UNITED STATES—Before the colorful foliage of autumn falls and gets raked away, a few types of berries and fruit start to provide a bit of color to last into winter, or at least until birds and other wildlife eat them. Technically, the most colorful berries are actually intended for the birds, both those that overwinter and those that migrate south for the winter. The berries are designed by the plants that produce them to both entice birds, and to reward them for dispersing the seeds within.
Pyracantha (or firethorn) is the most colorful of the berries. Cotoneaster is similar, but not quite so prolific. Toyon and English hawthorn, which can grow as small trees, produce open clusters of similar bright red berries. Of these, only English hawthorn is deciduous, and can defoliate before the berries disappear. Although such fruit is abundant, it is not often messy because it gets devoured before it reaches the ground. However, the birds can be messy.
English holly really should produce more berries than it does, but there are not enough pollinators out there. (Hollies are dioecious, which means that plants are either male or female. Female plants need male pollinators to produce fruit.) Decades ago, when horticulture was taken more seriously, male pollinator plants were marketed with female plants. Some other types of holly somehow make a few more berries, especially as they get older.
Loquat, mahonia, pomegranate and some flowering crabapples try to produce colorful fruit, but are not quite as colorful. Pomegranate fruit can be impressive in its own way, but are just rusty reddish brown on the outside. Strawberry tree produces a few red berries throughout most of the year. Many types of pittosporum develop fruit, but most are about as green as their foliage. The sticky amber seeds are ‘interesting’ when the fruit splits open, if anyone happens to look that closely.
Oranges, lemons, grapefruits, mandarins and other citrus will be colorful later in winter, even though they do not care if they attract any birds. For now, persimmons are the biggest and most colorful fruits out in the garden.
A mature persimmon tree, Diospyros kaki, is often too much of a good thing. The fruit is both big and abundant as it ripens this time of year. Much of the fruit in taller trees is out of reach. Nearly ripened but somewhat firm, fruit can be picked and shared with neighbors for a while, but must be picked immediately once completely ripe. Otherwise, it falls and makes a squishy mess that can not be raked up! Nearly ripe fruit ripens easily off the tree. Individual fruits only need to be spread out in a single layer to limit molding.
‘Fuyu’ is probably the most popular variety because the ripe fruit can be eaten while still firm, or after it has gotten soft. ‘Hachiya’ produces the largest fruit, sometimes bigger than a softball; but the fruit is too astringent to eat until completely ripe. It is actually best after it is so overly ripe that it is too squishy to handle. Persimmon fruits are very bright orange. ‘Hachiya’ fruit can be slightly reddish. The foliage gets just as colorful. Typically, the foliage colors first, and then falls to reveal the fruit. This year, the fruit seems to be coloring first.