Category Archives: Shrubs

Winter Shrub ID: Beaked Hazelnut

Photo of Beaked Hazelnut catkins

There are few New England shrub species who have flower catkins on winter twigs. Among those who do include Sweetgale (Myrica gale), Sweet-fern, Speckled Alder, American Hazelnut, and the shrub featured here, Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta). It won't be long before these male flower catkins elongate and release their pollen, but for now they wait. The closely related American Hazelnut (C. americana) typically has longer catkins, hairier twigs, and blunter end buds vs. the short catkins, mostly hairless twigs, and more pointed end buds of Beaked Hazelnut. Both species have bark marked with light-colored lenticels. You can increase your chances of finding the edible nuts of Beaked Hazelnut by learning to recognize this species year-round in your local landscape. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Fall Shrub ID: American Witch-hazel

Photo of American Witch-hazel flowers

I know of no native woody species who blooms later in the calendar year than American Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana). While flowering occurs in October and November, fruit capsules don't develop until the following growing season. These fuzzy capsules eventually split open, launching their small seeds a short distance. American Witch-hazel is most conspicuous when in full bloom, but even after blooming, the plant can be recognized by persisting sepals, persisting open fruit capsules, and distinctive naked buds (see Winter Shrub ID: American Witch-hazel). This arching shrub or small tree lives in the understory of many New England forests. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Bog Plants: Mountain Holly

Photo of Mountain Holly

Finding the inconspicuous greenish-white flowers of Mountain Holly (Ilex mucronata, formerly Nemopanthus mucronatus) in late-spring, you'd hardly imagine their transformation to bright red fruits. The fleshy drupes ripen in mid-to-late summer and hang on long, thin pedicels. Though not a target food for human foragers, the fruits do provide important nourishment for certain furred and feathered foragers. Mountain Holly grows not only in bogs and fens but also in alpine areas and on the margins of lakes and streams. (To view the following images in full-size, click here.)

Foraging Wild Fruit: Velvet-leaved Blueberry

Photo of Velvet-leaved Blueberry

This weekend, I had the pleasure of finding Velvet-leaved Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides) growing alongside other Blueberry species in the understory of a mixed hardwood/conifer forest here in southern Maine.

Photo of Velvet-leaved Blueberry branchlet

The leaves and branchlets of this native shrub are covered in short hairs, and the tiny bud scales have pointed tips. These features can be seen with the naked eye but are worth examining with a hand lens. Tasting the fruit, I detected a slight sourness, which paired well with some of the sweeter, neighboring berries.

Photo of Velvet-leaved Blueberry handful

Foraging Wild Fruit: Blueberry

Photo of Blueberries

July and August are prime blueberry picking months here in Maine. Did you know there are nine species of Blueberries in New England? All are classified in the genus Vaccinium along with three species of Cranberries -- Large (V. macrocarpon), Small (V. oxycoccos), and Mountain (V. vitis-idaea) -- and a shrub with supposedly (I've never tried it) cranberry-flavored fruit called Deerberry (V. stamineum).

In 2013 (during my Wild Berry Butterfly Moon Challenge), I wrote about the four most widespread blueberry species in New England: Common Lowbush Blueberry (V. angustifolium), Highbush Blueberry (V. corymbosum), Hillside Blueberry (V. pallidum), and Black Highbush Blueberry (V. fuscatum).

Another four species are largely restricted to northern New England where they often grow at high elevations: Northern Blueberry (V. boreale), Dwarf Blueberry (V. cespitosum), Velvet-leaved Blueberry (V. myrtilloides), and Alpine Blueberry (V. uliginosum). One final species, known as New Jersey Highbush Blueberry (V. caesariense), occurs locally in coastal wetlands.

You can learn more and see dozen of photos of these Vaccinium species at Go Botany. Of course, it doesn't matter which species of Blueberry you gather; it simply matters that you get out and enjoy some of these blue fruits of summer.

I've already visited a loaded patch that family members introduced me to last year, and have enjoyed handfuls of sun-ripened goodness. Have you checked your patches yet?