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Summer Issue

Summer Fruits

Manitoba's Fruits and Berries

Some Favourite Fruits






Summer Fruits

More of Our Favourite Fruits

By Johnny Caryopsis (Click links for more images.)


Choke Cherry
(Prunus virginiana)

Choke Cherry

(Prunus virginiana var. melanocarpa)

Both kinds of chokecherry occur in Manitoba, but the black-fruited variety is much more common. The red-fruited chokecherry occurs occasionally in the southwestern part of the province. Other than the colour of their fruits the two plants are hard to tell apart. And it is only when the cherries are fully ripe that you can do this. The fruit of the black-fruited chokecherry starts out reddish in colour before turning black when fully ripe. Chokecherries are common throughout forested parts of Manitoba, but are most common, and grow best, in the deciduous forests of the southwestern 1/3 of the province.

The chokecherry is a tall shrub or occasionally a small tree (as high as 5 m, with 10 cm diameter trunks). It usually grows as a dense shrub with many upright stems. It can spread quite rapidly from underground suckers. The long spikes of flowers bloom in June and the "cherries", (drupes) ripen in August.

Click for some more images!

Chokecherries are usually too bitter or astringent tasting (hence the name "choke"cherry) to eat raw, though some people find them tasty, especially after the berries have aged a while. Jellies and wine-making seem to be the most common uses for chokecherries. Their taste is not a problem for many birds and small mammals that readily consume the cherries once they are ripe.

CAUTION: Chokecherries, Pincherries and other plants of the Genus: Prunus, contain poisonous hydrocyanic acid in their seeds (pits), leaves and bark. Only the flesh of these fruits should be eaten.


(Rubus idaeus)

The raspberry is common throughout forested areas of Manitoba, but it is more abundant and grows more vigorously in deciduous forest regions of the southwestern 1/3 of the province. It grows best along forest edges in rich, moist soils.

Raspberry plants are low shrubs (to about 1 m in height) that spread aggressively by underground rhizomes. New shoots, called canes, develop from the spreading rhizomes each year. The new shoots will not produce flowers or fruit in their first year. It is the 2-year old canes that will flower and set fruit, and these often die after bearing fruit. So the lesson is: "Don't cut down all the raspberry canes, or you'll have to wait 2 years to get any fruit."

It is usually mid-June before raspberry bushes will be in flower. The distinctively shaped and flavoured raspberries ripen by late July and can be harvested until late August. The bright red raspberry is an aggregate fruit made up of tiny "drupelets". Raspberries are delicious raw or cooked, and make excellent jams and jellies. The only draw back to them is the abundant, tiny hard seeds that can get stuck in you teeth and make jams "crunchy". Besides humans, many birds and mammals will dine on wild raspberries.

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Low Sweet Blueberry
(Vaccinium angustifolium)

Common Blueberry
(Vaccinium myrtilloides)

Though most people think they are just picking "blueberries", there are, in fact, two kinds of blueberry in Manitoba. Both are very common and they are not easy to tell apart at a glance. On closer inspection you can tell the two species apart by the appearance of the berry and the hairiness of the leaves. Fruits of the common blueberry (V. myrtilloides) have a pale blue "bloom" (a waxy powder) covering them and the leaves are smooth-edged and covered in soft hairs. Low sweet blueberry (V. angustifolia) has no bloom on the berries and has hairless leaves with toothed edges.

Some authors consider the common blueberry to be a subspecies (different variety) of the low sweet blueberry.

Both our blueberries are low-growing plants (to a height of 40 cm). They are spreading shrubs with thin woody branches that persist from year to year. The plants flower from May through June and sometimes into early July. The berries ripen as early as mid-July, but peak season in southern Manitoba is usually late July through August (later further north). The lengthy flowering period means that the berries ripen over a long span of time, too. Berries can persist on the plants until well into September.

Both species occur widely throughout forested parts of Manitoba, though their chief habitat is in the boreal forest region. They prefer well drained locations with sandy soils. Blueberries are early colonizers of disturbed woodlands. Their seeds are spread by the many animals and birds that eat the berries. Initially prolific in growth and berry production, as the forest grows and ages, and the blueberry plants are increasingly shaded, they struggle to produce only a few berries. After forest fires or logging removes the shading trees, blueberry production can explode! For many years after a fire or cut the existing blueberry plants will produce prolifically, until the forest canopy closes in again.

Blueberries are an important food resource for many animals. Bears, wolves, foxes, skunks, squirrels, mice and a host of bird species will eat, and can come to depend on, blueberries. Years with poor production can mean hardship for black bears, which are particularly dependent on berries to put on fat for their winter hibernation. Poor blueberry years usually results in "bear problems" in provincial parks and campgrounds. In good berry years, it's unusual to see bears around human habitation. Blueberries are important for people, too. They represent a significant cash-crop for people living in forested parts of Manitoba. By late July, blueberry-stands are a common site along Manitoba's roadways.

Click for some more images!

The pigments in the skin of the berries that make blue berries look blue are anthocyanins, the same plant pigments that produce vivid red fall colours in leaves (see Fall Colours in our Autumn Issue). Typically, plants that produce anthocyanins in berries will also produce them in the dying leaves and show good fall colours.


Sorry, but I didn't include any recipes for jams and jellies. There are lots of resources out there on this subject, though. A particularly good one is the book: Edible Wild Fruits of Canada by N. Turner and A. Szczawinski, published in 1979 by the National Museum of Natural Science, Ottawa.

As I mentioned earlier, berry picking is a good thing. It gets us in touch with the land and reminds us that, ultimately, all our food comes from the land. Nowadays, most of us pick for fun, but there was a time when all our ancestors harvested wild fruits to help stay alive. So take your kids out berry pickin'! Get them in touch with the land, and teach them to respect the land, that which gives us all life.

If you enjoyed this article you might also like:

Giant Hyssop | Poison Ivy | St. John's Wort | Dandelions!

Thanks for learning about Summer Fruits! Bye for now!

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