University of Illinois Extension

Autumn Berries on Shrubs

Anyone familiar with gardening and the outdoors appreciates the color and vibrancy fall brings to the garden and landscape, said a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.

“When selecting plants for fall beauty, people often look at fall foliage color,” said Matt Kostelnick. “Indeed, leaf color adds to the character of the landscape and season. However, there are other exciting sources of fall color and beauty beyond leaf color, including fruits—typically berries.”

Berries and other fruits on shrubs come in many different shapes, colors, and sizes. They often appear on shrubs after blooming in mid to late summer and remain on the shrubs through fall and sometimes into winter.

“Some berries are quite showyand others are hardly noticeable,” he said. “In some cases, the berries disappear before you ever get to enjoy them due to birds eating them quickly.

“Birds and other wildlife benefit from the berries as an important source of food, particularly in the fall.”
A potential tradeoff of shrubs that produce attractive berries for fall--as opposed to those that don’t--is the sacrifice of larger, more ostentatious blooms in spring and summer.

Shrubs in the genus Viburnum are common in Illinois and make a great addition to a landscape. Viburnums are highly desirable in a landscape because they have attractive foliage, blooms, fruits, and are relatively easy to grow in most gardens. There are about 225 species of Viburnums.

“This wide variety of Viburnum species provides ample latitude in finding the perfect one for you,”Kostelnick said. “Viburnums bloom in spring and produce fruit in late summer. This fruit can remain on the shrub well into fall, but can also be picked by humans or birds for consumption.

“Fruits on Viburnums are typically red to blue-black in color. Viburnums to consider for fall fruit include: Viburnum dentatum (Arrowwood Viburnum), Viburnum lantana (Wayfaring tree Viburnum), Viburnum trilobum (American Cranberrybush Viburnum), and Viburnum dilatatum (Linden Viburnum).

Common Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), as the name implies, is great for fall/winter berries. Winterberry is in the genus Ilex (which includes Hollies) and is typically planted in masses or as a screen.
“Winterberry develops red berries in late summer/early fall that stay on well into winter,” he said. “With Ilex species, berries are produced on female plants. In order to get berries, male plants are necessary to pollinate the female plants.”

For different colors of berries, consider the following cultivars: for orange fruit ‘Aurantiaca’; for yellow fruit ‘Chrysocarpa’; for red fruit, ‘Cacopon’, ‘Fairfax’, Shaver’, and ‘Winter Red’. A very close relative of Winterberry is Possum Haw (Ilex deciduas). Possom Haw can tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions and planting sites. For lots of bright red berries, consider the cultivar ‘Warren’s Red’ or ‘Byer’s Golden’ for yellow fruit. For hollies, consider the Meserve Hybrid Holly (Ilex x meserveae), an evergreen holly that is cold hardy for Illinois. The Meserve Hybrid Hollies consist of numerous cultivars to choose from.

Dogwoods (genus Cornus), another common ornamental shrub in Illinois, offers a wide variety of autumn and winter beauty. Dogwoods offer a variety of beauty in their leaves, flowers, fruits, and stems. Pagoda Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) is an easy Dogwood to grow that produces bluish-black fruit on red stalks. Note, however, that birds snatch the fruit quickly.

“If you’ve had shrubs with berries, but the birds seem to eat them before you get to enjoy them, consider Chokeberry shrubs (genus Aronia),” he recommended.” Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is a shrub that can get three to six feet in height, tolerates most soils and conditions, and produces larger, attractive purplish-black fruit in late summer that remains in the fall with red fall foliage.

“Black Chokeberry cultivars to consider include: ‘Autumn Magic’ and the compact ‘Morton’. For red-colored berries, consider Red Chokeberry cultivar ‘Brilliantissima’ for larger fruit.

“If you’ve got some space and want to try something a little different, you might consider Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) in your landscape,” he said. “These can grow up to 25 feet in height and width. These shrubs have unique foliage and fruit--which are actually drupes--that will definitely stand out.

“Fall foliage can vary from yellow to orange to red. The interesting-looking, furry fruit develops on female plants in summer and remains until winter and possibly into spring.”

Male and female plants are needed in order to produce fruit. Two common cultivars are ‘Dissecta’ and ‘Laciniata’. Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) offers purple color in the foliage in fall.