Nature Notes

Hints of Autumn Fruit

By Greg Lecker

Exploring the woodland this morning, the relative scarcity of colorful flowers leads me to look more carefully.  Here and there I discover small developing fruits.  The first hangs under the plant.

Yellow Wood PoppyYellow Wood Poppy

Celandine or yellow wood poppy as attractive lobed leaves topped with four-petaled yellow flowers.  Its fruit develops in the center of the petals.  However, after the petals fall and the fruit grows, the weight of the fruit bends the stalk downward.

Nodding Trillium FruitNodding Trillium Fruit

“Nodding” describes the fruit I see and the flowers that I don’t.  In the spring, the plant bears a single red flower or a white flower that turns pink as it ages.  The flower dangles under a cluster of three petals (tri = three).  The fruit resembles a solid maroon strawberry; but it has pointed ribs.

Pagoda Dogwood and Black ElderberryPagoda Dogwood and Black Elderberry

On the sunnier edges of the woodland I find two medium small trees or large bushes that mean a lot to me.  The first is Pagoda dogwood – a small tree that is attractive year-round and can easily fit in the home landscape.  It has a unique horizontally layered branching structure which accounts for this dogwood’s common name – Pagoda (referring to Far East religious buildings with many levels of roofs and stories).   This form adds considerable interest to our winter landscape – especially when wet snow highlights every branch and twig.

Leaves are often clustered at edges of branches.  Fall color varies from a reddish purple or burgundy to a brighter deep red in bright sun.Flowers are small cream to white, clusters.  Berry-like fruit forms as small green beads turning white to blue.  Blue-black when mature, the 1/4″ diameter fruit stands atop a red fruit stalk or pedicel that adds considerable summer color.   Birds readily eat the fruit.

The second plant is black elderberry, a plant that likes a lot of moisture.  This stand grows between the woodland brook and iris pond.  Growing up in Appalachian Pennsylvania, my family made jam from black elderberry fruit that we collected.  One may find the jam for sale at a farmers’ market or on a farm itself.  I miss this morning treat!

Dragonfly on SumacDragonfly on Sumac

Just before I leave, I find a stand of sumac; and its fruit has turned red.  Perched at the tip of one fruit mass, there is a dragonfly – difficult to see with its transparent wings.  It seems to sense me and holds warily still.

In this sumac stand, there is no red or orange tint yet – though I know that the onset of autumn will be announced by this plant’s foliage in the near future.  Already, in a stand of small wildflower wild geranium, I found red streaks across the green leaves.

Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer.


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