Pokeweed, leave it or weed it?

American Pokeweed

The berries of American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, are poisonous. And oh-so tempting to you humans, especially when they are in full ripeness –and at their most toxic!–this time of year.

Pokeweed in late summer

The plant is big and weedy and produces many berries. No wonder it can take over a farmer’s field!

Yet there are birds who will eat them with no harmful effects, like the Northern Cardinal, Northern Mockingbird, Gray catbird and Brown Thrasher.



One of Nature’s Mysteries to Solve

Hey there!

We squirrels watch in amusement as the humans in our neighborhood deck out their homes with bright colors this time of year. If you look around, we’ve got some bright colors in nature, too!

Mystery #145

Any guess what they are? I’ll be back later to check your guesses!


We had a correct guess on today’s mystery! Kalamain guessed Beautyberry, a Callicarpa genus, and it is. Purple Beautyberry, in this case Ms. Flora thinks, but there are many species. For all that it looks exotic, it is a native of North America with many medicinal uses and one we find most interesting: In the early 1800s the farmers would crush the leaves and p the mash under horse harnesses to repel mosquitos!

We squirrels like to eat these berries, but have some competition from raccoons, deer and opossums as well as birds like the American Robin, finches and Brown Thrasher. They do make a pretty planting if you’re looking to spruce up your wildlife habitat!

Purple Beautyberry

It’s a pretty little shrub, loose and open.

Purple Beautyberry Ripening

Last winter was the first I’d noticed we had the Purple Beautyberry shrub in our neighborhood. This fall Miz Flora and I looked for it.

Purple Beautyberry

The berries are setting on fine, but seems like the birds don’t pay much attention to them until winter desperation hits.

Purple Beautyberry

Leap on over to our February 6th post to read other details that we learned about this wildlife food shrub.

Winterberry Again

Remember back in the dead of winter we had an accidental feature week of shrubs?  If not, here’s the one we’re repeating today, Winterberry. Back on February 5th, we showed you its winter look:


The same set of shrubs today.

Winterberry shrubs

The plants are all leafed out and looking pretty nondescript, but they sure give a little life to a songbird’s hungry stomach come winter.

A Berry Shrub to Avoid

We’ll finish out the berry shrub week with one I found in my photo files, but would strongly encourage my backyard habitat and wildlife-loving human readers to avoid. Euonymus is taking over native woodlands when the seeds are deposited via bird droppings. So yes, the birds like Euonymus berries.

euonymus berries

At least we think that’s what this is. Miz Flora and I couldn’t exactly identify this plant when I found it back in November, nor when we tried again this week. The problem is there are many sub-species of euonymus and they take many forms as a vine, shrub and groundcover. When I first found it, I thought the plant was a native Miz Flora had me on the lookout for called Hearts-a-bursting or Strawberry Bush. But there are some subtle differences. Here’s a shot of the entire shrub if any of our human readers can help us with identification.

euonymus shrub


Ok, I am officially declaring this the week of the berry shrubs. That is until I can’t find one for posting tomorrow!

Many of the neighborhoods around us have plantings of cotoneaster, a member of the rose family.


Cotoneaster is not native, but Miz Flora and I read the low thickets it makes and the berries are very attractive to birds, especially to thrushes. This immediately made sense to me. Thrushes are pretty secretive woodland birds, and suburbia just doesn’t offer a lot of brambly messes of shrubs for those shier songbirds to hide in. While we have only seen the shorter varieties, some cotoneasters grow into tall shrubs.

cotoneaster berries

More reading led us to decide this must be Cotoneaster horizontalis, or the ‘rockspray’ cotoneaster. I think you can see why from this planting that goes back to when this retaining wall was put in the 1970s. That’s a forty-year-old growth of shrubs!

If you have a wall, and would like to give some birds a boost, here’s the cotoneaster listing from one of our favorite websites for learning more about plants: landscaping.about.com.

Purple Beautyberry

The second shrub interplanted with those Winterberries we showed yesterday was this Purple Beautyberry, Callicarparpa dichotoma. Miz Flora was a bit more excited when I showed her these photos, and almost decided to go look for herself.

Purple Beautyberry

“But it’s too darned cold for us old squirrels,” she said.

Why did she even consider it then? She’s partial to purple. She was even willing to ignore that is a Far East cultivar of the native American Beautyberry, which has red berries. I figured some of our human readers may share these sentiments; we have heard of whole gardens being planted in certain colors, which makes no sense to squirrels whatsoever!

Purple Beautyberry berries

But no matter that these berries are purple, birds still eat them as an emergency food source in the worst winter weather, after their preferred berries are gone.

One note from our research Miz Flora asked me to include: the American Beautyberry leaves seem to work as an insect repellant. Check out this article from Mother Earth News that tells about it. We squirrels are in favor of our human neighbors using something besides that smelly spray.



Hickory and I were making use of the human sidewalk and bounded by a row of shrubs that must have been put in for wildlife because they have berries on them, now in winter. Here’s the first I checked with Miz Flora – Winterberry.


Without going around to look, she says it is in the Ilex genus, possibly Ilex verticillata, but may be a human-engineered species. It’s related to holly trees, but it is deciduous, which you probably realized since there are no leaves on the shrub. A whole variety of birds eat the berries – almost fifty different kinds.

Winterberry berries

But, these berries are not for humans! The berries are poisonous!

Miz Flora hadn’t noticed the shrub before, but when we read up on it, we discovered it only blooms (and has berries) after the plant is three years old. And here is another tricky part: this plant has male and female plants – the term is dioecious. Only the male shrubs produce the berries.

That’s having to plan ahead to feed your wildlife!


Here’s one crop of fruits Nutmeg and I will not be collecting.

There are native and ornamental Hawthorns—of the Crataegus genus, Miz Flora had time to tell me—but they are too confusing to tell apart for us squirrels. And why bother? As the name states, we can’t get to them with these thorns.

This is a crop the songbirds, in particular Northern Cardinals, will feed on in the dead of winter. Hmm, I bet it’s one of those that tastes better after frozen.