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Winter Interest Trees Part Two

By February 21, 2020No Comments

Native Winter Interest Trees (part 2)
Collin McMichael, Education Coordinator
TreeFolks, 1/12/20

Green winter leaves, or blue-green in the case of the Arizona Cypress, are not the only thing that makes
a tree interesting, however! Many trees that shed their leaves take it all off to flaunt the tasty botanical
bounty hiding underneath to our winter birds as much as they do it to protect their tissues from freezing
weather. These trees with their showy winter fruits can give the landscape a truly welcome splash of
color in even the greyest of January or February days. The most charismatic of these is probably the
beautyberry, followed by the possumhaw holly, the Western soapberry, and finally, our native,
evergreen junipers can also put on a showy powder-blue display.

Beautyberry is commonly planted as a Texas native, but not commonly considered to be a tree;
however, if you let it keep growing and give it ample water, they will gladly top out at 15 feet! With its
magenta berries lasting well into the coldest days of the year, this little tree can bring a very cheery
purple pop to the winter garden. That pop of color signals to birds that there is still food around too, so
expect a few feathered friends to take advantage! Be careful though, as there are several non-native
species of beautyberry from Asia that are also sold in the area. American beautyberry has much larger
leaves and berries than the others. Our native species comes most often with magenta-purple fruits,
never lavender, and rarely white.

Possumhaw is another small tree from our part of the world that can come in several different colors of
fruit. Much like its sister species, the yaupon holly, the typical possumhaw will have bright-red,
centimeter-wide fruits adorning its branches throughout the winter. Unlike yaupon, possumhaw drops
all of its leaves unless planted in an overly protected site. Wild-harvested plants are available in some
nurseries that display orange, coral, or even yellow berries and are highly sought after by those
in-the-know. This tree grows happily as an understory plant or out alone in a field. In fact, one of the
largest orange-colored varieties I’ve seen is located in such a field on the SE corner of Parmer and
Anderson Mill.

The third TreeFolks-recommended, winter-fruiting tree is the Western soapberry. This Central Texas
native is admittedly more-or-less tied for first place with the aforementioned beautyberry and
possumhaw. While beautyberries and possumhaws tend toward the pinks and reds, soapberry goes
whole-hog on the golden-orange jewel tones of baroque art. These inch-wide, translucent berries catch
the sunlight in such a way that you will think your trees are bedecked with citrine and topaz. When
stomped into a nearby puddle, you’ll find why soapberries get their name. A fine foam will soon form
on the puddle’s surface, which is no less than the saponins within the fruit interacting with the water.
This interaction is what the early Texas settlers used to clean their clothes!

And finally, what Central Texas, winter-interest berry-list would be complete without the mention of our
native junipers? Those trees that we all have colloquially called cedars for the last 300 years are in fact
junipers, yes. And they are native, too! The Ashe juniper to the west and the Eastern red cedar to the
east meet along I-35 in what is known as a “hybrid swarm”. Admittedly, neither species drops their
leaves; regardless, the beautiful bright blue berries that only appear on female trees of both species are
charismatic and one of the preferred foods of cedar waxwings! Cedar waxwings are a type of bird that
will gather in these trees by the hundreds as each individually screams a whistling “Tseee!” to celebrate
their freshly-picked, plump, berry-shaped prize that’s secretly a fleshy cone. The glaucous coating on
these “berries” giving them their sky-blue color is a plant-derived wax that the birds then secrete onto
their wing-feathers. The red-orange, waxy wing-feathers sequestered from “cedar-berries” give the
birds their common-name. Or, if birds aren’t you thing, then maybe the fact that these cones can be
made into gin will convince you to plant one.
(To Be Continued…)