5 Common Edible Summertime Berries in the Chesapeake
Forest Foraging for Summertime Treats
In early summer months, eastern forests yield many plants that can be eaten raw or cooked, and dozens of edible mushroom species. Wild berries are particularly wonderful; they’re easy to find and identify, very abundant, and of course tasty. Searching for berries is an excellent way to get to know a piece of land and a great way to share the benefits of forests with friends and family. Here are five of the most common edible berries that are ripe in June and July in forests of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
1) Wild Strawberries (Fragraria virginiana and F. vesca)
Wild strawberries are often the first fruit you’ll find in the summer, ripening from May through July. They are much smaller than domestic fruits, but are quite sweet and very common. The plants have three leaves with toothed leaf margins, grow low to the ground, and spread by runners. F. virginiana is found on dry sites in the full sun or partial shade of fields or forest edges, while F. vesca is more shade tolerant and found on wetter soil.
2) Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)
Red mulberry is a native medium-sized tree that is found in moderately well-drained soils, often near streams. The fruits ripen from May through July and resemble elongated blackberries and are very sweet, though they can be hard to reach on taller trees. Its leaves have serrated margins, hairy undersides, and can be unlobed or have 2-3 lobes.
3) Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
Serviceberry is a small tree, typically growing no more than 30 feet. It is found on well-drained rocky and acidic soils, in the open or in moderate shade. It has finely toothed leaves and small, dark purple fruits that resemble blueberries, with “crowns” on the bottom. It bears fruit in June and July (hence a colloquial name Juneberry), and bears striking white flowers in the early spring, making it a valuable nectar source for pollinators.
4) Raspberries, Blackberries, and Dewberries (Rubus sp.)
The genus Rubus (often called “brambles”) is composed of small, thicket-forming shrubs that bear aggregate fruits from June through September. They are often found in full sun of oldfields, open forests, and forest edges. They often have three or five serrated leaflets, and most species in the watershed have prickles along stems. Many species are known to propagate vegetatively from stems that touch the ground. Raspberries have round, arching stems and tart fruit that form hollow shells when picked from their stalks. Blackberries have more angular arching stems, larger drupelets (the individual seed-bearing fruits that form the aggregate blackberry), and fruit that does not form a hollow shell when picked. Dewberries are similar to blackberries, but trail along the ground rather than arch, typically not reaching over 1 foot tall.
5) Blueberries (Vaccinium sp.)
Vacciniums are a group of low to medium-sized shrubs typically found in mature forests on acidic or rocky soils. They have simple, leathery, smooth-margined leaves and green or brown stems. They have small, white, bell-shaped flowers that bloom in May to June. The fruit, which are ripe from June to September, resemble much smaller domesticated blueberries but are still very sweet.
Beyond being delicious and fun to forage for, these native fruit-producing plants are incredibly valuable members of eastern forest ecosystems. They are nectar sources for pollinators, provide food for many wildlife species, and some, especially Rubus and Vacciniums, are important breeding and escape cover. Like many of our native forest plants, they are also susceptible to forest mismanagement and invasive species. With good stewardship and land management, we can ensure the persistence of native plants that are important to us and to our environment.
For more information on forest health and management, visit our forestry website at forestsforthebay.org.