It’s nearing the end of May and it’s finally warmed up. Although no frosts are forecast, there could easily be some over the next week or so. Last year there were heavy frosts the first couple of days in June, and some of the wild berry flowers took a big hit. The forecast over the next while is warm and some rain. It’s a good start to producing a good crop of wild berries later this summer.
By far the most numerous wild berry in this neck of the woods is the blueberry. Nothing else comes even close. Blueberries are not only abundant most years, they are also yummy. Everyone and everything likes blueberries. I’ve even watched flocks of ducks in mid September fly and land on hillsides to feast on blueberries. Usually blueberries are virtually gone by the 1st of September, but sometimes they linger on for a surprisingly long time.
Some years other berries can also be abundant. Last summer was reasonably good for what we Canadians call the Saskatoon berry, also called Juneberry, shadbush berry and the service berry. It’s a complex shrub of the genera Amelanchier. Regardless of what it’s called, it’s a nice, plump, purplish berry that makes a great pie as well as tasty jams and jellies. But the woody shrubs, while common, don’t often produce a good crop, at least around these parts. Usually, some sort of fungus hits them, the birds and small mammals eat all the berries before they have a chance to ripen, or something else happens.
Anyway, besides the blueberry and Saskatoon, there are many other berry producing plants around here that can be fun and worthwhile picking. There are raspberries, cranberries, currants, wintergreens, wild plums, a variety of cherries and more. Some are best in preserves, others can be eaten raw while some are, for humans, inedible. All are relished by some species of wildlife. Indeed, berries, known to wildlifers as ‘soft mast’. are an important indicator of wildlife health and many wildlife agencies monitor mast abundance. A bad berry year usually means reproductive success in a host of species will be low, and many others, like bears, need lots of berries to fatten up to survive months of hibernation under a blanket of snow.
I’m hoping this is a good berry year. But dodging the late spring frost is just the first step. Like the Saskatoon’s, almost all the wild berries seem to susceptible to a host of parasites, fungal infections or something. A good crop of several species of wild berries is a banner year, and quite rare.
That’s another reason blueberries are so wonderful. A failed blueberry crop is actually the exception, as they seem to be resilient to the various things that afflict the other types of soft mast. But one still has to go looking for them, as they don’t grow everywhere.