The Fruits of Winter – Winterberries


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The sun travels lower in the sky
Night wins over day
The earth frozen to beaks and paws
It’s long winter sleep for some
For some, cocoons are spun, eggs laid
Others resting under the leaves of a fall’s passing
Or under the bark of trees
Or bottom of ponds
Thou others must find their way
Day by day
It always the search for food, warmth and shelter
No leaves, no insects
Only with the fruits of winter may they survive

Photo above is a Female Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) it is a deciduous holly that is native to eastern North America that grows in average, acidic, medium to wet soils in full sun to part shade. Adaptable to both light and heavy soils, but prefers moist, acidic, organic loams. Good tolerance for poorly drained soils including wet boggy or swampy conditions

Winterberry like other hollies have incomplete flowers (dioecious) where male and female flowers are on separate plants

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Male Flower

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Female Flower

When I worked at nursery I used to tell customers when looking at flower to ID, think of belly buttons indies (male) and outies (female)

Also in my forever trying to be funny, when a customer asked how to do you tell a plants’ sex, I would pick up the potted plant and turn over and say “oh it’s a male or female”, just like you do with a puppy

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“The fruits of the native hollies, like winterberry, ripen late and are what ecologists call poor-quality fruits. They don’t contain a lot of nutrients (they especially lack fats and oils). They also contain some compounds that can make them taste bad to the birds. Most fruits produce these bad tasting compounds; they are what keeps animals from eating fruits until they are ripe. Usually the compounds break down and are gone by the time the fruit ripens, but in the hollies it takes longer for them to fully break down. So they’re not eaten by migrating birds; they prefer fruits packed with sugars, fats, and oils that provide energy for their flights. Plus, holly berries still don’t taste very good during the fall, during migration. But the bad tasting compounds do slowly break down, and the fruits get gradually get more palatable. At the same time, winter wears on, and winter birds must take whatever food is available, even if it’s not very nutritious. At some point, the holly berries start to look pretty good and the birds willingly eat them.
No one knows for sure what purpose this alternate timeline serves the holly plants, but there are a few good ideas. Since so many other plants ripen their fruits in time for migration, the hollies avoid competition by waiting longer. It also takes energy and resources to make highly nutritious fruits. By waiting until the birds are a little less choosy, hollies get their seeds dispersed without having to put all that energy into reproduction.”

It has also been said the as the berries stay on the plants and going thru freezing and thawing they can ferment and birds or animals eating the berries can become intoxicated

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