In celebration of today’s date 09/09/09, I’m giving you nine of my favorite native fall fruiting plants that are beautiful and benefit the birds in your yard this fall and winter.

According to the National Wildlife Federation, now is an excellent time in the southeast to plant native fruiting trees and shrubs. Nurseries and native plant societies like http://www.ncwildflower.org/ can help you choose from dozens – even hundreds-of available varieties.

A variety of fruits are very important to overwintering birds. Just like people, they eat their favorites first, like…

….flowering dogwood berries, and then later they’ll depend upon the long lasting (but sour) hawthorns and sumac fruit.

Many insectivorous birds change their diet in fall and winter to berries and seeds. When the weather gets cold, woodpeckers, robins, waxwings, mockingbirds, bluebirds, even chickadees and titmice change to winter-fruit staples.

1. American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) One of the showiest of all native shrubs and found in much of the eastern United States. Beautyberry is a favorite of mockingbirds and other birds. The colorful lilac colored clusters of berries can last long into winter. This is an excellent low maintenance plant for massing or planting individually in semi-shade or in full sun.

2. Sumac (Rhus copallinum) For years considered a trash tree, sumac is a fast growing, coarse textured deciduous shrub or small tree (up to 20 ft) that is unfazed with poor soils. These widespread natives are now cultivated for their fiery fall foliage and showy clusters of red berries. They are without equal as a winter emergency food for a wide range of birds and mammals. Winged sumac is most common in the southeastern U.S.

3. Common winterberry (Ilex verticillata) This deciduous holly is a large shrub (6-12 ft tall) and delivers a fabulous berry display show once its leaves drop. ‘Winter Red’ is perhaps the most popular, but yellow and orange fruits can be occasionally found in native plant nurseries. Its berries improve with age and are popular with birds after a frost or two. The winterberry grows best in moist, slightly acidic soil, in full sun.

4. Possum-haw ‘Winterthur’ (Viburnum nudum) This nearly evergreen shrub or small tree (10-20 ft tall) has an open, round crown and dark green leaves. The ellipsoid fruits go through interesting color changes, starting out pale yellow, then turning pink, and finally becoming a beautiful deep, waxy blue-black when mature. Possum-haw is a shrub for all seasons and a pleasing symmetrical shape. The abundant autumn fruits are relished by both birds and small mammals.

5. American Holly (Ilex opaca) This magnificent native is drought tolerant and usually used as a specimen tree or in small groupings. The American holly berries are eaten by more than 20 species of songbirds including cedar waxwings, robins, catbirds, and mockingbirds. The dense evergreen foliage also provides protective shelter all year round.

6. Southern Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) This popular shrubs has an attractive rounded form and loves a wide variety of sites from swamps to upland woods. Its evergreen leaves create wildlife-friendly screens and hedges that also provide food. Whenever possible choose female plants (plus one male) to get the waxy blue berries so beloved by the birds. Wax myrtle gives you dense attractive foliage, is fast growing and responds well to pruning.

7. Yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria) This evergreen typically grows in shrubby clumps. Female flowers are followed by small bright red berries that persist through the fall and winter. Yaupons tolerate a variety of soils and are commonly grown as a trimmed hedge, screen or windbreak. (‘Nana’ or dwarf varieties are perfect for foundation plantings). The leaves of this shrub can cause vomiting but the holly berries provide an important source of food for birds and other wildlife in late winter when there’s not a lot of other things to eat.

8. Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) This deciduous shrub typically also grows in clumps. It loves partial filtered sunlight beneath a protective canopy of trees in wet soggy spots. The fruits of Serviceberry are said to be delicious, but often the wild birds, squirrels, raccoons get most of them. Cooking the berries brings out an almond-like flavor, but fresh and canned fruits can be made into jams and pies.

9. Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) Sassafras usually grows into a 20-30 ft tall deciduous tree. The variable-shaped leaves are peculiar and look like mittens. All parts of the sassafras are aromatic, smelling like root beer. Spaniards brought this native back to Europe from Florida in the 1500′s for medicinal and flavoring uses. The early flowers are very popular with honey bees and other insects. Songbirds devour the fruits as fast as they ripen. Sassafras foliage brightens the landscape with yellows, oranges, and reds in the fall, and its winter silhouette has an appealing horizontal tiered effect.

Let me know what you think about my choices. Did you have any that you think should have been listed? Comment below!

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