Not all blueberries are alike. In fact, not all blueberries are blue. While out looking for Black Raspberries last week, I bumped into Black Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium fuscatum). Fruit color and the absence of bloom on the berries are two clues which separate this species from the more well-known Highbush Blueberry (V. corymbosum). V. fuscatum flowers a week or two earlier than V. corymbosum, and, if this year is representative, the earlier flowering leads to earlier fruiting. Ripe fruit of either shrub are a forager's welcome surprise.
Black Raspberries (Rubus occidentalis) tend to ripen over the course of a few weeks, starting in late June in southern New England or early to mid July in northern New England. Good thing, because if they ripened all at once I'd probably make myself sick. They may be smaller than most cultivated berries, but their flavor is unmatched. (Note: I've previously discussed how to recognize this plant in winter.)
By the end of June here in New England, Mulberry (Morus sp.) trees are busy ripening fruit to feed birds and mammals alike. Last week, Kate St. John of Pennsylvania wrote of Mulberry's prolific nature and the tendency of planted trees to drop squishable fruit along walking paths (see Mulberries Underfoot). Several years ago, I found my first Mulberry crop with my shoes. If you happen to notice mushy berries underfoot, look up. Ripe fruit varies in color depending on the particular kind of Mulberry you find, ranging from light pink to dark purplish-black. Regardless of type, Mulberries are ripe when they are plump, juicy, and fall easily from the tree.
Eastern Spicy-wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is an evergreen subshrub of the forest floor. The plant's leathery leaves grow clustered on short upright stems. The red, pea-sized fruit dangles from the center in bunches or singly, as is the case above. The fruit is edible, if a bit mealy, with a minty flavor. The leaves, when chopped up and steeped as a tea, or simply nibbled, release a similarly pleasant flavor. Other common names for Gaultheria procumbens include Checkerberry, Teaberry, and Spiceberry. This subshrub can be distinguished from Partridge-berry in that the latter features smaller, oppositely-arranged leaves and fruit with a distinct pair of "eyes".
A common evergreen groundcover in the pine and oak forests near my home is a plant called Partridge-berry (Mitchella repens). This subshrub is recognized by mats of paired, white-veined leaves and sparse red fruits that ripen in summer but can persist into the following year. Each fruit has two small eye-like depressions -- lasting evidence of the paired flowers that preceded fruiting. Though essentially tasteless, these small fleshy drupes are edible. I often sample one or two when I encounter a healthy population.