Blue-Colored Berries in Massachusetts What Are they?

stoloniferous(6)February 18, 2008

IÂm sorry that I donÂt have a photo to post with this, but ever since last Autumn IÂve been wondering about a particular plant in my yard that I havenÂt been able to identify. It is a deciduous shrub, about six feet tall, growing at the edge of the woods in moist soil. Its only distinguishing characteristic that I can remember is that it had clusters of blue-colored berries sometime between July and the winter. It certainly wasnÂt a blueberry bush, but aside from that, I have no idea what it could be. Any ideas?

Thank you!

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ellen_s(z5 centralMA)

Hmm, Viburnum have blue berries, but it also could be an invasive shrub such as Japanese Honeysuckle or Common Buckthorn, both which have dark blue berries...

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 7:44AM
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stoloniferous(6)

Thank you Ellen! I think IÂve got a viburnum back there! Woot! I canÂt wait until it puts out some leaves so I can be sure.

I suspect that a few other berry-bearing shrubs IÂve got around the yard are Japanese honeysuckle. As soon as they flower IÂll know for sure  and onto the compost heap they go!

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 8:42AM
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diggingthedirt

Privet also has small, dark blue berries - almost black, but not quite. It self-sows really freely around my area, and elsewhere in zone 6 and warmer. I don't want to use the "I" word, since I just read through a heated discussion on the subject on the shrubs forum.

Most (but not all) of my privet retained their leaves this winter. All but one of them are volunteers, as far as I know, one monster specimen (about 16' tall) looks like it was planted by the previous owner. Birds love it, it provides dense, twiggy cover and those berries, which are the source of the problem.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 8:59AM
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NHBabs(4b-5aNH)

Viburnums have opposite branches and leaves - two branches emerge opposite each other, one on each side off a larger branch. I can't remember about privet or honeysuckle, but I know buckthorn has alternate, not opposite, branching. There is a Dover publication that has keys to winter twigs and fruit that you might be able to find at a bookstore or library.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 8:27PM
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stoloniferous(6)

IÂm about 90% certain that itÂs a viburnum IÂve got, because those berry clusters were mighty distinctive. IÂll be sure to check out the branch arrangement next time IÂm out here, babs - thanks!

Hmm. . . looks like that conspicuously round green shrub not far from the "viburnum" might be a privet. I will have to do some more research on that.

I took out a few Japanese barberries from the yard this weekend. That leaves me with one burning bush in the flowerbed and half a dozen other shrubs that I think might be Japanese honeysuckle or common buckthorn. Fortunately these invasives are in the minority in my yard, and I like having an excuse to bring out ye olde branch loppers! And having fodder for the compost heap. Mwahahaha!

I found a pair of young honeylocusts in the backyard on Saturday. And I know there will be a lot more stuff for me to identify in the Spring when IÂve got more than just twigs to go on. Gads, I love having a piece of wild property to play in!

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 10:12AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

I think some of my wild dogwoods have blue berries. The question is because they don't hang around very long for me to see them much. I think they are grey dogwoods, and they are definitely a squish plant. Not to the extent of the red twigs, but more than normal.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 11:31AM
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diggingthedirt

hmm, mg, what the heck is a "squish plant"?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 2:08PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

A plant that grows in the squish :-)

I have a swamp. After several years of trying to get things established in the swamp, I've found out there are considerable differences in what will grow with tiny differences in elevation. 'Squish' is ground that looks OK, but makes a squishing noise when you walk on it. Most 'wetland' plants are actually squish plants since they don't really like places with puddled water for long periods of time. The amount of wetland plants I've killed by planting them in water....

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 3:16PM
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diggingthedirt

Aha! Makes perfect sense now. Thanks for the explanation.

