We all fall in the proverbial ditch once in a while but this was an actual ditch with standing water deep enough to pour in over the top of my wellies. Add in the steep part, and ass over tea kettle I went….well, I thought to myself “I’m definitely here now, I may as well pick some berries.”
Yes! It’s foraging season for Bittersweet and Winterberry once again. Every fall customers come into the flower shop and ask where they can get Bittersweet. Because it’s considered invasive, it can’t be sold legally here in NH, so I try to break it to them gently. This fall was no exception. Last weekend two nice ladies from Florida came in looking for bittersweet for one of their daughter’s wedding here in Canaan in TWO days. Yikes! They wanted that wild thorny vine so desperately they were willing to go foraging for it. Unfortunately it’s a little harder to find here locally than it is in other parts of the state and I personally didn’t know of a place close by that they could find some. Ugh. I wasn’t being very helpful. They shopped around the store making some purchases before leaving.
I once met a sweet older gentleman, when I was out picking Winterberry, who was picking some for his wife’s grave. It was something she had loved to gather each fall. This got me thinking about how universal this need to forage(or called “wildsourcing” if you’re a professional)is. Bittersweet and Winterberry just seem to tap into this passion more so because of how showy and prolific they are.
For those of you who don’t know Bittersweet, it’s a climbing vine with beautiful red berries, each cloaked in a yellow papery hoody-just in time for these cold nights! I just love my hoodies, although my husband say’s I look like a 12 year old in them. There are two main kinds of Bittersweet; American and Oriental. American Bittersweet doesn’t have thorns and has berries at the tips only. It’s also a threatened plant species here in NH. This is probably not the decorative berried vine you’re on the hunt for. Oriental Bittersweet, on the other hand, has thorns and berries all along the trailing vine. It can also suffocate a tree by growing fast and covering it completely, so be careful with where the berries end up after you pick them. These berries also stain, so use them in wreaths or other decorative elements that will remain outside.
A few pointers when you clip anything wild. First make sure you know what it is. Then clip conservatively selecting just the branches you will need. Also make sure to clip from different areas where it’s growing so you don’t wipe out any one section.
A side note about stealing from people’s yards. Yes it happens all the time. A customer came in just the other day and picked out the most beautiful combination of blooms to give to his wife for their anniversary. We got to talking and he told me this great story about when he was in high school and worked part-time for a florist, he used to sneak into his neighbor’s yard and cut a few flowers here and there to make a bouquet to give to someone. One day his neighbor caught him. He then made a bouquet for the neighbor who decided it was okay after that. But don’t assume. Make sure you ask first even if what’s growing isn’t close to a house.
Ilex Berry or Winterberry is another eye-catching red berry that is great for design. This plump little berry grows clustered in loud masses on vertical twiggy branches in swampy areas just off the roadside. They love to grow in standing water……ah yes the ditch. It is also listed as an invasive plant in NH although it’s not much of a nuisance this far north. Once the plant loses it’s leaves in October, you’ll see the red berries everywhere.
So as you’re driving to work and thinking about a million things at once, listening to music, planning that dreaded wedding reception seating chart or, God forbid, on your phone, pause and look up ahead. You’ll see them by the side of the road. And once you spot that flash of red, you’ll start to see them more and more. So keep an eye out for that fat and happy little red berry. As for me, I’m keeping my red paisley wellies and clippers handy.