A Berry Merry Christmas

This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on  December 24, 2010 at the defunct national blog  beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com.

Our winter robins returned to find an overnight freeze here too!
Our winter robins returned to find an overnight freeze here too!

We had an early hard freeze last week in my section of Central Florida so with insects in shorter supply and variety than usual, the birds are relishing the berries of my beautiful wildlife garden. I am enjoying the color and activity that the berries encourage and will admit that the cold weather did put this native northerner in a more Christmas-y frame of mind.

Some of the native offerings in my pine flatwoods ecosystem include Dahoon (Ilex cassine) a perennial holly that reaches a height of approximately 26 feet but also works well when shaped as a shrub. It has dark green foliage with spring blooms and pretty red berries appearing in late summer and early fall. It is a favorite among the birds and is tolerant of the occasional flooding the rainy season provides and the drought of our dry season.

A young Dahoon Holly. First year the fruits appeared!
A young Dahoon Holly. First year the fruits appeared!

The leaves have all dropped from the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) but the beautiful purple fruits persist inviting a multitude of birds for a daily snack, especially the mockingbirds. This multistem perennial shrub provides moderate growth and the birds will do the propagating for you when they deposit the ready “fertilized” seeds along fence lines. Other critters who enjoy the fruits include armadillos, raccoons, wood rats, gray foxes, opossums, and deer.

Beautyberry the morning after the freeze. The leaves have since dropped.
Beautyberry the morning after the freeze. The leaves have since dropped.

Inkberry or Gallberry (Ilex glabra) is another native holly, which grows to shrub size. According to the USDA Plant Guide, leaves are browsed by marsh rabbit and deer, the fruits are important food for raccoon, coyote, and opossum when other sources are scarce. The fruit is also eaten by at least 15 species of birds, including bobwhite quail and wild turkey. It provides cover for deer, small rodents, and several species of birds. Nectar of the flowers is an important source for honey production.

Inkberry is also known as Gallberry
Inkberry is also known as Gallberry

And of course, one of my favorites, the Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera) with it’s pale blue berries for food and excellent structure for cover.
waxmyrtle122310-500x333
I wish each and every one of you a Very Berry Christmas in your beautiful wildlife garden.  😉

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