Winter Buds & Berries
As we start the festive month of December, with thoughts of Christmas ahead of us, various berries associated with the season come to mind, holly used in our decorations at Christmas, and don't forget a kiss under the mistletoe! 

But Nature has not gone to sleep through the Winter months and there are many plants that wake up once the weather turns colder. so let's check out some other berries and buds to look for this month.
Hazel (Corylus avellana) in Keynsham Memorial Park, with its drooping male catkins formed in the Autumn ready for flowering the following February. It prefers moist soils so tends to be found near the River Chew.

Near the Park Cafe is an Atlantic (also called Atlas or Algerian) cedar, Cedrus atlantica, whose flowers are formed in the Autumn. The resinous cones take 2 or 3 years to ripen so there are usually some on the tree all year round. The tree's shape is irregular so it looks a bit unruly. Its relative, the Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) is found just below the Park gates, and has barrel-shaped cones flattened at the top. I think that they look like woody versions of wasp nests! The branches are spread out to give a layered appearance, so it looks much neater than the Atlantic cedar.

An excellent winter-flowering shrub is Viburnum, several of which (farreri, fragrans and tinus) perform this function; the fruits follow on in late winter to early spring, so reversing the usual sequence of spring flowers and autumn fruits.

A tree which holds on to last year's bean-like pods until the following spring is Catalpa bignonioides – the Indian Bean Tree; it is neither from India nor are the fruits actually beans, but it is stuck with that name!

Common Ivy is definitely a friend of wildlife at this time of year, as it flowers in Autumn so providing nectar for late-flying bees, flies and other insects, followed on by black winter berries which are beloved by hungry birds. So please leave some ivy in your garden for your own insects and birds to enjoy.

You may be lucky to find a Yew tree (Taxus baccata) which hasn't been stripped of its berries; birds know that the seeds are poisonous so spit them out, eating just the juicy pulp. How clever of them! Check out churchyards and graveyards as in olden days yew trees were planted here so that common folk did not graze their livestock on Church land where the poisonous berries would fall!

The Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus var laevigatus) keeps its white berries well into winter as they are left alone by the birds, who are probably waiting for them to ripen into a good red colour. Unfortunately they await the colour change in vain.

Last but not in any way least, I include the Mountain Ash or Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia). These have red berries which may remain on the tree until Winter (unless taken earlier by blackbirds and redwings).  If we are lucky enough to get an influx of waxwings from Scandinavia (signed are looking promising this year), look out for these spectacular birds who love the berries.

So please explore your local patch, and see how many of these winter wonders you can spot!

Liz Wintle

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