluebird, woodpeckers, and even squirrel and deer, will happily consume the dark blue berries with no adverse effect.
Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine) is an attractive native tree that is often used as an ornamental. It is “sexually dimorphic” meaning that male and female flowers are found on separate plants. Its orange or red berries serve quail and turkey.
Growing from high to low is a very interesting native plant called strangler fig (ficus aurea). Often deposited by birds in the tops of cabbage palms and other trees, the sprouting fig sends aerial roots down to the ground and eventually surrounds its host’s trunk seemingly “strangling” it. The crown of leaves shading out the host’s own foliage is actually what does the host in over time. Edible fruits mature throughout the year,
Although Florida is most often regarded as the winter place to be for birds, native summer berries feed many year-round avian species and other animals, ensuring a new crop of plants in the coming spring. Check the slideshow to see more berries. For more information on native plants and the birds that eat them, check these links: