In late February, abundant berries remain on nandinas (Nandina domestica, above) and many of the hollies (Ilex spp.) in the garden. The uneaten berries are typical, I suppose evidence that these are unappetizing to all but the hungriest birds. Even in years when I’ve been discouraged from stocking the bird feeder due to the growing population of squirrels, most berries ripened and fell to the ground. Berries of the native Winterberry (Ilex verticillata, below) and American holly (Ilex opaca) are plucked early and rarely persist into the new year, but red berries that cloak the branches of other evergreen hollies remain until late winter, when birds nibble a few of the over ripened fruits.
The clusters of red berries of the native dogwood (Cornus florida, below) are quickly consumed as they ripen in late autumn, and the ripened fruit of the Chinese dogwood (Cornus kousa) is often eaten within days of ripening. While hollies bear consistent crops, the number of berries on dogwoods varies year to year.
The small, grape-like fruits of mahonias are favorites of the local birds, though the early winter flowering ‘Winter Sun’ mahonia (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’) rarely sets fruit until early spring. After the flowers of the spring blooming leatherleaf mahonia (Mahonia bealei, below) fade, the berries are often abundant, but rarely persist for the gardener to enjoy.
Fortunately, one berry cherished by birds has been eradicated from the garden. For years, an Oriental bittersweet vine (Celastrus orbiculatus, below) thrived in the tangled thicket that borders the garden, but then the invasive vine leaped from a weedy mulberry to the top of a yellow flowered magnolia (Magnolia acuminata ‘Elizabeth’). With some difficulty the vine was cut out, and though proximity to other shrubs prevented removal of its roots, suckering growth has been fairly easily controlled. I’ve been more conscientious in stocking the feeder, so the birds don’t seem to mind.