Berries of North America Mapped
Berries are small, rounded, juicy, and often edible fruits without stones or pits, although many seeds may be present. Typical examples are raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, or blackberries.
In standard usage, the word “berry” differs from the scientific definition of a fruit with seeds and pulp developed from the ovary of a single flower (gynoecium). The scientific definition contains many fruits that are not typically known or referred to as berries, such as grapes, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, bananas, and chili peppers.
But many of the fruits we typically think of as berries don’t fit this scientific definition. For instance, popular “berries,” such as raspberries and blackberries, are aggregate fruits. These fruits constituted of clusters of individual seeds, each covered by soft flesh, are known as drupelets. Strawberries are aggregate-accessory fruits where each “seed” is a fruit called an achene that is embedded in an enlarged, fleshy flower base (receptacle). Common true berries include currants, gooseberries, cranberries, elderberries, and blueberries. For the purpose of this article, we are going to refer to them all as berries from this point on.
Worldwide, over 12,000 species have been listed under the category of berries, most of which belong to the orders Ericales and Rosales. The larger genera include species of berries in Ericales are Impatiens (1000 species), Rhododendron (1,000 species), Diospyros (700 species), Erica (700 species), Vaccinium (500 species), and Primula (400 species) In Rosales, the highest diversity of berries include genera within the family Rosaceae (3,000 species), such as Rubus (750 species), Potentilla (400 species), Alchemilla (400 species), and Prunus (200 species). Berry diversity in Rosaceae has a wide distribution, particularly in the temperate forests of the Northern Hemisphere. And North America has an exceptional variety of berries.
Reddit user quite_adept created the magnificent map of the berry diversity of North America.
Below is the video of the native ranges of native plant species that produce berries in North America. It should be noted, as mentioned above, some of these berries aren’t technically berries, botanically speaking. It also excludes extinct varieties in the wild nature and species of plants that are not berry common or not studied enough to have readily available geospatial data. The nineteen berries in this video cover over 115 species and subspecies of berry-producing plants in North America. It is considered that about 300 species of un extincted “berries” in the wild are native to North America.
For creating these distribution maps was use the two primary sources used:
- Elbert L. Little Jr.’s many volumes of “Atlas of United States Trees” for the U.S. Department of Agriculture
- The North American Plant Atlas from Biota of North America Project.
The most common berries of North America
Amelanchier arboria, et al.
Not a true berry, but a type of pome. Well-known pomes include the apple and the pear. It bears its fruit in June, hence the name Juneberry, which grows on a tall bush commonly known as the shadbush in North America. The berry is vital to small wildlife and is seldom grown commercially. One species, Amelanchier alnifolia, has long been consumed both fresh and dried by indigenous peoples of Canada.
Sambucus canadensis, et al.
A true berry with varieties native to most of the northern hemisphere. It flowers in late spring, followed in early autumn by clusters of red, yellow-white, black, or bluish-black berries. The darker fruits are rich in anthocyanidins, ideal for dark blue dyes and pigmentation. Most elderberries are edible when cooked, but some berries and other parts of the plant are toxic in their natural state.
Celtis occidentalis, et al.
Not a true berry, but a drupe. They grow on the hackberry tree, which is often confused with the sugarberry tree. Its hardy fruits are smaller than a pea, ripen in late fall, and can remain on branches throughout the winter. Omaha, Pawnee, and Dakota Native Americans consumed hackberries, often pounded into a puree. Though these berries are distinctively high in fats and proteins, they are not commonly sold commercially.
Morus rubra & Morus celtidifolia
A compound fruit and not a true berry, the two species native to North America are the Red mulberry and the Texas mulberry. The fruit ripens from green to dark purple, similar to a blackberry. Mulberries are an essential source of nutrition for many migratory bird species in the eastern United States. Today, they are grown for their wood and fruit, which like blackberries, can be made into pastries or fermented into wine.
Bayberry (Bay-rum tree)
Myrica cerifera, et al.
A wrinkly drupe that may resemble a compound fruit but is not a true berry. Bayberries are waxy and difficult to eat. Some birds, such as the wild turkey, can digest the fruits. The wax coating on the fruit has been used for centuries to make bayberry candles around the holiday season. The fruits can be used for seasoning or medicinal purposes but contain harsh tannins and should not be consumed by pregnant women.
Salmonberry (Salmon Raspberry)
A compound fruit and not a true berry, they resemble raspberries with vivid peach or coral coloration. They grow in areas of high moisture and rainfall, which explains why they are endemic to the Pacific Northwest. The fruits are edible when raw but have a sour and bitter taste and are best consumed when processed into jams and candies. Dense salmonberry thickets offer optimal nesting sites for small birds.
A true berry, cranberries have been cultivated in North America for centuries. The Narragansett people referred to this fruit as sasemineash and it was often a component in pemmican. Today, these sour and slightly bitter fruits are grown in artificial bogs commercially, and are commonly associated with cranberry sauce, served at Thanksgiving. The name comes from the shape of the plant’s flower, which looks like a crane’s beak.
