How to identify shrubs with berries

Updated February 21, 2017

Many types of shrubs produce berries from their flowers that, unless wildlife consumes them, eventually go to seed, ensuring the continuation of the species. You can identify some of these shrubs by the berries. The leaf shape, leaf colour and height of the shrub will help you recognise the plant, especially if you refer to a guide to tree and shrub identification.

Use your sense of smell to identify the spicebush. Break off a small twig and rub it; a spicebush twig will release a spicy aroma that many find pleasant. Spicebush grows to 12 feet high and prospers even in full shade, preferring moist soil. Note that its yellow flowers are among the first to develop, with warm winter days making it possible for them to bloom before March in some locations. The berries are green in spring and early summer but ripen to a reddish hue by summer's end; they are edible and often used in recipes such as applesauce, with a flavour that mimics that of allspice.

The fruit of the serviceberry looks like a small apple. This member of the rose family can be a tree or a shrub and is a native plant of the eastern United States. Serviceberries come from white flowers with five petals, which typically do not remain on the shrub very long in spring. The edible fruit grows in green clusters but ripens to red by June, much to the delight of the many kinds of birds that eat them. People will use serviceberries in pies, muffins and cakes among other things.

The green leaves of the cranberrybush have three distinct lobes and may remind you of the webbed foot of a duck or the head of a trident. A shrub of the northern states, the cranberrybush usually grows near water. The berries go from green to red when ripe in the fall and can stay on the shrub into the winter, when they finally shrivel and fall from the bush. You may use the berries to make jellies and jams, but the smell as they cook is not a pleasant one.

Blackhaw can be identified by the progression of colours the berries go through in autumn. This common shrub has white flowers that give way to elliptical green fruit in the summer. By the fall, these hanging berries go through quite a metamorphosis, turning from lime green to pink, before changing to blue and finally to black when ripe. In the winter, any berries not eaten by birds look like raisins. The leaves may also help you differentiate a blackhaw from other shrubs, as they are shiny, oval and turn different colours later than most other trees and shrubs in the fall. The berries are sweet but have a hard centre.

Things You'll Need

  • Field guide to shrubs
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About the Author

John Lindell has written articles for "The Greyhound Review" and various other online publications. A Connecticut native, his work specializes in sports, fishing and nature. Lindell worked in greyhound racing for 25 years.