November 29, 2008

A Walk in the November Woods and Berry Bowls

Partridge Berries (Mitchella repens) in the woods near our house. Once collected for use as a winter Holiday decoration in small, glass bowls called Berry Bowls.
Walks in the woods late in the autumn are a favorite, nostalgic memory for me. The cold air, the smell of the dead leaves, the sounds of the Nuthatches and Chickadee's high in the trees, the taste of the Wintergreen and Teaberries - all remind me of my childhood, and even my dad, of his childhood ( he is still alive at nearly 95, and went walking in today too). The dogs were itchy to get out, so off we went to Purgatory Chasm, a few miles from our home, where old growth forests still grow, and a canyon-like chasm, provides dramatic granite scenery.

As a kid. we would spend many summer days picking mushrooms here, with my mom, or nut in the early fall, and around Thanksgiving, an annual trip to cut a Christmas tree from the wild, a very Charlie Brown-like White Pine ( white pine needles when heated by Christmas lights, still brings me back!). Sad looking trees, but when you are 5, you think they are the best.

Later, I would pick a selection of plants, which many New Englanders would pick, to make what are known as 'Berry Bowls', a colonial craft not unlike terreriums, where certain woodland plants would be gathered from the woods, and arranges in soil and moss, in a jar, or brandy snifter, cover with a sheet of glass, and decorated with a red ribbon. Perhaps not truly a colonial craft, I would imagine that it was more likely a craft which started in the late 19th Century, and then peaked in the first half of the 20th Century. In the 1950's and 1960's, they could be mail ordered from New England Nursery's via ad's in HORTICULTURE magazine or GOURMET. Florists would carry them selectively until the 1980's from those who still gathered greens from the woods and sold them wholesale, but today, the craft is understandably discouraged upon for obvious reasons. THe endangered habitat of many of our local plants is at risk, and even casual collecting is not encouraged, even if it is your own property.

Still, I have an idea, which I am working on, that used commercially available plants, some tropical, that might achieve the same effect - a 'greener' more responsible berry bowl, perhaps?

Galutheria procumbens, or wintergreen ( or as my father called it, Teaberry or Checkerberry). Traditional New England woodland berry which tastes like the old Teaberry gum, or better yet -Peptobismol.

The Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) An evergreen fern which grows on granite rock in many New England woods.

A view of the woodland in central Massachusetts, this old growth forest of Tsuga canadensis is being lost to the wooly aldegid, some 200 year old trees are now missing from this shot.

Another candidate once collected for 'Berry Bowls". the common Pipsissawa ( Chimaphilia maculata), also known as the Striped Windergreen, or Striped Prince's Pine. I suppose, many of the native New England woodland plants which are evergreen, had common names such as 'wintergreen' or 'Prince's Pine' ( or even, Princess Pine).

The mosses are outstanding in the oak forests this time of year, just before snowfall. The brilliant green stands out amongst the oak and chestnut leaves. One can see how colonial women would be tempted to pick these plants for glass jars and jugs to bring into the home during the winter, the red and green colors are so brilliant in the fall light.

Margaret and Fergus keep an eye out for wild turkey's and perhaps a squirrel.

More moss

The central Massachusetts forest is generally a mixture of oak, maple, beech and ash, with evergreens such as our native White Pine, Pinus strobus, and Canadian Hemlock, Tsuga canadensis. These are the same forests the pilgrims traveled through, and this particular site in Northbridge, MA was a camp for Nipmuck Indians. The caves and tools are still found here. As children, my father would take us here hiking the day after Thanksgiving, and we would gather burlap feed bags full of Holiday Greens such as Lycopodium or Prince's Pine, which we would wrap with twine and wire to make garlands and wreaths for the house. He used to go to the same woods with his brothers, during the 1920's, so I still like to go for a hike the weekend after Thanksgiving, to not collect plants, but to look at them, instead. Usually, this is the week that we would get out first snowfall, but the first flurries of the season are expected tonight, instead.


  1. that idea of a berry bowl is something that i wonder if i could incorporate into an activity... maybe??

  2. I enjoyed these photographs.

  3. I grew up going to The Chasm. You brought back memories for me! I loved that place. Time for a field trip to show my son Purgatory Chasm.

    Your dogs are too cute!

  4. do you know what kind of moss the first picture was of?

  5. Anonymous10:27 AM

    do u know what kind of moss was in the first picture?

  6. do u know what kind of moss was in the first picture?


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