The osoberry is a small, native shrub in the rose family and is found throughout the arboretum. It grows in dry to moist open woods and stream banks.
At the moment, the berries are ripening. They begin as peach-colored, turn reddish, and ripen to blue-black. The male and female flowers are on separate shrubs, so you’ll only see the berries on the female shrubs. They grow in small clusters and are about 3/8” in diameter. Its Latin name is Oemleria cerasiformis. Cerasiformis means cherry-shaped, and they are similarly one-seeded. They are a significant food source for many animals.
Walking along the river path, I hear the high-pitched, trilling whistle of the cedar waxwings, and see them as they swoop down to the lower canopy for berries. They will pluck them one at a time and swallow the entire fruit whole. The berries are bitter, but if you watch the cedar waxwings, you might get to see something sweet.
The male will use the berries when courting a female. The Cornell Lab’s website All About Birds had this to say: “During courtship, males and females hop towards each other, alternating back and forth and sometimes touching their bills together. Males often pass a small item like a fruit, insect, or flower petal, to the female. After taking the fruit, the female usually hops away and then returns giving back the item to the male. They repeat this a few times until, typically, the female eats the gift.”
Other birds and animals are also devouring the berries (even though most of them haven’t completely ripened). California ground squirrels are climbing through the shrubs, eating the flesh of the berries and gnawing away the shell of the seed to get the tender morsel inside. I have found many clusters of nibbled shells still attached to the shrub. In addition, robins are gobbling them up, and chipmunks are scurrying through the limbs picking berries.
Nature is an inexhaustible source of wonder. Hope to see you out there.