Autumn Fruits

MRO in Knepp shepherds hut colour NH - CopyIt might still be August, but National Trust nature and wildlife expert, Matthew Oates, tells us why the signs of autumn are already on show.

“The signs are everywhere.  This is going to be a bumper autumn for nuts, seeds and berries, and most of these fruits are appearing remarkably early too.

“The hedges are already well-reddened with hips and haws, from wild roses and hawthorns.  A superb blackberry crop is developing, though it needs more sun and the tap switching off.  Many Blackthorn tangles are purple with sloe berries, awaiting the first frosts before they can be gathered.  Crab Apple jelly is also nicely on the menu for this autumn. Holly and Rowan berries are profuse and absurdly well advanced – in many districts these have been showing red since early June.  There should be a plentiful supply of Holly berries for Christmas, unless hungry birds eat them first.  Elder berries are developing well, as the summer was not dry enough for the bushes to abort their fruits, as happens in drought years.

Sloe berries in August“Many trees are heavily laden.  Beech nuts are abundant; in fact it’s a record year.  Hazel nuts are also numerous, though the squirrels have been plundering them for over a month now.  Field Maples and Sycamore trees have also produced myriad seeds and it is going to be a good conker year in most districts – not least because infestations of the Horse Chestnut Leaf Minor moth are abating.

“There are some exceptions, however. The oaks are taking a year off, having produced a massive acorn crop last year. They simply don’t perform two years in a row.  Also, the Ash trees are curiously rather void of their distinctive ‘keys’, but the Sweet Chestnuts should come good, though like the blackberries they require better August weather than we’ve been getting.

“The orchard fruit crop is looking impressive, though it is patchy and local as fruits have been damaged in some districts by downpours, and mildews have proliferated locally in the warm, wet summer.  People are already stripping supermarket shelves of jam-making sugar.

“The ‘early’ autumn is largely the result of an early and incredibly rapid spring, which rushed through on the back of a mild (if wet and stormy) winter.  Early autumn leaf colours, though, result largely from summer drought, which stresses the trees; only this summer has been warm but wet, with precious little drought. The leaves are therefore nothing like as advanced as the fruits.  They need more sun on them first then an early frost – and they don’t need endless soggy rain.

“Finally, this could well prove to be an exceptionally good autumn for fungi, which tend to fare well after hot but damp summers.”



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