A true berry is also known as partridgeberry, mountain cranberry, and cowberry. Its fruit is bitter but sweetened if left unpicked through the winter. The plant keeps its green leaves even in the coldest temperatures and is capable of tolerating temperatures as low as -40° or lower. It even grows in icy Greenland. The Inuit people and other Alaska natives have long used lingonberries to make jam, sauces, and sweet beverages.
Gaylussacia baccata, et al. Vaccinium membranaceum, etal.
Two genera of true berries share a common name; Gaylussacia huckleberries are native to eastern North America, while Vaccinium huckleberries are native to the west. They are sweeter and more flavorful than blueberries but smaller. The fruit is often quite plentiful in the fall and has been eaten fresh, dried, and cooked by many Native American tribes for centuries.
Ardisia escallonioides, et al.
Also known as the coralberry, this drupe is native to Central America and the Caribbean, which is why the most dominant species is known as the island marlberry. Many marlberries are edible, but that taste is rather unpleasant. The hardy tree is quite resistant to drought and salty conditions. Its fruit is a vibrant red, turning shiny and black once ripened. It is an important food source for birds that migrate across the Caribbean.
Strawberry (Wild strawberries)
Fragaria virginiana, et al.
An aggregate fruit and not a true berry, the strawberry is one of the most well-known fruits in North America. The plant can reproduce sexually or through stolons, underground roots that form new plants adjacent to the parent plant. The “seeds” on the outside of the fruit are called achenes and are part of the flower’s ovary that precedes the fruiting body. The Fragaria genus is part of the rose family.
Juniper Berry (Juniper bush)
Juniperus communis, et al.
Not a true berry, but a pinecone with unusually fleshy and merged scales that resemble a fruit. Juniper berries are one of the few coniferous plant materials used for spices, which lend their flavor to gin. The common juniper tree has the most extensive range of any woody plant. The berries of Juniperus californica are sweeter than other species and can be consumed fresh or ground into a pulp to season game and other meat.
Blackberry (Black raspberry)
Rubus allegheniensis, et al.
An aggregate fruit and not a true berry, blackberries differ from their raspberry cousins in that a part of their stem, called the torus, remains on the fruit when picked. Most blackberry species grow on thorny brambles. An invasive species called the Himalayan Blackberry (which actually originates from Armenia) now dominates much of the Pacific Northwest. The berries transition from green to red and then to black as they ripen.
Vaccinium corymbosum, etal.
A true berry, blueberries are native to the eastern United States and most of Canada. Vaccinium uliginosum, a species more closely associated with the European bilberry, grows abundantly on the west coast. The berries are covered in a protective coating of powdery epicuticular wax which helps keep them free of excess moisture. Wild blueberries generally prefer acidic soil between 4.2 and 5.2 pH.
Barberry (Barberry bush)
Berberis canadensis, et al.
Barberries are true berries with a tart taste; high in Vitamin C. The most spread out species is Berberis canadensis, which thrives on rocky slopes, mainly in Appalachia. The plant’s flowers are arranged in a raceme, in which a long cluster of small flowers extends upwards from a central axis. The US government has been slowly eradicating Berberis species, both native and invasive, due to their connection with wheat rust fungi.
Symphoricarpos albus, et al.
Snowberries are drupes, the most widespread berry-producing genera in the honeysuckle family. The berries of most of these species are slightly poisonous to humans, though they can be consumed and have a bitter minty flavor. Native Americans found many folk remedy uses for snowberries, including as a burn treatment. The flesh of the white snowberry is said to resemble sparkling granular snow.
Wolfberry (Pale wolfberry)
Lycium pallidum, et al.
A true berry in the nightshade family, wolfberries thrive in desert transitional environments and arroyos. While most Lycium species in the Americas are referred to as wolfberries, the species of this plant in Asia are more commonly called goji berries. The berries are sweet and have been eaten fresh for centuries by Native Americans, such as the Zuni people. Some species have a lifespan comparable to humans at about 80-90 years.
Dewberry (Ground berries)
Rubus flagellaris, et al.
An aggregate drupe very similar to the blackberry, dewberries are typically more miniature and more tart. Their brambly vines can also have a reddish color. The swamp dewberry, Rubus hispidus, is too bitter to eat. Still, the tastier Pacific dewberry, Rubus ursinus, was used to cultivate the hybrid species Rubus x loganobaccus, which is sold commercially as the loganberry. Dewberries are sometimes called ground berries.
An aggregate fruit, thimbleberries are similar to raspberries, though softer and with smaller drupelets. When picked, they separate from their core and resemble a thimble. The berries are soft and fall apart easily, making it difficult to package and sell commercially. However, their distinct tart and sweet taste are enjoyed by locals. Its flowers are among the largest of all Rubus species, despite parviflorus meaning “small-flowered.”
Want to learn more about the vegetation in North America? Then have a look at the following maps: