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Shrubs with Edible Berries

One message I try emphasize whenever possible is the simple idea that landscapes provide, sustain and enhance life. We typically design our gardens in limited dimensions of use or experience; we design for food or beauty, or for some other single purpose. Landscapes, whether we realize or like it, sustain life for all kinds of critters, and rather than planting largely plant materials with a single purpose in mind, I like to plant with as much intentionality into each square foot as possible.

This week, I want to feature three “ornamental” or landscape shrubs with edible ripening fruit. These native and non-native shrubs are linked to several different parts of the local food chain, of which we could be a part if we so choose.

Cornus mas, or Cornelian cherry, is a smaller ornamental tree with multiple seasons of interest, one of which is a bright red, oblong drupe. The fruit can be used in preserves or syrups if you can beat the birds to them! Our feathered friends do not seem to mind the sour taste, so consider yourself warned: add lots of sugar.

Next is Sambucus canadensis or Elderberry. This is one tough multi-stemmed shrub, growing away from its preferred moist soils into a wide range of moisture content and soil types. American elder, as it is sometimes called, supports both insects and birds at several different stages of growth, both as a food source (pollen and fruit) and a habitat in the wood. The tiny drupes may be used for wines, cordials and even a pie a volunteer once baked for me (hint, hint).

Lastly, one of my favorite shrubs of all time, Lindera benzoin, or spice bush.

Spice bush, named in reference to its fragrant leaves and stems, is an awesome, multi-season native woodland shrub. I love its small Christmas-light looking early spring flowers, followed by the fragrance of summer leaves and tasty red drupes in late-summer. This native also supports wildlife, including the beautiful spice bush swallowtail butterfly, at several stages of growth.

Photo credit: Sheri Amsel,


The fresh leaves of the spice bush are excellent in tea, while the berries are used as a type of “allspice.”

These three shrub examples, fruiting now at Wellfield, show how a single plant can be so much more than a pretty plant. They provide life to many.

Josh Steffen
Horticulture Manager

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