Autumn berries for your garden palette

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) – a North American native shrub – with glossy black pomes and bright fall foliage

First, to confess. These fruits are highly decorative in the fall garden, but none of them are berries. As botanically defined, berries are fleshy fruits and seeds produced from a single ovary. Currants, blueberries and gooseberries are berries. But so is a tomato – or a watermelon, banana or avocado.

Instead, some of these are pomes – structured like apples. Some are drupes – or pitted fruits like plums. And one is really a decorative capsule containing arils – a seed with its own fleshy coating, like a pomegranate or yew. But you know what I mean by this shorthand term, don’t you?

No matter what you call them, these berry, berry extraordinary fruits can be wonderful additions to your plant list. Which are your favourite “berries” for the fall garden?

This hot-pink cloud of unopened capsules of Asian spindle tree (Euonymus sachalinensis) soon will dangle with red arils
Two native drupes battling for your attention– in the red corner, winterberry (Ilex verticillata); in the purple corner, beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’). Both worthy contenders, don’t you agree? [Ed: I’ve been reminded that while Callicarpa americana is native, C. dichotoma is not. Ilex verticillata, however, still lives up to the native label.]
Native snowberry (Symphoricarpos alba) isn’t a showy berry, er, drupe producer. As you can see, it’s a bit ungainly and that’s typical for the shrub. However, I’ve seen it effectively massed, and it’s one fruit-producing shrub that will grow in shade – even dry shade. Pink-fruited forms are available, called coralberry (S. orbiculatus), that have a similar, lank habit.
But this coralberry hybrid, with the triple-barreled moniker Symphoricarpos x doorembosii ‘Magic Berry’, combines both heavily bearing red-pink fruits and upright form. A good one to look out for, though a little fussier than the species.
Classic fruit-bearing garden plants include the bearberry cotoneaster (Cotoneaster dammeri). Cotoneasters are in the rose family, like apples, so their “berries” are pomes. With so many different cotoneasters, there’s sure to be one for you. Or why not try the plant this plant is named for, our native bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi), which also includes reddish-bronze fall foliage. Their fruits are drupes, emerging in late summer – a favourite of bears, of course.
While somewhat hidden till the leaves drop – the leaves all those candles are perfumed with – bayberry (Myrica pennsylvanica) has the advantage of waxy blue-grey fruits (drupes) that persist on the branches through winter.

All photographs taken at the Toronto Botanical Garden in November 2013, Canadian Z6, USDA Z5.


  1. Are these ALL in your garden? They are wonderful! I have Winterberry (both male and female) but doubt they'll get fruit this year, they are too young. And Beautyberry..ahh, I love it! Mine finally got those amazing purple berries and the robins have been feasting on them! Your Cotoneaster photo shows the beautiful gold of what I think is Amsonia…?! It is currently turning gold here, too:) I used to dislike fall, but with so many things to observe in the garden, it's so much more amazing than I realized…

    1. Jan, I wish I had space for all these babies, but Anonymous above is right. They're all from the wonderful Toronto Botanical Garden. Hope you get to visit both some time.

  2. Hi Helen! We meet again! Thank God for NaBloMoPo … I'm finally getting some momentum on my blogging again! Nuf talking about me. Love your post. Love the berries! Jeannie

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