I was especially curious because I'm looking for something tall for a screen along a very shady corner of my yard, and one of the plants on my list of possibilities is gray dogwood. Some of the interpretations of squish that sprang to mind gave me second thoughts about growing this.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 7:23PM
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WendyB(5A/MA)

I have a lot of wild viburnums along the edge of my woods. Here is a pic of the berries. They get darker as the season progresses. Does this look like yours?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 10:20PM
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NHBabs(4b-5aNH)

Wendy - Great photo! Yours looks like a maple-leaf viburnum (V. acerifolium) which is only one of the kinds that grow wild around here. It never ceases to amaze me what a range of leaf shapes that viburnums have! Around here we also have V. alnifolium (hobblebush), V. cassinoides (witherod viburnum), and V. dentatum (arrowwood). They are all such great plants.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 2:05PM
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stoloniferous(6)

Thanks Wendy! I don't recall what the leaves looked like, but the clusters of berries on mine were shaped much like that. Though they were very distinctly blue; more blue than blueberries, in fact.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 3:48PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Ok, the grey dogwoods are on the other side of the swamp. Do a search on silky dogwoods, and see if those pictures of fruit match what you have.

These are all things that are just there.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 3:56PM
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dfaustclancy

Hey Mad Gallica,
What else is growing in your "squish"? I too have a squish and would like to add some different plants. I have added a few viburnums to my wild viburnums and some lobelia (cardinal flower), Japanese primrose, pulmonaria, hydrangea, and monarda -- which will grow anywhere!
Debra

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 9:40AM
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stoloniferous(6)

Hey Debrah, I've got some squish of my own, and so far I've identified skunk cabbage, witchhazel and poison sumac growing either in it or nearby. Hit me up next November if you would like some witchhazel seeds. I haven't yet learned how to collect seeds from skunk cabbage. If you want poison sumac seeds. . . I could hook you up with that, too. ;)

I rather like the term "squish"!

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 10:15AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

I bet Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) would like squish conditions. Nice fragrant flowers, pretty fall color, will form a thicket, not fussy about light.

Claire

    Bookmark   February 28, 2008 at 12:37PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

When we first moved here, most of the swamp was either red-twig dogwood, cattails or phragmites. All of them are extremely aggressive in a wet setting. In slightly higher places, there is some sort of wild pussy willow, what I think is arrowwood viburnum, wild winterberry, too much amur honeysuckle, coltsfoot and, of course skunk cabbage. I've planted lindera benzoin, viburnum trifolia, Hammalis virginiana, Rosa palustris, and more winterberry in relatively wet areas. Only the rose went into serious standing water. Slightly higher up, in areas that stay dry, but don't have a lot of root room before they hit water I've put a Little Girl magnolia, some hydrangea, and there are fairly large pin oaks, maples and ashes.

One of my biggest gardening obstacles is a fairly limy soil. Somehow it got into my brain that the acid lovers can't handle it because the minerals clog their vascular system. So they might do better provided with as much water as possible. This does explain why winterberry grows wild here, and why my pin oaks aren't chlorotic when it's a real problem locally. So there are things like the magnolia that wouldn't ordinarily be placed in a wet place, but I'm putting down there as an experiment.

    Bookmark   February 29, 2008 at 10:33AM
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dfaustclancy

Mad g:

You'll be happy to know that I planted a Magnolia Soulangelia (sp?) many years ago when it was only 30" tall. It is now 20-25' and gorgeous. I guess it likes its Squish conditions. So I bet yours will do well too. Its so nice to see those goWrgeous flowers in the spring. I think spring flowering plants are so much more welcome than any other seasons' just because we had to do so long without! Also, I have a nikko blue hydrangea and it does well in the Squish because it never gets dry. Of course, it only blooms when it doesn't get late winter frost.

Winterberry is a good idea. I'll think about that one for my winter interest.

I also planted a couple roses in my squish, but in the areas where there is less squish and more dry. LOL The roses I planted are William Baffin and New Dawn. Both are doing well. I was very surprised to see that. Some people say roses are soooo picky. Well, they sure like water!

Also, Hardy hybiscus does pretty darn good as well. And of course, daylillies.

How long has it been that you moved to NY? It's only about five years right?

Debra

    Bookmark   March 3, 2008 at 11:13AM
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