Thursday, September 14, 2023

Yew Berries and Dewberries


I've passed by this yew hedge on busy North Harrison Street thousands of times, and usually pay it no mind.  

But a couple days ago, I happened to be looking down at the sidewalk rather than the gazillion cars and trucks driving by, and saw something that caught my eye.

Yew berries! They look like small, bright red pitted olives, but the pit is definitely still there. Fifty years ago, in botany class, I learned that the juicy red part is edible, but the hard central pit is most definitely not. The side of a busy street is probably not the best place to be harvesting edibles, but I picked a few, ate the flesh and spit out the pit--an unexpected treat along a sidewalk in Princeton 

Technically, the yew berry is not a berry at all, but
an aril. All students of botany will vividly remember the moment in class when they learned that, as one website states, "in contrast to a berry, which develops from the ovary, an aril is an outgrowth of the ovule, or of the funicle which attaches it to the placenta." Botany is full of surprises.

The yew we sometimes see planted around houses is one of the few conifers native to England, according to the Kew Gardens website. America has a native yew, Taxus canadensis, which shows up on a 1960s plant inventory for Herrontown Woods, but I've never encountered it. 


One thing I discovered this year is that we have dewberries growing in the Barden at Herrontown Woods. I had thought we had three types of brambles in the Barden: blackberries, black raspberries, and the nonnative wineberries. But some of the blackberry-like plants were crawling along the ground rather than arching upwards, as brambles are more normally wont to do. These we decided were dewberries. They still have thorns, but you could say they lack spine. The whole concept of a dewberry was likable, from its less intimidating presence to the promise of fruit. They are very adventurous in some areas of the Barden, however, crawling long distances. We may need to curb their travels, even though the berries, ripening in mid-August, are pretty tasty.

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