Early July is a time when we see some changes. The first week of July is Aphelion, when the Earth is at its furthest distance from the sun on our annual trip. It is also when sunsets begin to get earlier, slowly moving towards setting before 9 p.m. (Sunrises have been getting later since the summer solstice in June.) Days still have plenty of sun and heat, but the daylight is lessening each day.
July is also the time when bird songs are not as intense or frequent as they were a month ago. Fledglings are moving on their own or with adults and there is not the need for regular territorial songs. It may be hard to perceive now, but some birds will start migration by the end this month.
It is also the time of abundant fireweeds and milkweeds blooming from wayside sites. Joining them are thistles, evening primroses, sweetclovers and early sunflowers and goldenrods. But it is also the start of berry season.
It seems like recently, many wildflowers and shrubs were in bloom during May. Getting the attention of insects, they were pollinated and soon started to grow the products of the season.
Each year in the second half of June, I look for the next step after blossoms have passed. I find that consistently, there are four plants that initiate the berry season: strawberries, fly honeysuckle, elderberry and dewberry, not necessarily in this order. And yes, despite the heat and dryness of this June, it happened again this year.
- Northland Nature: Oaks grow new leaves, catkins
- Northland Nature: Fiddleheads grow on forest floor
- Northland Nature: Wild leeks green the forest floor
Many avid berry pickers consider the start of the berry season with the ripening of the large and delicious domestic strawberries, and rightly so. But their cousins, the wild ones, are also ripe. The wild berries are here, but instead of the size that we see with the domestic strawberries, their wild cousins are tiny, maybe only about as big as the end of our small fingers. Lacking in size, they make up in sweetness. They are quickly discovered and devoured, mostly by small mammals.
Fly honeysuckle, a small shrub, is very early to produce new leaves and open its pair of yellow trumpet-shaped flowers. Early flowers means early berries — also in pairs and bright red. This honeysuckle is not to be confused with bush-honeysuckle or the taller Tatarian honeysuckle.
Elderberry, also known as red berry elder, is a small tree that is usually the first to open its leaves in early May. Later, the plant holds clusters of white flowers and now clusters of tiny red berries. They don’t last long since small mammals and birds are quick to find them.
Dewberry, also known as dwarf raspberry, is closely related to the ubiquitous roadside raspberry plants. They are also in the family of the larger blackberries and thimbleberries. (Dewberries, raspberries, blackberries and thimbleberries all belong to the same genus of rubes.) I find dewberries in bloom along trails in May. Though a woody plant, it spreads out, creeping over the ground.
In sunlit spring days, dewberry with its three leaves and five white petals was pollinated, forming the berries we see now. Not as tall or as obvious as raspberry, but just as juicy tasting. Several kinds of dewberries live in the region; some are red when ripe, some are darker.
These plants that begin the berry season set the pace for more to come. Raspberry, blueberry, juneberry, thimbleberry, pin and chokecherry, wild plum and even another kind of elderberry will appear as we move though July and August. But the berry season begins now.