In the late Summer and early Autumn my attention tends to shift to the hedgerows that line the local lanes. The meadow growth has been mowed and the trees have not yet taken on their autumnal hues, but the hedgerows are filled with lots of fascinating fruits. There were three main plants that I spotted fruiting in the hedgerows as I walked around the village on day 110 of 365 Days Wild.
The first of these were the Elder trees (Sambucus nigra) that can be found in the meadow hedge. The elderberries are nicely ripening and looked particularly lovely viewed against the beautiful blue sky. This native tree can grow to a height of around 15m and can live for up to 60 years. As well as in hedgerows, they’re also commonly found growing wild at the edges of woodland, in disturbed areas, along roadsides, and in recently burned areas. In Spring it produces flat umbels of creamy flowers that can be foraged to make elderberry cordial, or be battered and fried. In Autumn, if the flowers have been left to be pollinated, it produces bunches of small purple berries that can also be foraged and made into jams, pies or syrups, or used to flavour drinks such as gin or mead. If you do decide to forage for elderberries, make sure they are ripe, as unripe berries are toxic. So too are the stalks and leaves, that should never be eaten.
Some of the hedgerows along the village lanes are also full of Privet. This might be native Wild Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) or the popular garden variety (Ligustrum ovalifolium), introduced from Japan and now naturalised to the point that it is the most widely used hedging plant in the UK. Whilst this common, semi-evergreen shrub is a popular plant for hedging, it can also be found growing on well-drained calcareous soils at the edges of woodland and on grassland scrub. If left untrimmed, in early summer the bushes are cover c ried in bursts of small white flowers. In Autumn, black berries ripen. These berries are very poisonous to humans, so foragers should take care to avoid them. They are, however, a great food source for birds, particularly thrushes, and are the main foodplant of the Privet hawk-moth. In addition to this, Privet hedges also provide cover for small birds and other animals.
The third plant that I spotted fruiting was Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). This popular hedgerow shrub is probably best known for its bursts of spring flowers, commonly known as May-blossom, but in Autumn it produces small red berries, or haws. As a fruit for foraging, haws unfortunately have very few uses. Rich in anti-oxidants, they can be made into a syrup, but little else. I’ve always thought it best to leave them for the wildlife. Haws are eaten by migrating birds, such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as by small mammals. It’s a very important plant for wildlife in general. It can support more than 300 insects. It is the foodplant for a number of different moth caterpillars, including the Hawthorn, Orchard Ermine, Pear Leaf Blister, Rhomboid Tortrix, Light Emerald, Lackey, Vapourer, Fruitlet-mining Tortrix, Small Eggar and Lappet moths. Its flowers are eaten by dormice, as well as providing nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinating insects.
You might have noticed a couple of stray rosehips on the picture of the privet berries. Unfortunately, whilst there were lots of them about, those were the only ones that I managed to get shots of so I decided to leave them out of this post. Most of the pictures from day 110 were incredibly blurry. While it was a beautifully sunny day, it was also very windy. I was lucky to get anything at all!
So, that’s all for today. Have you spotted any hedgerow fruits or been out foraging lately?