Do you have red berries growing in your back yard? Have you encountered red fruit on hikes and wondered what they are and if it’s edible?
Here are a few red fruits you may have encountered. All of these photos are taken in province of Manitoba in the heart of the Canadian prairies.
Nanking Cherries – Edible
These are nanking cherries and they are edible and delicious (if you don’t mind a little tartness). They grow on bushes that can grow 6 feet tall x 6 feet wide. The blossoms are pink and like other cherry blossoms, will bloom in early spring, before any leaves have come out. The leaves are deeply veined, pointed and light green. The cherries grow on almost non-existent stems and are about 1/2 inch. They’re bright red and ready to harvest at the end of July. The longer they’re left on the bush, the sweeter they get. They’re excellent for juice and jelly.
Tartarian or Bush Honeysuckle – Not Edible
These are a bush honeysuckle and they are NOT edible, which is just as well because they’re not tasty at all! Bush honeysuckles are dense, upright shrubs that can grow 3 to 10 feet. The leaves are a bluish-green and grow in alternate pairs. The small fruit, which goes from green to orange to red, grows on stems in pairs.
Bittersweet Nightshade – Not Edible
These gorgeous jewel colored fruits are impressive looking but not edible. Here in Manitoba, we find it most often in sunny spots along forest edges and riparian zones. It is a perennial vine that snakes its way through the understory. It’s purple flowers with yellow centers and red jeweled fruit look and even its leaves resemble tomato plants. One might even mistake them for “wild tomatoes” or the cutest little cherry tomatoes ever – but they’r not! Do not eat these, they are toxic to humans.
Pin Cherries – Edible
These are pin cherries and they are edible. Pin cherries are not commonly planted in backyards, but they can be found across the prairies in parks, along river banks and in other undisturbed areas where there is plenty of sunlight. Pin cherries grow on straight, small trees or tall shrubs which are between 15- 30 feet. The bark on young trees is smooth, with a dark reddish-brown, varnished appearance. Pin cherries grow on long stems and are quite small at about 1/4 inch. They are bright red and make excellent juice and jelly.
American Bittersweet – Not Edible
American bittersweet is a perennial vine that wraps itself around trees and any surrounding shrubs. It can grow as long as 15 to 20 feet long. In the fall, the orange to red fruit capsules pop open exposing the red berries inside. They’re very pretty and make lovely decorations, but they are NOT EDIBLE.
The American bittersweet is native to North America, but the copycat look alike – the Asian bittersweet is an introduced invasive species. The Asian bittersweet is very aggressive and actually chokes and kills trees with its vines. For the difference between the Asian and American bittersweet read The Spruce.
Evans Cherries/Sour Cherries – Edible
These are Evans cherries and they are edible and delicious. This is a popular sour cherry that was cultivated in Edmonton, AB. They grow on trees that can reach 15 feet. The leaves are a dark green with serrated edges. The cherries are 3/4 inches, bright red and tart. If you’re patient, the cherries will get sweeter and turn a darker red when left on the tree longer. They are typically ripe in August. Because of their bigger size they’re excellent for pies, baking, canning, freezing, juice or jelly.
If you’re not sure about what’s growing in your backyard, take a sample of the leaves, the fruit and a picture of the whole shrub/tree to your local nursery. They should be able to help you identify what kind of plant you have and whether or not you can dig in and enjoy or leave the fruit for the birds.
Getty Stewart is an engaging speaker and writer providing tasty recipes, time-saving tips, and helpful kitchen ideas to make home cooking easy and enjoyable. She is a Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and veggie gardener.