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A kaleidoscope of fruits at the Arnold Arboretum

by William (Ned) Friedman, Director of the Arnold Arboretum
September 16, 2018

Broussonetia papyrifera

A kaleidoscope of fruits at the Arnold Arboretum

Late afternoons in September, with shadows blanketing the landscape and sun flecks dancing on individual trees and shrubs, are heaven. This is the perfect time to see the nearly limitless variety of colors, shapes, textures, and sizes of fruits at the Arnold Arboretum, without the distraction of fall colors. The fruits stand out against the still green background as jewels in a Tiffany case—reds, blues, oranges, pinks, yellows, greens, blacks. With temperatures in the mid 70s, yesterday, I ambled into the Arboretum with a few targets (paper mulberry, the viburnums, sweet gum) and along the way, was given a show that even I had not been prepared for.

September fruits

The mulberry collection is small and often missed, situated behind the lilac collection on Bussey Hill. Right now, there is a female (seed-bearing) paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera, 1678-80*B; wild-collected in 1980 on the Sino-American Botanical Expedition) that is in glorious fruit. The infructescence in the upper left image was irradiant in a sun fleck against the dark shade thrown by the towering elms behind this specimen. The same for the sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua, 135-38*C; lower right) infructescence, one of hundreds dangling from a wonderful old tree near Centre Street Gate. For a somewhat unreal blue, scoot over to the small population of Symplocos paniculata (sapphire berry or Asiatic sweetleaf) to see the intense blue fruits by the thousands (lower left, 17587-1*D; an 1897 accession from the Agricultural College in Sapporo, Japan). Finally, dive into the viburnum collection behind the 1823 farmhouse to see a rainbow of colors, including this one on Viburnum setigerum (orangeberry tea viburnum; 19085*A), a specimen collected by Ernest Henry Wilson in 1908 in China.

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