Sunday, May 15, 2011

Fruits are Flowering!

Late spring brings out the blossoms on shrubs, trees and bushes of summer berries. This is a good time to identify a patch of wild edibles, and keep your eye out for the highly prized fruits and berries. In most cases, your only competition will be birds and squirrels, and fresh fruits usually freeze well for later use.

ornamental plum flowers
Plum trees (Prunus species) are often planted in cities and in parks as ornamentals. We find them in several store parking lots and in a local riverside park. The fruit is usually ignored, falling to the ground and rotting, but we don't mind gathering from low-traffic areas. Beach plums (Prunus maritima) may not have flowered yet, but will soon. They prefer the sandy soil of the dunes, and are cold hardy and salt-tolerant. We find them along the shoreline in southeastern Massachusetts in late August. Flowers on plum trees grow on short stems in clusters of 1-5 flowers, each with 5 petals. The colors of the flowers can be pure white or different shades of pink, and are usually fragrant.

autmn olives flowers
Autumn olives (Elaeagnus umbellata) are flowering, and you see them mostly along roadways, along field margins, and in abandoned open spaces. They are invasive, originally from Asia. Autumn olives usually grow as shrubs, but can reach the size of a small tree. There is a very large one located at the Roger Williams Zoo in Providence, RI near the seal tank. The flower is whitish-silver when it first opens, but it yellows as it gets older. The flowers are arranged in clusters in the leaf axils all along the branches, and the appearance is pretty. The red berries are ripe in late summer or early autumn, persisting through the season.

wild blueberry flowers
Wild blueberries and huckleberries (Vaccinium species) are producing their bell-shaped flowers. The flower can range from white to pink or even shades of light green. In this area of southeastern Connecticut, we can find wild low bush blueberries, high bush blueberries and huckleberries all growing next to each other. They seem to prefer poor, acidic or boggy soil, and rocky outcrops. I use two methods to determine whether I have found a blueberry or a huckleberry bush, but have not been able to get into the specific species identification. Blueberries have many small seeds throughout and a dry, papery leaf. Huckleberries have exactly 10 larger, harder seeds arranged in a circle and have a golden resin on the backside of the leaves that you can rub onto your fingers. Both have a 5 petaled crown at their bottom and are various shades of blue, purple or black. Both berries ripen in July and we love to eat all blueberries and huckleberries we find.

wild strawberry flowers
Wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) flowers are carpeting areas of yards, fields, and especially under power lines where the vegetation is kept low. It is a perennial herb, spreading through it's roots. The leaves are toothed and tri-foliate, and the flower is white with a yellow center. Pay attention to where you find these clusters of flowers, since the fruit that ripens in June is the most fantastic strawberry you will ever have. The fruit is small, only about the size of your fingernail, so the harvest is sometimes only a handful. The taste is concentrated and intense, nothing at all like a supermarket berry.

wild black cherry flowers
Wild black cherries (Prunus serotina) are blooming in central Massachusetts, but not quite yet here in Connecticut. Black cherries are a native species, very common in our area. They grow along roadsides and along the edges of fields, and often in large groups. The flowers are white and fragrant, growing on a raceme of about 40 blooms. The fruit will ripen to black in late summer, and can be used for jams, drinks, and flavorings. Each tree has it's own taste, so if at first you think the cherries are too sour, try another tree from another location.

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