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How to identify berries on an autumn country walk

A simple illustrated guide to identify some of the more common berries you may see on an autumn country walk.

Recently I enjoyed a walk along a country lane that was bordered by hedges that were absolutely dripping with berries. Some of them I could immediately identify; others not. So I thought it would be good to make a post describing the most common berries you might find on an autumnal country walk.

When walking in the country I sometimes deliberately refrain from speedily scooting along them. I remind myself that I often don’t have to get from A to B as quickly as possible. So I slow down and begin to notice the plant life alongside the path. In the spring and summer this might involve photographing and identifying the wild flowers. In the autumn it involves looking more closely at the berries of the hedgerow trees and bushes. When I do this, I will observe some nature I would otherwise have missed. Perhaps a butterfly feeding on an over-ripe sloe. Or a spider spinning its web in between a cluster of rose hips. Or maybe an unusual beetle on a rowan berry. Does such a slow approach appeal to you? If so, I hope this little guide is inspirational as well as informative. It’s a companion piece to a previous article I wrote on How to identify farm crops during a country walk. I hope both can make a country walk more fun, both for adults and children.

A word of warning. Some of these berries are edible, others are toxic. So before picking and eating one, be sure you have made the correct identification! Unless otherwise stated, most are “berry size”: that is, the size of a pea. Where identification of the berry is tricky, I indicate the characteristic leaves of that plant. Pictures are mine unless otherwise indicated.


How to identify hedgerow berriesL Hawthorn
The familiar berries of the Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna). These are probably the most common berry you will come across. They are smaller than a pea.
How to identify hedgerow berries: hawthorn
In the past, Hawthorn berries were used to treat a variety of health conditions. They are rich in vitamins B and C and can be collected and turned into jams or extracts.
Guelder Rose berries
Shinier and softer are the berries of the Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus). Note the leaf shape of this bush.
How to identify hedgerow berries: the Guelder Rose
The Guelder Rose berries can be toxic if eaten in large quantities. The name apparently originates from the Dutch province of Gelderland.
Spindle berry identification
Different again are the more pinkish berries of the Spindle (Euonymus europaea). Also smaller than a pea.
How to identify spindle berries
Close-up of the Spindle berry with its characteristic vertical lines.
Rose hips identification
Larger than a pea, less spherical, and with a shinier, plastic feel to them are rose hips, the fruit of the wild rose. I remember being given Rose Hip Syrup as a child due to its health benefits.
How to identify hedgerow berries: rose hips
Garden or ornamental roses tend to have “fatter hips”, if you pardon the expression.
How to identify hedgerow berries: The  Rowan or Mountain Ash
The berries of the Rowan or Mountain Ash (Sorbus species) are characterized by hanging in clusters. Confusion with Hawthorn berries is also avoided by checking the characteristic leaves of the Rowan.
Birds love eating rowan berries!
Rowan berries also have huge health benefits. They are loved by birds, especially blackbirds, thrushes, and (in the picture) waxwings. Photo by Ilya Yurukin from Pixabay.  
The berries of the holly
More used for decoration than consumption are the berries of the Holly (Ilex aquifolium). They are more easily identified by the sharp prickly Holly leaf. Photo by Vi Jakob of Pixabay.
Honeysuckle berries
Another bright red berry is that of the Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), also called the Woodbine. These berries are sticky, in small clusters at the end of the stems. They are toxic. Photo by Rowena Millar of Pixabay.
How to identify hedgerow berries: The Yew
You might come across the berries of the Yew (Taxus baccata) in or near churchyards. Unlike many other conifers, its seeds are not inside a cone but in a red, fleshy, berry-like structure called an aril, which is open at the tip.


Sea buckthorn berries
If you are walking by the coast you may come across the densely clustered orange berries of the Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides). It does however pop up unexpectedly inland. Photo by Uschi Dugulin from Pixabay.


Blackberries to eat
Instantly recognizable. Impossible to resist. Blackberries! Officially they are the berries of the Bramble (Rubus fruticosus).
Collecting elderberries
One of the most frequently harvested berry is the Elderberry (Sambucus sp). It grows in large clumps of tiny purple or black berries. It’s used in all sorts of drinks and preserves.
How to identify hedgerow berries: Dogwood
The black berries of the Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) grow in clusters. Tiny and matt black rather than shiny.
Ivy berries and their identification
Don’t confuse the Dogwood berry with the Ivy (Hedera). Ivy berries grow in even tighter clusters, and each berry is more squarish than spherical with a flattened base. Also note the characteristic shiny leaves of the Ivy.
The Bird Cherry is loved by birds!
Not surprisingly, the berries of the Bird Cherry (Prunus padus) are loved by birds. They first appear as red berries, before turning purple and then black. They can be distinguished from the other black berries mentioned by being smaller, shinier, and in small hanging clusterslike blackcurrants.


How to identify hedgerow berries: The Sloe, Blackthorn
The large, blue-black berries of the Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) are called sloes. I wouldn’t recommend eating one as they are extremely bitter. However, they can be turned into jam, or the famous liquor Sloe Gin. They are the size of a marble rather than a pea.

I hope this has given you a useful if brief guide to identify 15 of the most common hedgerow berries, at least in Western Europe. As I mentioned earlier, take care if you are going to collect berries to eat. It might be best to stick to the more easily identifiable species. If you come across a berry you are unsure of, you can always send me a photo via WhatsApp and I’ll do my best to help:

Of course, the above berries are limited to trees and bushes. I don’t cover berries of flowering plants growing on the ground. I will soon be writing a post called: How to identify nuts on an autumn walk. If you want to receive this post – as well as all other new posts – straight in your inbox, add your email below:

Thanks for your attention, and I hope you have a Berry Enjoyable walk! 🙂


10 thoughts on “How to identify berries on an autumn country walk”

  1. I love your depiction and pictures. Ironically, I just learned about Osage Oranges, also known as Hedge Apples. They are a hedgerow plant grown in North America. The tree is our churchyard is much large than the norm. From Wikiepedia: Maclura pomifera, commonly known as the Osage orange, hedge, or hedge apple tree is a small deciduous tree or large shrub, typically growing to 8 to 15 metres tall.
    Due to its latex secretions and woody pulp, the fruit is typically not eaten by humans and rarely by foraging animals, giving it distinction as an anachronistic “ghost of evolution”.[6]

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